What It's Like To Lose Everything

What It's Like To Lose Everything

We never thing something like that will happen to us. Those things don't happen to people like me, right?

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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.

BOOM

My whole entire house shakes like an earthquake had run right underneath my house, shaking the lights, knocking objects off of shelves.

CRASH

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.

https://www.redcross.org/

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Why An Athlete Is Not Defined By Their Level

Pressure can drive athletes crazy.
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With tryout season among us, it is so important that this be addressed before the teams for this upcoming year are formed.

So many athletes that tryout, don't make the team they want and either quit to "take a year off" or jump ship to a gym that promises them to place the athlete on a higher level. I know that every athlete wants to be on level 5 team, the division is the most prestigious of all of them, especially because going to worlds is the end game for most athletes.

The problem these days in the cheerleading world is that our athletes are trying to level up at a rate that is just not quite realistic. If an athlete is on a level 1 team, the chances of her being on level 4 next year are slim. It is necessary for athletes to experience each level for at least a year to learn all of the fundamentals of the level and build on them for their foundation as an athlete to be more concrete. This produces the best athlete possible.

A lot of athletes think that all that they need to jump levels is tumbling and that is just not the case. When teams are formed, coaches take a look at many different things, these qualities include but are not limited to: mental toughness, dedication, tumbling, stunting abilities, pace of learning, dance and attitude.

Contrary to popular belief, there are so many factors that go into forming a team. This team not only has to be suitable for individual athletes but putting a team together is like a puzzle and as coaches we have to put a team together that will work well and have all the necessary percentages of skills to be competitive in their division.

We are concerned about building well-rounded athletes, not an athlete that is only capable in one facet of cheerleading. Some athletes are great level-4 tumblers but have level-2 stunt ability and those two will not equal a level 4 athlete until we boost the stunting ability of said athlete.

Putting an athlete on a team to just tumble is doing a disservice to not just the team, but also the athletes themselves. If this athlete joins a level 4 team to just tumble all year, when their tumbling progresses to that of a level 5 athlete, they will still have level 2 stunting skills and won't be put to good use when they are level 5 eligible. A well-rounded athlete is the kind of athlete that wins Worlds.

SEE ALSO: To The Coach That Took My Confidence Away

When athletes take their time and learn their level, they are not just learning completely new skills each year, but building on them. If done correctly, each year an athlete should improve on all points of cheerleading and not just one. The rules in each level lead to progressions for the level that it directly follows, so that athletes can safely learn skills by going up the ladder one step at a time.

What most don't realize is that skipping steps is such an unnecessary practice. If Susie stays on level 2 for an extra year, she is not "learning nothing", she is improving on the skills that she didn't quite execute completely the year before, this will perfect her performance in this level and give a more solid foundation for her to build on when she is on a level 3 team.

Pressure can drive athletes crazy. Parents, your athletes have so many years ahead of them to be on a level 5 team and go to worlds, so pushing for a 10-year-old, that is just not ready, to be on a level 4 team is unreasonable. Let your 10-year-old learn maturity and mental toughness at a level that is more appropriate, when your athlete is pushing herself too hard it takes the fun out of the tryout process and creates unnecessary stress on the athletes.

Lastly, please be sure to support whatever decision your coaches make for your athlete's placement, they know your child and they are not trying to hurt their pride, but build them up so they can accomplish all of their goals as an athlete. Know that the level your kid makes this year doesn't define him or her as an athlete, but helps them grow into the cheerleader they have the ability to become!

Cover Image Credit: National Cheerleaders Association

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5 Things That I Encounter While Driving And How I Am Still A Safe Driver After Them

Stay in your lane, my friend.

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When I began driving as a 16-year-old, I was terrified that I was going to do something wrong. On the road, it's easy to mess up, swerve into another lane even just a little bit, or be in the wrong in a car accident. There's, unfortunately, an endless amount of things that can happen on the road and already do every day.

With a lot more practice driving in the past 5.5 years, I've learned a lot about my own style of driving as well as other people's. I never come across the same people on the roads, but some of their actions are similar, if not the same as others. Driving like an idiot has become a new trend on the road nowadays. I don't know who started that, but it's bothersome to the safe drivers who are trying to get from point A to point B.

Over the years I've driven on my own so far, I've encountered lots and lots of different scenarios and I've learned from each of them. In turn, I've become a much more defensive and safer driver.

1. People in a huge hurry.

Photo by Jaromír Kavan on Unsplash

It's inevitable, there are people who are in a hurry to get where they're going. I understand if an emergency arose, but if it involves getting somewhere and not running late, people should plan to have more time for their commute. Instead, since they don't, they believe that swerving into lanes in order to get in front of people is a problem-solving way of driving.

Their logic is: if there's enough room for me to squeeze in between two people, I'll do it so that I can get where I'm going faster. Lots of people think that if they get past a traffic mess or get past slower drivers that their problems will be solved and that they'll get where they need to go on time. Since this is not the case, I leave enough room in front of myself and other drivers in their automobiles in case something like this happens. I don't want to be at fault for someone else's mistakes.

2. People out to get you.

Photo by Per Lööv on Unsplash

Call me paranoid, but I have a strong belief that some people like to act the way that they do on the road in order to ruin someone else's day. Even if this isn't the case, there are people who can still have malicious intentions. These can involve someone cutting me off without using a directional to let me know they're merging into my lane or even people who try to merge into my lane in front of me with very minimal space. When drivers do this, they're stressing me out because I leave enough space in case I need to slam on my brakes in case of an emergency, not enough for someone to squeeze into my lane and make me slam on my brakes to slow down to let them in. The reason I leave space in between myself and other drivers is not that I'm welcoming someone into my lane so that they can get their way.

3. People clearly distracted.

Photo by Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash

Look, I understand that it's IMPERATIVE that you talk on the phone while driving. All power to you. My car has the ability to call anyone for me hands-free, as well as text someone for me and not have to lift a fingertip off of the wheel. Isn't that also why we have Siri? iPhone users, it's become so easy to text, call, email, etc. while driving now.

A lot of people are victims of texting and driving, but if there's traffic on a road with stoplights, or we're driving on a one-way road where we can't pass others driving too slow, it's a courtesy to put your phone down to make sure you aren't going to run into the back of someone. One thing I notice with distinctly distracted drivers is that they'll brake more often for no reason when they're distracted. It's because if someone is looking down or away from their view of cars in front of them, they'll constantly brake more in hopes that they won't accidentally run into someone. But what about the people stuck behind them who are wondering why the people in front of them are braking so often? Not to mention that there's usually not anyone directly in front of them, so it makes it much more obvious that they're distracted.

In hindsight, it's much better to just wait until you're stopped. Please and thank you (:

4. People who tailgate.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

This is something I'll never come to terms with.

Why people need to tailgate me is beyond me. I used to have a habit of doing it myself but realized how unsafe it was and how quickly something accidental can result from it. That's the thing - if I'm being blatantly tailgated and someone runs into me, it's much more intentional than it would be if it were a different circumstance. So to an extent, it's not "accidental".

I'm a person who is very conscious of people around me in all directions, so I know when someone is riding my as*. I don't just stare directly in front of me, I can see you tailgating me. My strategy when this happens is to slow down even more to tick off the driver behind me in hopes that they'll get fed up and kindly (but never actually kindly) merge around me.

Another useful strategy I use - not as often because it can be unsafe - is brake checking. I'll do it so that the driver behind me knows that I'm very aware that they're there and what they're doing to me, but it's not recommended for anyone to do. A safer option is the former.

Something I'll notice when I have a tailgater on me is the fact that they'll flash their lights at me in hopes that I'll either move out of their way or speed up so that they can get around me. All that makes me want to do is get neck-and-neck with the people in the other lane and drive alongside them, trapping the tailgater. I'm a petty driver, so don't cross me.

5. People being stupid.

Photo by Bailey Hall on Unsplash

This one might sound pretty broad, but let me explain.

This is for those people who think it's a good idea to pull out onto a road when they clearly see someone driving in the right lane going 50 m.p.h. For those who think it's a wise, smart decision to cut someone off who is already driving at full speed.

I HATE YOU AND YOU'RE THE REASON I HATE DRIVING.

Lemme just say that I did not think people were actually this stupid, but boyyyyy am I wrong about that one.

Not only are people stupid in this way, but are simply careless. If they pull onto a road into a lane that I'm in, and I'm already going 50+ m.p.h., they don't care about me. They know I'll have to either slow down or somehow merge into another lane in order to miss rear-ending them. But it's not like I just have to tap my brake pedal when this happens. Oh, no honey. It's the fact that I have to slam on my brake pedal in hopes that I slow down fast enough.

If you're one of these people, please re-evaluate these decisions as well as your own life. Quite frankly, that was meant to be a joke, but it's actually literal because it's life or death on the roads and not a lot of in-between.

If you haven't seen all of these different types of drivers on the road, bless your heart. They're coming.

I only wish I could avoid these types of drivers at all costs, but unfortunately, I cannot. They always find me and they always irk me (:

PLEASE make conscious, smart, INTELLIGENT decisions while driving. You could put not only your own life but some other innocent person's life at risk. Think before you act. It's that simple.

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