Nine months before the incident, I was vacuuming and scrubbing our, what was soon to be old, apartment out after everything had been moved to our new place. I called up my sister, Abbi, and we began chatting about our family’s dynamics. Something hit me. I stopped picking up every single piece of fuzz and debris from the floor on my hands and knees (I wanted our full deposit back).
I turned over and just sat my butt down as I told my sister on the phone, "You know what Abbs? I think our family is about to go through a lot of changes soon and I'm not so sure if they are going to be good or bad, but I know something is coming for all of us."
One could choose to believe any number of reasons why I had this thought or where it came from. What I understand of it, however, is that it is a piece of knowledge that came to me without my searching for it and I believed in my heart that it was true and would come to pass.
Abbi didn’t totally comprehend what I was saying or understand it, but I just kept repeating myself and telling her, "There's just something in me that knows this is going to happen. I can just feel it." I felt so matter of fact in this idea and I knew it to be true. As I finished mopping my way out of our old apartment, I began to get excited for our new adventure in our new apartment at Coffey Break apartment complex. Little did I know what kind of change was in store for me, Austin and Willoughby in less than a year; our change was going to consist of losing everything in one of the most traumatic ways possible.
After I had this conversation with my sister, Abbi, each and every one of my siblings went through a life altering situation or event in the 9 months that followed. My brother was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, as well as another autoimmune disease where his body attacks his bile ducts, which carry the digestive liquid bile from the liver to the small intestine. My oldest sister, Hannah, had just gotten married and moved to London a few days after her wedding. Days after they moved to London, Hannah's husband, Erik, received the tragic news that his sister's husband died suddenly. My other two sisters went through their own trials that I wish to keep private, but I will tell you this: neither of these were any easier than the situations and life altering changes that happened to my brother and oldest sister.
I felt as if Austin and I were the backbone of this rough time for my family; this was the part we were destined to play.
The day before the incident, I thought back on my conversation with my sister, Abbi, and thought, "God, I didn't foresee such tragedy in all of my sibling’s futures. Why was all of this happening to my family?"
For some reason, I thought, "Maybe nothing directly has happened to me and Austin because we were meant to be the ones to give strength, wisdom and courage to the rest."
Then it happened.
Our change came and rocked our lives forever.
The morning of the incident, my brother looked at me as I sat shaking and bewildered on his couch and he said, "I was just thinking about how nothing bad has happened to you and Austin this past year like the bad things that have been happening to the rest of us siblings, but I guess that's just not true anymore."
God, that certainly was not true anymore.
The week before the incident, we were at a “friend dinner”, a weekly, rotating Tuesday night dinner with six other friends that had been taking place for two years. As we enjoyed each other's company, ate to our heart's content and laughed heartily, the host of the dinner posed the question, "What is your rose and your bud of your life right now?” In other words, something you are really enjoying in life right now and something that you are growing in or experiencing. Everyone went around and shared their thoughts and I didn't really think about it too much.
When it was my turn to share, I said, "I think that mine and Austin's lives are going to change in the near future and I'm not really sure if it's going to be good or bad."
I had not even remembered that I shared this thought with this group of friends, until one of my friends, Kristen, told me after the incident how she remembered what I said at our dinner and she couldn't believe what came to pass. As I reflect on my thoughts at that dinner, I can't help but think that I was hoping and thinking that something rather positive and exciting was going to take place in mine and Austin's lives. Boy, was I wrong.
When Austin and I moved into our Coffey Break apartment, it was ordinary and offered us nothing special. We were accustomed to moving around a lot. As I introduced myself to our new apartment and it in return introduced itself to me, I was surprised with how welcoming it was. An unexpected, special bond was created and I made each room into a reflection of my heart. I took great care of each room by making sure they were well tended and looked after. When I welcomed someone into my home, I was welcoming them into my heart.
I took pride in my home. I put effort into each detail around the house. Our home that we created was my very favorite place to be while living here in Boone. I found peace, joy, rest and happiness while I spent time there. I loved that I mostly found pieces of furniture that were white or off white that gave our home a light hearted and fresh feeling. I loved my bathroom with the beautiful cascading shower curtain, fluffy flower bath rug, huge plush bath towels; all white and cream of course. I loved having everything a girl could want or need while in the bathroom; a variety of shampoos, conditioners and body soaps. The choice of goats milk soap bar or the regular liquid soap. Different hand lotions depending on your preference/mood. Even in the bathroom I liked for my guests to feel well taken care of and at home. I wanted their experience in our home to be so pleasant that they’d want to come back to experience it again. I wanted it to be a place that people looked back on fondly. I wanted our home to be memorable.
When I ran down the stairs from the apartment building and turned around to look up at our burning home, my heart dropped and I felt as if someone had robbed me of part of my soul. You see, my heart and soul were in that home of mine. I have never felt fury of that kind in my life before. I roared from the deepest part of my belly and cursed the air around me. My mind could not wrap around the flames bursting forth from our windows, engulfing the beautiful place I cherished and felt the most free to be myself. The rage and adrenaline pumping through my veins took over and my roars filled the air. I pushed my lungs to the breaking point as I screamed out, such agony and despair so violently shaking my body.
“You Mother Fuckers!” I can still hear my agonized voice screaming.
My home was full of important favorite things. I experienced trauma like I have never understood before. I had shot up out of bed at 3:30 am and 1 minute later I was running out of my burning home for my life. It is an experience that will live with me forever and will forever change my life and who I am.
Months have passed since the incident, and I am driving to what is now our home on my daily routine. As I approach the turn for our road, I see a large cloud of smoke billowing, blocking the view of the mountains. I instinctively suck in air and my heart begins racing. Tears roll down my cheeks and I slow down to check out what’s going on. After I realize it must be a controlled burn since dozens of firefighters and cops are all parked and standing around the source of the smoke, I am able to take a deep breath. I make the turn and realize my hands are shaking as I grip the steering wheel.
“Get a grip, Rachel,” I think to myself.
This is what trauma does to us. It literally affects our lives months after an incident is long gone. There are variables that will trigger our deep memories of said trauma and our bodies will physically respond. For me, there is no controlling these urges. I cannot tell my hands to stop shaking or my heart to stop pounding. My body reacts to what it is perceiving.
When I get home, Austin tells me he had a similar reaction to the scene close to our home. He even pulled over and made sure the fire was under control before driving home. We look at each other’s tear stricken faces and shrug our shoulders. We are acknowledging our limit of control over our bodily reactions and understand that it’s ok. This is life after trauma. Life has a funny way of continuing on; it doesn’t wait for us to catch back up.
My eyes pop open. What did I just smell?
“Austin?” I whisper.
Sniffing the air around me, I call out in the dark again, “Austin.”
“What?” Austin asks still half asleep.
“Do you smell that? Does that smell like smoke?” I am in high alert mode.
We both hop out of bed and check the apartment for any signs of fire. Austin doesn’t smell anything and I fear I am going crazy. Only after Austin walks around the entire perimeter outside of the house and we have searched every possible place for a potential fire, do I start to calm down.
We lay back in bed and my toes and fingers are still tingling with anxiety. Rest does not come easily tonight, but eventually I let the fingers of sleep slowly wrap around my stubborn, active mind and pull me back into slumber.
This occurrence repeats itself multiple times after the fire, and I wonder if this is an aftereffect that I will have to learn to live with.
“Rachel, what happened? What’s wrong?” My mom asks.
“Mmmyyy hooome burned down,” I burst forth, trying to get each syllable out in a comprehensive manner, but failing to do so.
“What Rachel? I can’t understand you.”
“Myyy hooome burned down! My home burned down, Mom!” I yell and blubber.
Sob after sob ensued. I couldn’t control it. My ribs felt as if they were collapsing in on themselves. My life took a turn right then. This was a chapter of significant change in my life. I felt as if a dementor, such as from Harry Potter, was sucking the life out of me; straight from my soul.