I have been searching for closure after facing trauma. This story you are about to read takes you on this journey with me. I decided to type this story in it’s entirety on the typewriter my husband surprised me with this Christmas. I have placed a typed up copy of my story in my old mailbox:
Mailbox #2 6472 Highway 105
Boone, NC 28607
If you are interested in reading the story at the actual site that my trauma took place, it is sitting in the mailbox, waiting for your hands to envelop it and your mind to be transplanted to scenes that took place there. I only ask that you return the story back to the mailbox when you are finished partaking for the next reader to experience.
I will be posting my story in installments on my blog every week, but the full copy is available to read in mailbox #2 if you want to have a tangible experience with this story.
Disclaimer: The names of the neighbors and the neighbor’s dog have been changed. Mailbox #2 has since been removed from the siting since writing this tale, but I managed to track down the typed up version I placed in it and it currently resides in my home.
No Mail Housed Here
I love getting letters, especially beautifully handwritten, heartfelt letters. Sometimes, I will delve into a letter, right there at the mailbox, not wanting to be patient and savor the sweet words. Other times, I will try to withhold my impatience, and instead I will quicken my step up to the apartment while clutching the note, anxious to rip it open and gobble up the words. I sit down at the table to take in the whole precious moment of it all. Each way of reading a letter gives me tremendous joy and it feeds my soul. I don't know why exactly, but I was hoping to receive one last letter from that old mailbox of ours, even though I knew that letter would never come.
Each day, for weeks, as I drove past what once was our home, I would glance at our old mailbox. There were five mailboxes total, all lined up at the bottom of the parking lot, close to the road, labeled 1-5. Ours was #2. No longer was mail being delivered there, yet our #2 mailbox, out of the five that stood intact in triumph to the rest of the scorched surroundings, hung wide open. Austin told me he pulled off the road, into the parking lot, and closed it once, but the next day it was hanging open again, flaunting its flexible hinges.
Each time I approached the site, I would wriggle in my seat to sit up taller so I could be prepared to look at the mailbox. Each day it sat perched there, its door open with visibly no mail inside, to taunt me, saying, "Look, no one lives here anymore. You receive no mail here. Your home is no longer here, so move along."
This was my relationship with our old mailbox for a couple of weeks. That is until one day, something struck me. My thought flow went something like this:
"What if the mailbox is actually trying to tell me I do have mail, but I'm just not looking for it in the right place. Maybe it isn't even physical mail, but words that I need to hear."
Then a very pivotal thought entered my mind.
“What if this is a sign for me to begin to write letters. To tell my tale. But instead of it being a secretive piece of mail for only the owner's eyes, it would be an open diary that laid it all out there from my perspective, describing exactly how this mess went down and what it is doing to me internally, for all to read.”
So, that is exactly what I am setting out to do now. To write out my tale from my honest and open perspective for anyone to read through.
The mailbox remains shut these days, as if saying, "You did good. You figured it out, and now my work is done here, so I'll just close up shop."
Although the entire complex has been taken down, those five mailboxes stand strong, jaws clenched tight and in erect formation. I thank that little mailbox for being my inspiration and pushing me to do this. As strange as it came about, I owe it to that retired letter holder of mine for leading me in this direction.
Saturday morning I pop out of bed at 7am, ready for the day. The night before, my husband, Austin, and I wrote hour by hour what our next day would entail, beginning with getting up at 7am.
7 to 8: Write and design
8 to 9: Run
9 to 10: Get chicken biscuits at Stick Boy
10 to 11: Run errands
The list continues all the way up to 10pm: Go to sleep.
We're living out the schedule well so far when my mom texts me. It is now 7:15am. She is coming up to Boone spontaneously and wants to meet at Melanie's for breakfast. This means my writing will have to be pushed back, but I am not letting that stop me feeling pumped for the day.
“Damn,” I thought, “No chicken biscuit from Stick Boy for me.”
My husband suggests an alternative plan where we leave early, grab a biscuit at Stick Boy and get coffee and juice at Melanie's. Perfect!
After we put our order in at Stick Boy, we wait for our biscuit on a bench on the far right wall, out of the way, and in the perfect spot for people watching.
We are chatting and laughing when Austin says, "Oh my god. Is that John?"
I whip my head to where Austin's eyes are transfixed. Sure enough, waiting there in line looking cracked out and honestly like total shit, stood John. The guy responsible for ripping part of my soul out.
I warned Austin ahead of time that if I ever saw John in public I would lose it.
My adrenaline rush pushes through my veins and my chest heaves as I lock eyes on what I consider to be the scum of the earth. My arms rush with the natural response of fight (yes, instead of flight) and I prepare myself to lay one, right on his cheekbone.
"Jesus Fucking Christ." I unknowingly speak out.
Austin snaps me back when he says, "You can just leave. There's a door right beside us. You can walk out."
"Really?" I respond in a daze.
I turn to my left and see my exit, only an arm's length away from where I am sitting. I don’t hesitate. I just stand up and grab the handle. When I walk outside, I release the breath I was holding in and let out a deep sigh.
I walk around the parking lot as I let my body relax and come down from the adrenaline rush. I try recalling my words I spoke when I saw him, but I couldn't really remember. Austin fills me in later.
It feels like eternity has passed by the time Austin comes out with our biscuit in hand.
We get in the car and drive away. I thank Austin for giving me an out. My opening line I was going to vomit as soon as I locked eyes with John was not going to be very becoming and would cause a scene. The craziest part was how completely out of control of my body and words I was in that moment. I needed Austin to snap me out of it.
John's dopey eyes and dirty hair are embedded in my head, and I flashback to when he was stumbling all over the parking lot, looking up at the burning building, yelling out drunken nonsense. I cringe and shake my head to try and rid the memory.
I was quickly beginning to think that mailbox #2 was trying to warn me, not give me closure. “Don’t get too comfortable,” it tells me, “This is always going to come back to haunt you.”
THE MORNING BEFORE THE INCIDENT
I wake up and do my usual routine. I snuggle with my little monster, Willoughby (french bulldog, monster for short), give him some kisses, slowly get out of bed and go to the bathroom to pee. This morning, however, I smell something burning. At first, I think Austin left something on the stove, but quickly after discovering everything is turned off in the kitchen, I find this to not be the case. Next, I search near the baseboard heating. As I’m searching, I realize there is no smoke in sight, so my anxiety drops just a hint. I discover a pillow has fallen off of the chair and is leaning against the baseboard heating on the ground.
“Oh my god,” I think. “That could have been bad.”
I look at the pillow and there is a light brown mark across the white front flower pattern where it was leaned up against the heater.
“That seriously could have caught on fire. I’m so glad I saw that before I left,” my stream of consciousness continues.
Whew. Close call.
After placing the pillow back on the couch, I turn the baseboard heating off and drop the thought of what could have happened. I continue about my routine; almost completely forgetting the incident of the pillow.
Before I leave for work, I take Willoughby out to do his business. I have to turn right out the door, walk across the balcony, down the stairs and zigzag back across the front of the apartments to get to the left side of the apartment building. Our last landlord wanted us to have our dog’s poop in the field so it could be more contained. However, since there were no stairs that went to the left side of the building, the act of taking Willoughby out has become a longer, more difficult process.
As I let Willoughby sniff out the perfect place to lay down his goods, the too-high-to-get-my-act-together neighbor walks up through the field with tiki torches in hand. He’s got that goofy smile on that he always has; evidence of waking up and lighting up first thing in the morning.
“Hey John.” I feel it’s my obligatory acknowledgement of his presence. Plus, I can’t really get out of noticing him; we are the only two people in a rather large open field.
“Hey! Me and my friends are having a party tonight for my birthday. I brought these tiki torches out to mark a path for people so they don’t walk in the wet, swampy area.” He gestures to the muddy area where the water from the hill dumps down into the field.
“Happy Birthday John! Hope you guys have a fun time.” I genuinely say this last part and feel a bit guilty about how badly I think of him. I smile to make up for some of the negative undertone boxes I’ve categorized and placed him in. Who knows what kind of life he has had to go through. I still can’t believe he lives in a tiny studio apartment with another guy, but hey, if it works for them, then cool.
My day is as normal as can be at my part time after school job at a nonprofit in town. I spend some time in the office, enjoy the last day in after school for a while since I’ll be heading out just the next day to London to see my sister and her husband! Hooray! I’m leaving this town behind for a lengthy vacation; 5 weeks to be exact. I am so incredibly excited! I am so glad Austin’s uncle called us yesterday night to tell us it would work out better for us to fly standby on Saturday instead of Tuesday. I’ve already got most everything packed and I am planning on just finishing it up tonight so that we can leave early in the morning for Charlotte.
We have our last Jane Austen book club this evening and I haven’t even finished all of Emma, the only book I haven’t completely read out of the six novels. I know, for shame. I came up with this book club, and I am not concluding very strong, but I am just so excited about flying out for the UK tomorrow! Stephen and Greta host the book club and Austin and I bring sweet potato and kale mac n cheese to the potluck style dinner. We have a great last meeting discussing the ever controlling and fascinating Emma. We laugh, talk and eat to our heart’s content, say our adieus and then depart for home to finish up the packing before we get in bed for the night.
We hurry around the apartment, tidying up so that our place is a fresh and clean home to come back to from our travels. I double check that our passports are in my purse and then place it beside the bed and put the suitcases at our bedroom door so we can easily pack the car in the morning. I am the type of person who likes to be very prepared, especially when it comes to lengthy trips out of the country.
Austin takes Willoughby out to the side of the apartment while I finish up inside. When he comes back, he says that our neighbors are being idiots with the tiki torches and that they showed him how one tiki torch burned through itself and fell on the ground, still burning. Austin said that he told them they need to be really careful and watch out for the tiki torches and make sure they put them out really well. They ensured him they were going to keep a close eye on it.
I find myself frustrated yet again with these boys and retort, “They’re going to burn this place down!” The apologetic smile from the afternoon is instantly forgotten.
Austin is out cold as soon as his head sinks into his pillow, and Willoughby is snuggled up against his side. Their heavy breathing creates a comforting rhythmic pattern background while I get ready to go to sleep. My heart is beating a little harder with excitement and a touch of anxiety for the next day when we fly out of Charlotte. I wriggle in bed beside them and try to finish reading Emma. I can’t keep my eyes open, so I turn my bedside light out and check my phone for the time. Yikes, after midnight! Better get some sleep; we have an early morning. I drift into a deep sleep in an instant.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“HEYY!! GET OUT!!”
My eyes pop open. What did I just hear? Another loud yell and some bangs occur once again and remind my brain of why I am awake. I shoot upright in bed.
“Do you hear that?” I ask Austin.
“Yeah," he says.
The yelling I at first thought was a drunken party noise, begins to grow more desperate.
“GET OUT!!” I hear.
I jump out of bed and run to the front of the apartment. A large cloud of smoke is quickly passing by our front windows. OH MY GOD.
My step quickens as I walk across the balcony, shortening the distance between me and the entrance to my safe haven. I kick my boots against the outside wall so I don’t track in snow; I would hate to dirty my beautiful home’s floors. As my hand wraps around the door handle, twists and opens it, I am overwhelmed with the sweet aroma of home escaping out the door and draping over my body. The warmth I feel when I step in is like a blanket wrapping around my chill body. Pushing the door closed behind me with my foot, I survey my kingdom and say, “Hi home! It’s so nice to be back. I missed you.” The door closes on the rest of the world, and I am transplanted to my protective nest. The weighted burden of today’s events or what tomorrow may hold is lightened as soon as my nest welcomes me home.
I deeply inhale the scent that Austin and I have created in this small paradise. My little monster, Willoughby greets me with snorts. His whole body jitters with excitement of my arrival.
“Hi, my baby! Want to take a nap with Momma?” I ask him.
After I strip off my cold outer layer of clothing, I scoop Willoughby up and carry him to the bedroom. We crawl under my favorite quilt from my mom and snuggle; his warmth against my chest makes me relax, and I am filled with happiness. My home has a way of wrapping me up in its arms, and I in turn do the same to my puppy. I wake up as Austin crawls into bed behind me and holds me holding Willoughby; I feel complete in my heart.
“Austin! There’s a fire! What do we do?! Should you call 911?” I yell to Austin as I run back to the bedroom.
He is already half dressed and asks me, “What’s most important?”
“We have the suitcases packed,” I quickly reply.
It was the most practical thing I could think of.
He runs to the front of the house to grab our hard drive and laptop while I throw on my oldest, dumpiest pair of shoes: my 7th grade pink pumas. There is no time to think. There is only time to act on instinct. At first, I put the left shoe on my right foot and have to switch it.
30 seconds have now gone by since we first awoke.
I grab my Anthropologie jacket, put it on, grab my purse and the little and big suitcases and run them to the front of the house. I drop the suitcases off at the front of the door and run back for the backpack. Austin is running to the front door ahead of me and opens it.
He walks out onto the balcony with the stuff he’s gathered and yells at me, “Rachel! We are leaving NOW!!”
The tone of Austin’s voice tips me off that we are in real, immediate danger. Fear is now flowing through my veins.
I’m running back to the front of the apartment with the backpack when I hear this. All the while, Willoughby has been cautiously following me, and as I lunge down to put his collar on, he slinks away because he does not understand our unusual frantic behavior. Now I have to chase him in order to grab him, clasp his collar on and hook his leash onto the collar. I don’t want him getting away from me. I don’t want to lose him.
As I’m securing Willoughby, Austin is getting more desperate to save anything. He throws a pair of boots, a hoodie and any other items that were in arms reach of the front door over the balcony, into the parking lot. This act is done in vain, as all of these items will later be ruined by smoke and water from the fire hose.
At the last second, I spot my favorite sweater. I know in an instant, that if I don’t grab it now, I’ll never see it again. I reach out and grab the sweater off of the couch as I am running toward the door. The first thing that happens when I step onto the balcony is I inhale a large amount of smoke and start coughing. I look to the left and see the biggest flames I’ve ever seen wrapping around the balcony. OH MY GOD.
In a strange act of habit, Austin closes the door behind me. I have the backpack on, Willoughby in one hand and the little suitcase in the other hand, as well as a big sweater and purse somewhere in it all. I feel helpless for about 2 seconds as I watch Austin struggle to hold onto everything he has. He gets a grip on it all and grabs the big suitcase, and then we take off running down the balcony. As we begin our descent down the stairs, Willoughby, still clueless to the urgency of the situation, tries to stop for a pee break at his regular spot, but I pull him down the last flight of brick stairs. I realize I have just been dragging the suitcase instead of rolling it, but there was no time to do things the “right” way.
In a matter of 60 seconds, my protective nest that I put my heart and soul into is being scorched to death, leaving Austin and me vulnerable and weak like we had never felt before.
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.
SEARCHING FOR CLOSURE
Two months have passed since the fire. Every single day I drive by our old place to get to work or town. Every time I look over and see our burned-to-a-crisp, barely-holding-on apartment complex and I always look into what used to be our home. In a way, the sight of it brings me some comfort that I can still see it and remember our life there each time I drive past. Only once after the day it happened did I pull in to look up at our second floor apartment. I found some old book pages that had somehow fallen down from our apartment to the studio apartment below it where the fire first began. I couldn't bring myself to touch any of the pages or any leftover soot, nor wooden frame that survived.
I finally decided that I needed some closure and I was going to find that by going up in our old home and saying goodbye. I told Austin this one night and he supported me with my decision. We found some clothes that were given to us that didn't fit well and we planned to wear them into the ash stricken complex. It was late, so we went to bed. As I lay there trying to fall asleep, I was overtaken with anxiety. I thought of what I might find in our home. Maybe I would find an old piece of jewelry or love note. That night while I slept, I dreamt that I found all sorts of meaningful items in our home. These items that I found in my dream (my grandmother’s jade ring, the dishes and pottery I had since I was 13 that I put into my Hope Chest for my future, among other things) were especially meaningful to me. I woke up excited and anxious. We hopped in the car and began driving to our old place. I was getting really nervous, but I was also incredibly anxious to get up in there and put my heartache to rest. We are less than a mile away, and my heartbeat speeds up, and, as I lean in closer to the windshield, craning my neck to get the first look at my burned out home that I was going to climb up into, the lot comes into view. I inhale sharply as I look at it.
"Oh my god," Austin says.
The entire complex has been torn down. All that remains is a man who is leaf blowing over the cement slab that used to hold our home. I could not believe what I was seeing. For two months, that complex stood there taunting me each day as I drove by, yet when I finally decide to go back inside and say my last goodbye, it has been taken down; erased forever. There were no words in my throat to utter, only tears to be cried. I felt as if I had lost my chance for that closure I was trying to find. The closure was forced upon me, which didn't exactly feel like real closure to me. Driving by now almost hurts more than when the burned place still stood there. It feels as if that moment in our lives has been erased forever and not to be remembered. I am trying to tell myself that it was for the best. I might have been hurt if I went up in there, but I cannot hesitate to say that my heart hurts deeply over not getting to do this act of going up into our old home and saying goodbye.
John is in the parking lot area drunkenly stumbling around continuing to yell, “Get out! Get OUT!!”
“AUSTIN! AUSTIN!!!” I scream.
Austin saw movement in our neighbor's window as we were running by and stopped to bang on their door to make sure they got out of their apartment.
We later find out that the movement was caused by their snow white cat. She often sat perched in the window. We enjoyed saying hi as we passed on our way to our apartment every day. She didn’t make it out.
“Get out! Get out!” He yells. He pounds on the door until they open.
I see him running back to me and I feel the slightest bit of relief. In the next instance, I see the cars are starting to catch on fire.
“Austin! The cars! The cars are catching on fire!” I yell.
Austin sprints to his silver Honda Accord and backs it out of its spot towards me. He leaves the car running. He has a spare key to my car in the console of his and runs to back my Honda Pilot out too.
I look up to see our neighbor, Jill, standing on the walkway upstairs yelling at our neighbors who started the fire.
“What did you do, you Mother Fuckers?!” She screams.
What sounds like gun fire goes off.
“Are they seriously shooting at each other right now?!” I think as I instinctively crouch down and use my arm as a shield.
Later we are told there was ammunition in an apartment that was exploding.
Austin yells for me to drive his car across the road to the dirt lot on the other side of the street.
He pulls me out of my stupor of gazing up at the fire and cursing my heart out, and I am, once again, in go mode.
I pick up all of the stuff I carried down that I unknowingly dropped on the asphalt during my fire gazing daze. I throw it all into the back of the car. I notice things spilling out of my purse onto the floorboard. I throw Willoughby in after the stuff and then jump in the driver’s side. I am panting and focus enough to avoid the people walking around the road and dirt piles, not sure what they are doing. I see they are in the same stupor I was just in, not ten seconds ago. They appear as what I imagine the Hebrews wandering in the desert looked like; dazed, confused and helpless.
The cops have already pulled up. They are telling everyone to get behind our cars. Wait, now the dirt piles. It’s not safe here. I look over to Austin who is awkwardly being forced into a hug with the neighbor from downstairs who is holding his daughter.
The neighbor tries to rope me into the hug too, but I push him away and tell Austin, “I cannot handle this right now.”
Austin knows. He politely leaves the neighbor and scoops me up in his arms, and I let myself groan into his chest.
“Let’s just leave. Let’s take the cars and leave,” I say.
“Ok, we will meet at my work. I don’t have my phone anymore, so let’s just meet there.”
“Ok,” I say.
As he runs to get into the Pilot, I notice he's only wearing his socks; no shoes. I become aware of my large sweater I threw on and how I am so hot from the adrenaline and the fire.
May is just around the corner and with it the promise of warmer, and in effect, happier days. Unfortunately, the hope of warmer weather provides no sense of solace at this moment.
My chest is heaving and I want out of here. I cannot bear the thought of watching my home burn down till the end. It hurts too bad.
We pull out as the fire trucks arrive. As I drive past, I feel no physical heat. Austin later tells me that when he pulled out right behind me, he felt the heat wave thrust into his car as he drove past the inferno. I don’t feel anything. I don’t even look over for one last glance. I am shaking all over my body and am taking deep gulps of air in, trying to stay afloat as I drive to Austin’s work. My home burned down. My home. Burned. Down. I keep repeating in my head.
Austin has been a rock up to this point; leading us out of our home with swift speed and directing me out of my stupor. He took charge and made sure our neighbors made it out, while I was dropping everything and screaming in the parking lot.
Later he tells me he would have stayed to watch the whole thing burn down to the end, but he knew I couldn’t handle it.
I grab my cell phone and call my mom.
“Those motherfuckers burned our home down, Mom!” It is communicated in a combination of a scream, sob and plead.
“I am so sorry, Rachel. I am so sorry. I am on my way right now.”
I feel like I am going to vomit and shit my pants at the same time. I want to wake up from this nightmare.
Unfortunately, that just isn’t an option.
ONE LAST LOOK BEFORE WE LEAVE
In only a matter of hours, I have decided that I am done with this town. I have been ready to leave since I arrived in it six years ago, but even that wish to be gone could not stand next to the desire and need to be rid of this town for good now. I feel as if Boone has personally robbed me of my most prized possessions. As if it were giving me a big, “Fuck you, Rachel. You rejected me and I don’t want you here either.”
The next few hours fly by in a blur. We make it to Austin's work and make our way into the building through the light, weeping rain that has begun to fall; matching the mood perfectly. We walk up the stairs to his loft office where I collapse on the ground. Austin grabs the trash can and begins throwing up whatever is left in his stomach. I scream out and slam my fist on the ground. We look at each other with heavy eyes and hearts.
Willoughby, meanwhile, can be heard running around the cubicles downstairs exploring each person's work space, completely oblivious of the fact that our home was just scorched to the ground and that we almost didn't make it out.
Austin's voice as he talks to his mom on the phone is soft and assuring; a stark difference from the conversation I had with my mom.
"We are fine, we are not hurt, but our home burned down," he tells her.
He puts his parents on speaker and when it is my turn to talk to them I just start to cry. There seems to be nothing else for me to do.
My two older sisters call from England next, after receiving a weird text from my dad that had them concerned. They are already up for the day, preparing for their Saturday adventures hiking on the Southwest Coastal path. Just hearing their voices and feeling comfort from their words is incredible. My heart aches to see them and wrap my arms around their necks, which is supposed to take place just later that evening, but now I am not so sure what we should do.
Should we still hop on the plane and escape to London? Everyone encourages us to do so right from the first conversations after the fire.
On my drive to Austin's work, my mom said, "You guys still need to go to London. You need to leave for a while."
I had my doubts in those first moments after the fire, but as I began to think more about it, I make the decision that it might be just the thing we need. Almost perfect timing in the most unfortunate way.
We need family around us like we need the air that we breathe in these first few moments and days post fire. It is essential to recovering. So we get back in our cars and drive over to my brother, Stephen, and his wife, Greta's apartment. Although Austin is now phoneless, my phone is in my purse, so we try to call Stephen and Greta. They don't have their phones on so we cannot forewarn them of our early arrival to their home.
We knock a few times, but no one comes to the door so I go to their bedroom window and begin calling out, "Stephen! Stephen!"
He swings the curtain open and is freaked out to see me standing in his window.
"Hey, it's me, Rachel," I say.
"Hey, I'll go to the door."
The door opens. Willoughby lets himself in first. My brother stands there, shirtless, with scruffy hair and a bewildered face.
"Well, our home burned down," I begin.
"What?" He asks taking a step back.
Greta comes rushing into the room. She is wrapping a sweater around her body; comfort.
"What?" She echoes.
"Yeah, our home burned down." I repeat as we make our way into their home.
"Oh my god. Seriously?" Stephen asks.
My brother hugs me and I feel my burning hot face rest against his shoulder. I let myself cry as I hug him and then Greta. They are crying too. Their stunned faces do not shock me further than I already am, instead, it mirrors my own heart.
"I'm so sorry Rachel and Austin," they both say many times to us. I can feel how much they mean it.
"Can I have a glass of water?" I ask. "I'm just so thirsty."
"I think we inhaled quite a bit of smoke, Rachel," Austin says with such logic and level headed thinking.
"Oh, I guess you're right. I just didn't even realize it."
I try to drink as much water as possible, but the adrenaline rush that keeps coming in waves, even though I am away from danger, makes me feel nauseous and I can barely stomach much. My body continues to go into shock and I shake all over uncontrollably in spurts. My parents call to let us know they are making their way up the mountain.
“Could two hours really have passed already?” I wonder.
"Oh, my baby," my mom says as she pulls me into her arms.
She kisses my head and holds me there for a long while, letting me soak her shirt with my tears.
Austin's parents arrive a couple of hours later and the decision is made to drive to Charlotte. Our family urges us to still make the trip and get away from our town that held such devastation and leave it behind for a while. So, that’s exactly what we do.
Austin is using my phone to text some of our friends and family. The phone rings and his own face pops up. How is this possible?
Our neighbor who was roping us into hugs was on the other line and explains to Austin he has no idea how, but he has Austin’s phone. They agree to meet at Walmart to return the phone. Austin mentioned later how bizarre it felt to see his own name and face show up as the incoming call.
Austin and I immediately have hopeful thoughts stream through our exhausted and confused minds. What if the phone survived the fire and firefighters hose? Is it possible? Maybe we will be able to save some things in our apartment if the phone, which Austin swears he threw on our bed before exiting, survived. We don’t know how it all ended since we left before the fire was put out. Neither of us voice these hopeful thoughts in fear of being wrong or just feeling stupid, but we both anticipate going back to discover if we might be right. Maybe we can salvage some things and not have to completely start over.
Just before we escape this dreadful town, we go back to take in the destruction. As we drive up, I clench my hand around my neck in an effort to keep myself from losing it. I step out of the car into the rain and gaze up at the frame that remained of our home. Everything has turned to ash. We climb the hill to the side of the crumbled mess and look down into the framed rooms we called home just a few hours earlier. One of the strangest feelings comes when I look into where the bedroom was and see not one thing remaining. Where the fuck was the bed I was sleeping so soundly in five hours ago? There was nothing left for us here, and I wanted to run away as far as I could. The hopeful thoughts of repairing some of our life we built together in that home were shattered.
15 hours have passed since we first woke up to find our home on fire. Austin has been cool, calm and collected not only as we maneuvered out of our burning apartment, but as we recounted the event to others many times that day, and with making the decision in regards to our next move. His military style reaction didn’t slow down, that is until that evening as we prepared to go to sleep for the first time post fire.
That night in my parent’s guest bed, Austin and I go back and forth telling the story of the fire like it was the first time we were telling someone else what happened. As we go through the events and each tiny detail, both of us feel the adrenaline rush sweep over our bodies and send us into shaking fits. We hold each other as we sob, not the beautiful tears streaming down your faces kind of cry, but the full out wailing sobs, until we pass out.
The next day, my parents drop us off at the airport with the entirety of our belongings in hand.
As the plane rumbles and we prepare for take off, I look over at Austin and squeeze his hand. We smile at each other with sad eyes. I lay down across the seats and think to myself, “We are still here, alive, and getting the chance to experience life.” I feel the pressure of Austin’s hand resting on top of my head and his touch makes me feel grounded and safe. I drift into a deep unsettling sleep with my hands balled up together, pressed against my ribs in attempt to hold my heart in my chest. I’m scared it will explode out of my body otherwise.
While I was still in the UK, and Austin had returned to the US, Austin came back to our old home and stood on one of the melted, abandoned cars in front of the complex to get a better view into what was left of our home. At first, he thought he saw one of his leather cutting boards, but then he realized it was one of my kid photo albums. He knew he had to try and get it for me, so he borrowed a ladder from a co-worker and came back for the album.
This task was pretty sketchy since the whole place was barely holding on, but since the walkway outside was entirely burned away, he was able to stay on the edge of the second bedroom and reach in to grab the treasure. Not only was there the one album he first saw, but there were all four of my photo albums piled together there. Sure, they were melted shut, but they were still remaining. Austin recounts that the only things he could see when looking into our home was a square, about 1 foot in diameter, left of a pair of jeans and most of his circular saw near the photo albums. This is a strange phenomenon in itself, but that was literally all that remained.
The idea that I still wanted to return and scavenge through our burned home, even though Austin claims to have seen nothing else remaining may seem quizzical. However, I tend to be the type of person who needs to see it to believe it. Even though Austin tells me he didn’t see anything else up there, I still have to wonder if there could be other things left untouched by the fire that he just didn’t see. Plus, since he didn’t get all the way up in the apartment, I think there could have been things missed in the bedroom or kitchen, which is why I have the deep urge to later return to climb up into the apartment and put the questioning to rest.
I received texts from Austin holding up some of my baby and childhood pictures. One in particular stuck out to me. I was standing in front of a waterfall in 7th grade in Peru with the happiest smile spread over my face. In the picture Austin sent me, he was holding this scratched, yet saved picture of me up proudly beside his own beaming, smiling face in front of our burned down home. His sweet pride in recovering this gem for me, even in the midst of the ugly aftermath made me so happy to call him mine.
As I sat in a rental car outside a cafe in a small town in Isle of Skye, Scotland looking at this photo, I began to silently weep. My tears flowed continuously down my face and I held that picture in front of my eyes for a long time; I was taking in my life at that moment. My gratitude for my most incredible husband took over my heart and I was overwhelmed with happiness that he chose me and I chose him to spend our lives together. My sister, Abbi was sitting in the car crying with me. I felt so lucky to be with my amazing sister in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, where we got to explore, learn from each other and build an even closer sisterbond. In this moment, I thought, “Life is wild and sometimes it shits on your head, but then there are these redeeming moments that make it all worthwhile and gives you something to live for and strive to become a better person.” In that moment, with my heart pounding in my chest, I chose to live like every day is my last and spend time loving others and exploring the world with those I hold so dear.
THIS TOWN DOESN’T FEEL LIKE HOME ANYMORE
Five weeks go by too fast. As we drive back up the mountain, I do not feel as if I am going “home.” What home do I have? My sister and brother-in-law’s place in London feels more like my home at this point. London is where I went confused and aching with pain from the fresh heartache of the fire. This is where I learned to breath again, to live again, and leaving London feels like I am leaving home. My heart begins to speed up as we come into town. My vision feels blurry and it seems as if I am in a dream. Boone feels like an estranged hole that is under a thick cloud of fog. It feels as if the town will swallow me whole and pull me deep down into an unknown abyss. I am grasping at the air around me to find something to pull me out. All the while it snatches me from around my stomach; plummeting my fall faster. The breath is being sucked out of me and I am drowning in the abysmal hell of a town I was supposed to call home. Hot streams flow down my cheeks as I silently take in the landscape during our drive through our small mountain town nightmare. How will I make it here ever again? One day at a time. I have to keep telling myself this each day for the first weeks to come after returning to Boone.
One day at a time.
The fire was caused by one of the two boys that lived in the studio apartment together. One of them threw their burning cigarette (or joint) into the trashcan in the apartment. Both boys were drunkenly passed out as the flames crawled up their walls. Their dog, Scout, is the only reason any of us are still alive. He woke them up out of their drunken stupor.
John has voiced to other neighbors that it was his roommate that started the fire, but I think there is no way to determine who actually threw the cigarette in the trashcan. To me, they are both at fault. However, I hold John as the more responsible perpetrator. This in part is due to my lack of respect for him, but I especially despised the way he spoke of the incident to others afterwards. John spread the tale around town that he ran into one of the apartments and saved children; claiming to be the hero of this story. The memory of intoxicated John stumbling in the parking lot, slurring nonsense, watching the complex burn down, and not even coming up to knock on our door to make sure we got out is brought to the forefront of my mind and I cannot accept that he is a good guy. An anonymous source gave me information that one of the first things he made sure to do, post fire, was refill his fifty plus pill prescriptions he had lost. John was always high, and witnessing the friends that came in and out of his apartment, I couldn’t help but speculate that he sold drugs. I had the impression John’s roommate, Graham, who started living with him several months before the fire, was not even supposed to be living there. Graham did not give off the same negative vibes as John. In fact, Graham had at times been very kind and was able to hold genuine conversations.
I have no idea how either of them can live with themselves, knowing they destroyed twelve other people’s lives and homes, and killed a number of animals. They were in no way held responsible by the law for the incident.
We are settling into our new home rather well and it takes me by surprise. Of course I cried a lot when we first moved in here and everything was emotional to me since my daily routine no longer looked the same or held many of the normal items etc. that it did in the past. The freshness of our trauma more openly affected me in the first weeks and even first couple of months to follow the incident. The affects began to set in deep, not just touching the surface of my skin all over, but piercing through the outer layer and sinking into my flesh and bones. I feel more than ever now how much this event has become a part of who I am, down to my core. I can control myself better now when things come up to remind me of this part of me. I like feeling more in control of this; it gives me a sense of stability.
A number of weeks after living in our new apartment below a lovely family, they invite us to join their bonfire one evening. I feel just a tinge of anxiety thinking of being around a fire.
"It can't be that bad and I'd rather get my first encounter with fire, after the incident, done and over with," I think.
We get home late this evening because we went on a date to the movies and part of me is hoping the fire would long be put out so we won’t have to be by the fire tonight. As we round the bend on our street, the little fire comes into sight.
"Oh well," I think, "Best to get it over with."
Thankfully, there are a lot of new people to meet and faces to try and get acquainted with around the fire, which distracts me for a while from the actual element in front of my eyes that I was so anxious about being near it. Eventually though, the crowd begins to thin and conversation dies down. It was then that I just stare straight into the fire for a long time, feeling the welcomed warmth it drapes over my chill body. I feel strange to be happy about the warmth it brought me, since it caused so much destruction only a couple of months prior. I remind myself that this particular fire was not to be held responsible for that. Rather, this fire was created by this welcoming group of people, on this beautiful mountain evening, with care and purpose; nothing like the way the other fire was produced by accidental carelessness.
At one point, I feel my emotions bubbling up to my throat and my eyes start to water, but someone's joke brings me back to the group I am surrounded by and I am able to swallow that feeling back down to my stomach and it dissipates. Instead, I am able to laugh and relax even in the midst of a blazing fire. Austin of course goes out there after everyone went up to bed and dumps enough water on the coals in order to ensure that no fire would reappear from the ashes.
Now that the first encounter has taken place, being around fire has become a bit easier. It is still emotional at moments, but I feel more comfortable and confident being around and even creating and nurturing a fire, crazy enough. This element that I have viewed as destruction and my enemy, has become something I have a deeper relationship with than I could have imagined to be possible. The connection I feel with it runs deep. I have been changed by it, and it somehow understands who I am. The power it has to give and take from life is baffling. My respect for fire’s strength and abilities is beyond measure, and I yearn to better understand it.
After the initial shock, devastating pain and realization that we lost everything and almost lost our own lives, I started to panic about the things that other people had in our apartment or things that I had borrowed, but not yet given back. I didn't want to have to deal with that guilt and pain that others would feel. My sister, Abbi, who had been living with us for over a month had moved out just a month prior to the fire. At first, we anticipated her leaving all of her stuff in our apartment while she went on her backpacking journey in England. All of a sudden, before Abbi left for her adventure, she decided to take absolutely everything out of our apartment. Including her hard drives (which we encouraged her to leave with us, since my parent’s home is like a black hole; leave your things there at your own risk), her banjo, all of her clothes, pictures etc. I couldn't believe she trusted my parent’s black hole home, but it was what she wanted, so I figured, why not? Well, after the fire, I was so damn happy she did that. I couldn't have lived with her having lost everything in our home that was supposed to be a protective place for her things.
At first, I thought she hadn't gotten her hard drives out of our place and I was dreading delivering that news to her. Especially since her livelihood is photography, and all of her photos were on those hard drives. I was so relieved when I heard that that was not, in fact, the case, and that everything she had was taken out. Whew. Well, besides a tea kettle, coffee and frother machine, and toaster oven. All things that I have put in a little list of things we owe them. I had to add another item today to their list. Abbi, Eddie and I went on a run together and Abbi mentioned her running water bottle holder and then I realized that that was in our apartment. My thought? Dammit. I'll add it to the list.
Eddie, Abbi's husband, had just visited and stayed with us the night before the fire. He left his laptop at the door of our apartment, which we promised to take over to my brother, Stephen, and his wife Greta's place so he could pick it up after a camping trip he was taking on the Appalachian Trail. Thankfully, since the laptop was in its case right beside the door we were able to grab that and run; one less, rather large item I didn't have to add to the list.
I was so worried about other people’s few items left behind in our apartment even when all of our things were burned to a crisp right along with those few things. Not just a couple, but almost every single thing we owned. Nothing left recognizable. I guess I just didn't want to have that on my hands, so to speak, but it is what it is and I have to let it go.
The memories are not as frequently replayed in my mind so I'm spending less time reliving the worst day of my life. Lately though, I've been feeling really anxious.
THE MESSY EMOTIONAL AFTERMATH
Time will heal wounds, or as I've experienced it, dull the pain. The memories are not as frequently replayed in my mind so I'm spending less time reliving the worst day of my life. Lately though, I've been feeling really anxious. Having my stomach twist in knots, my heart palpitate and jaw sore and throbbing because I have clearly been grinding my teeth are strange feelings to experience when I don't feel the mental anxiety and stress that should accompany such symptoms. However, as I begin to dig deeper, my heart is still hurting and bleeding from the trauma I went through, not three months ago.
After a month had passed since the fire, I was still so distraught when others couldn't understand that I am still immensely upset and heartbroken. At this point, three months after, I have just come to understand that that is normal, human even, for people to have almost entirely erased the event from their minds and I am viewed as I was before; no different. It is rather exhausting to fight such a fact and therefore, I must accept it and move on, heal quietly, not bothering others about the matter. This may seem sad or downright depressing, but it just is what it is and I am ok facing that fact.
We were the only ones in our apartment complex that had renter’s insurance. My heart is saddened for those neighbors who lost everything with no hope for compensation. With that said, documenting every single item in our home, including individual details such as, how long we had it, what brand it was, what it would cost to replace, as well as including a photo of each item, has been a complete nightmare. Each time we sit down to try and remember the items room by room, we are reminded of the traumatic event, and heartbreak swoops over to envelope us whole. This has been no simple process, and the thought of sitting down to document our lost items makes me sick to my stomach. The insurance representative told us to go back to the apartment and take as many pictures as possible of our damaged goods. Ha! What a joke that was. I very seriously considered putting pictures of ash on each item line to make my point of how asinine that request was to me. We have been asked many times if our insurance will replace everything. The accurate answer is no. Monetarily speaking, our insurance won’t make up for everything lost, but also, insurance cannot bring irreplaceable items back, like love letters, my dried king protea wedding flower, nor other unique pieces we collected over the years. We are still grateful to get the chance to replace a good portion of what was lost, but the road is not easy. The heartache has been lightened by all of the generosity of friends, family and even those who do not know us, through their contributions to funds to help us rebuild our lives. We will be forever grateful to these kind souls.
There were so many things in our home that are irreplaceable, but I have found myself obsessing over Anthropologie's online store and Amazon, scouring over items I lost that are replaceable or just finding different things to replace what I lost. One night as I had about four different tabs open for different items and I was adding things to my shopping cart in each, I felt sick to my stomach and stopped scrolling my fingers across the screen. I closed each and every one of those tabs and forgot about the items I put into the basket. Guilt and disgust swept over me, and I didn't want to become so materialistically driven. There was this pressure I felt from everyone who was watching us recover that we needed to stay really humble and be grateful for what was given to us, but to not be focused on buying lots of things. No one outright said these words to me, but this experience put us at the center of attention for a while, and it made me feel like I had to watch every step I took in the process of recovery. Some words that were communicated to me that led to this thinking included: “Well, you got all of your favorite things out of the apartment in your suitcase, so that’s good,” or, “I was at first jealous to hear all of your stuff burned up.” I did not in fact have all of my favorite things in my one suitcase, nor would I consider my experience to be jealous worthy. These comments made me feel guilty, but I also understood the reality. Stuff is stuff, I lost all of my stuff and I cannot replace it all in one fell swoop. I also realized that we should be saving money rather than spending it.
This ate at my heart, so I said, "Stop Rachel, just stop."
Every now and again I find myself fantasizing about different dish sets I could replace mine with, although what I really wanted was to just have my own damn dishes back, but yes, I know it's not an option (trust me I already checked). Even still, I have my eyes on some dishes at Anthropologie. They aren't the same as my old ones, but they are delicate and sophisticated. I understand that if we want to make it far in this life, I can't go on spending money like it's not a thing. Needless to say, this transition is hard as fuck and I am figuring out how to cope and keep my sanity.
A number of scars are on my heart as a result of growing up and living life, yet this scar from this fire is still fresh, it is still raw and pink and it still hurts, like hell. Some days I will be just happy dancing around our new apartment and then I am slammed against the wall (figuratively speaking); memories of dancing in our old place flash through my mind. My dancing comes to an abrupt halt and I am suddenly sobbing. Other times, I am driving down the road and there is literally no reminder of the fire to be seen and no thoughts of the fire bouncing around in my head and again suddenly I am crying out, tears streaming down my face. Trauma has a way of sticking with you and ebbing into your life when you least expect it.
The amount of memory loss that people have concerning my trauma can sometimes be astounding. I feel as if I am living a big secret, like no one even knows about what happened to me and Austin. I find it easier to think that way at times and pretend others just haven't been informed.
Part of my identity was stripped from me in the fire. Literally, my birth certificate, social security card etc, but other things like my wardrobe, journals, art etc., so after the fire I decided I wanted to chop my hair off because I wanted to change something on my own terms. I wanted to change me a little bit, but not because it was forced upon me, but because I decided to do it. I have seen my hair chopping and dying through and it felt good to make a change knowing I was the one controlling it. I also discovered that I lost 10 pounds since then, I was not intentionally trying for this and I was rather shocked about it, but it is another change that I have found myself among. After going through something traumatic, some people will get a medal of honor, a tattoo, a piercing or something more extreme. As humans, people want to have something to represent this significant experience, time or change in their lives. A haircut is not that extreme, but it still means something deep to me and that's what matters. Also, It has only been three months, so who knows what other things I could come up with later on to do to signify this time and event in my life. The small act of cutting off and coloring my hair has brought me rejuvenation and I am starting to feel happy in who I am again apart from all of the things I have lost.
Today my husband sent me a link to a story that a guy wrote about his apartment catching fire in New York City. He lost everything. His humble perspective on life afterwards tugged at my heart and reminded me of all that I should be grateful for each and every day I have on this earth. Today marks one year for him since his home was overtaken with flames and destruction. I cannot recount the times that I have been told by different people that, “Stuff is just stuff, you can replace it,” and how annoyed I was to hear this from those who didn’t understand what it felt like at all. Yet, when this guy wrote these words in his blog, I felt like I could really hear it from someone else for the first time. He had actually experienced a fire like me and lost all of his things that were tied to memories, but he reminded me that I still have the memories even without all of the stuff. All of this I have been saying and I knew in my heart that it was true, stuff is just stuff, but this was the first time I could really hear the words and truly feel it resonate within me.
I am thankful today for this guy, his story and his willingness to share it with the world and in effect, me. This story softened my heart and convicted me for, at times, focusing on the saddest parts of the fire aftermath. I hope that in 9 months, a year after my fire experience, that I will be able to be in such a positive mindset and have progressed in such a way as this guy. My goal is to write my heart and fingers out these next 9 months, love more deeply and passionately in the next 38 weeks and make every day count and take delight in the small, as well as the big moments during each of the 269 days till the one year mark. I then will write on this day and give hope and encouragement to others facing trauma and heartache. If I can touch at least one person's heart in the way that this guy's story touched mine, then I will be incredibly happy.
ONE LAST LETTER
I felt as though I had put our old mailbox to rest and it no longer affected me, but then one day, weeks later, mailbox #2 was hanging open, yet again. Only this time weeds were so overgrown around it, it looked as if the inside of our old mailbox housed a few different species in the jungle it now called home.
While busily chatting on my phone to my mom as I drive to work, I snap my head, at the last second, to the left when I saw #2 open, yet again. I decide right then that I would close it shut next time I drive by. The only issue was that I only ever remembered after I passed the sight and never felt like turning around to take care of it. When I finally remember to carry out the job, I am talking with my mom on the phone on the way home; an apparent trend. I swing into the parking lot. Leaving my car on and my door open, I quickly slip out of the car and shut #2 snug, that is, only after looking into it to make sure a letter hasn't magically appeared. I then walk back to my car, jump in and drive away, all the while carrying on the conversation with my mom about her day at work. A smile spreads across my lips, reaching all the way to my eyes, as I continue my drive home. Could it be possible I was really putting this all behind me? Maybe this was the closure I was searching for that I failed to get. #2 opened its mouth for me this last time, as if it knew I was finally ready to accept this conclusion. Shutting the door to #2 brought this chapter to a close.
Mailbox #2, not only did you inspire, as well as warn me, you also gave me closure. I thank you for that. I did not realize what you were asking of me back when I kept seeing your door open, but I now understand. You were asking for your one last letter from me. As a thank you, I gift you this letter of my tale, my heart, to reside in your protective walls.
Thank you to all of our friends, family, as well as strangers who came alongside us and poured out your love and support on us. We could not have made the recovery that we did without you all. I also want to thank my strong, incredible husband for quickly leading us out of our burning home and insisting that we make a fast recovery, coming out better than we were before. Without you I’d be lost.
The feedback I have received about this story has been invaluable. I would love to hear anything you have to say in response to Fire Diaries or any questions you may have. Thanks for spending the time reading my tale, my heart.
The link to my one year mark blog post can be found here.