Most people can say that they've endured some kind of natural disaster. In grade school when the days got a little too stormy, they'd cancel school meaning you got to sit at home and watch TV while the rain gently ran down your roof. Maybe the wind would blow a bit too hard and a tree branch would tap against the glass of your window, practically asking if it could come inside for some protection. Occasionally when the storm got a little too strong the power would flicker in and out, your family would gather some candles and flashlights and have them at the ready, but they were more of a precaution above anything else.
We watch the news and watch as hurricanes knock trees over on the coasts and tornados sweep houses from their feet. We watch and see wildfires burning buildings to the ground and how floods sweep cars down the streets. We sit in the comfort of our homes, unknowingly content with the idea that these events are fine and that they'll happen because they'll never happen to us. They'll never happen to you because those things don't happen to you, they happen to other random people in the world, but never you.
Until one day it does.
September 11, 2017.
Hurricane Irma has been passing its terror alone the eastern coast for what's seemed like days. The skies are grey and ugly, the sun hasn't been spotted in days. Rain constantly falls from the sky like it's a cup overflowing with water. It never seems to stop, the never-ending downpours. It doesn't help that the wind kicks up every once in a while. The big tree in the front yard pushes and pulls in every direction as the wind tries to force it from the ground, but the tree remains firmly glued to the ground.
Sometimes the power goes out for a minute or so but it comes back on. The sound of whirring routers and computers restarting are common noises. It's normal.
Sitting on my couch in the living room, I flip through news channels talking about the changes in wind and the expectations for the days to come, the possible weather outcomes and the way that Irma had already taken houses and lives. Everything seems more than normal. We've had hurricanes come through but there's never been any damage in my area.
My whole entire house shakes like an earthquake had run right underneath my house, shaking the lights, knocking objects off of shelves.
Five feet to my right a tree branch falls through the ceiling and points directly at me. My body jumps up, my brain unable to think. My first reaction is to scream, scream as loud as I possibly can as everything seems to flash before my eyes.
A tree just fell on my house.
A tree just fell on my house.
A tree just fell on my house.
My parents scream from downstairs unknowingly about what happened. They ask if I'm okay, what happened to me, what's wrong, but I'm unable to form the words.
My brain has gone blank, my body froze in place.
It's there that I come to the realization that if I had gone to my bedroom like I wanted to just seconds before, I would have been hit by the tree branch. It's terrifying. There's no proper way to describe the sheer panic that comes over my body. My hands are shaking, there are tears falling from my eyes.
My parents run up the flights of stairs to see me staring directly at the branch of the tree as if I'm paused in time. Everything around me seems to have stopped moving. This isn't reality.
This isn't my reality.
My mom snaps me out of my trance and screams at me to call 911. Call 911 and get the fire department because a tree has just fallen on our house and we need help.
As soon as my legs can work I'm running past the first branch into the dining room where I find the massive body of the tree trying to find its way into the house. It's taken out a large portion of the wall that leads to the outdoors. I can see my neighbors house, I can see all of the rain that's flowing into the house, onto the floor. All of the supplies that lined the walls is now smashed under the weight of the tree, soaking wet with no chance of being functional anymore.
Moving forward I attempt to open the door to the laundry room barely five feet over. I push at it as it fights back against me, refusing to budge. Once I finally manage to force the door open, I spot another branch impaling the ceiling, water leaking in from every angle, flooding the floor.
It's a mess.
After screaming into the phone that a tree has just fallen on my house the fire department is on their way. My mother tells me to grab my things because we won't be coming back for a while.
Walking on the floor is like trying to ice skate for the first time, wobbly and unsteady, unsure where to step in order to keep yourself from slipping. My balance isn't good enough and I crash into the floor, but the adrenaline is pumping and there's no time to be worried about a single injury.
In my room, I throw clothing into bags. Blankets, pillows, small trinkets that I know I'll miss the most. All of the posters on my walls and the decor I've spent so long collecting are things of the past. There's no telling when I'll be able to see them again.
Everything is dark, my dad and mom frantically try to set huge tarps around the hole to stop the water from leaking in. Family friends have rushed in, assisting in the ways that they can. There are firemen wandering throughout the house trying to help as best they can while insisting we should just leave.
"It's better to leave and ensure your safety."
"It's a house, it's replaceable."
But it's my house. It's my house.
As I shove past firemen looking for my cats, a man falls through the ceiling directly above me. The floor is giving out. Is it safe to be here?
I'm forced to drive over to my relative's house just a neighborhood over, shivering from the cold and shaking from the trauma. I'm told to stay put while they go back and try to fix up what they can without the fire department's help. It's incredibly frustrating.
School's been canceled for three days, and as most people sit at home watching their TVs and playing their video games I'm living in another house. I'm doing my homework like everything is fine, like a tree isn't on my house, like gallons of water haven't soaked into the walls, breaking down the foundation. I don't know the status of my house. I don't know anything. I'm forced to stay ignorant.
At the same time, would I even want to know?
It's hard going back to school several days later. While everyone talks about what they did and didn't do, I'm forced to act like everything is normal. Everything is fine. Everything is fine! When someone finally asks I'm reduced to tears. My teachers find out and postpone my assignments as if that's going to help for the time being.
But it doesn't just stop after a day or so, because your house is destroyed and there's no telling when it's going to be fixed. Maybe December, maybe March, maybe even May.
Losing everything is a nightmare that no one should have to experience, ever. It's something that we take for granted every day. When I went back to school and everyone found out, there was a flash moment of sympathy at the beginning. People felt sorry, they thought what had happened was horrific, but after a couple of months when nothing had been fixed they'd forgotten. They had forgotten that I still wasn't living in a suitable home, that I was moving from hotel room to family houses because I couldn't stay at my house.
I didn't have a "livable" house for almost nine months. We didn't have a kitchen or a laundry room. We had three forks, three knives, three spoons, three cups, three plates, three bowls and that was it; one for each person. We washed dishes by hand in the bathroom sink and cooked everything in a microwave. We weren't living, we were trapped within the confines of a home that couldn't even be called a home.
There was a point in time where we didn't have any furniture, we sat in camping chairs in the middle of our living room because our sofas and tables were long gone into storage. All of my enjoyment was sucked away into storage because we couldn't have anything laying around with workers coming in and out all day.
Sometimes when we couldn't live in the house we stayed in hotels. Friends would nudge me and say "You're so lucky! Living in a hotel room sounds like so much fun!" But they didn't understand. I wasn't living in a hotel room because I wanted to, because I thought that I would live out my dream of living in an upscale penthouse in New York, just on the suburbs of Atlanta instead. I was living in a hotel room, living out a suitcase because I didn't have anywhere else to go.
We didn't have anything for such a long time.
Natural disasters take the lives and the homes of random strangers every single day and we never bat an eyelash. We never think that those things will ever happen to us because they just won't, but the reality is that those things can happen to anyone. It doesn't matter at all; reality comes for anyone.
It's a difficult thing to process because you're so caught up in the whirlwind of emotions at the moment. You're so caught up with the frustrations that you encounter on the daily but no one would notice, but sometimes you learn from those experiences.
I never thought that I would be so thrilled to get a camping sink until I didn't have a sink for three months, and I never even thought about how lucky I was to have a dishwasher before that. I never thought I would be so grateful to have such common things like an oven and a living room. Those are things we choose to think of like things we should have, things that we're supposed to have, but that's not always the case.
I never thought that I would appreciate putting dishes into new cabinets because we'd gone with using the same three plates for so many months. It was nice to have "normal" again.
Having a tree fall on my house and take everything away from me surely wasn't the start of the fantastic senior year I had planned. I was in the middle of applying for colleges, trying to determine my path in life while dealing with the fact that I didn't have a roof over my house. It's truly something else.
Of course, I would never say that I'd like for it to happen again, but realizing what it's like to lose everything showed me a perspective I had never seen before, and a perspective that not many people get to see. It's taught me a lot about strength and becoming someone who is brave and independent.
Sure, I was terrified out of my mind. I had no clue what the future held but I kept going.
Things get better eventually, even when your world seems to be crashing down (physically or metaphorically). There's always ups and downs in our lives and sometimes those downs last a little longer than we'd like, but as long as you keep going, you'll get back on the track you intended to be on.
Please consider donating to help those in need after losing everything in natural disasters.