Tomorrow marks the dawn of a new year, full of hope and possibilities. It also marks the 5th anniversary of the day our lives got turned upside down. It's taken me that long to be strong enough, ready enough to write about it and I think it's finally time.
January 1st, 2008 found us at our apartment, winding down from two days of fun with our friends. My fiance and I were goofing off on our respective computers in the back bedroom, thinking it was about time for bed. He was off with his tractor trailer in the morning for his next run, and I had work. It was wonderful having him home for almost a week, but now it was time to part again. We were putting it off as long as possible by staying up way too late, nearly midnight. The door to the bedroom was closed as two of our cats didn't get along, so we kept them separated. That's why we didn't hear or smell anything until...I don't even remember what made us open the door. The whiff of something, the need for a drink; doesn't matter why, just that we did. That's when we heard the smoke alarm and smelled the smoke.
Our kitchen was filled with that smoke. Our first thought was 'my God, did we leave the stove on?!?' Within moments though, we knew it was coming from the apartment below us. I calmly grabbed my purse from the table next to the door, scooped up our coats and boots, and headed downstairs. I never thought it would be the last time I was in my apartment.
Six hours later the fire trucks left and we had nothing to do but see what could be salvaged. All three apartments on our side of the building were destroyed, all of our beloved pets gone across the rainbow bridge. We were lucky - our bearded dragon, Hank, was the sole survivor. He was spoiled by us for the rest of his little lizard life (which was a good 3+ years after the fire). What happened? The woman downstairs, stoned & drunk out of her mind, managed to set herself on fire and the rest of the building while she was at it. Amazingly enough no human lives were lost that night, but that made the loss of our animals hurt even more.
In an instant we were homeless without any possessions left to our names. In the days that followed we were able to salvage photos and some Christmas ornaments (after all, our tree was still up) but that was it. Everything else was permeated with water, ice (it was darned cold), and the stench of burning building. Thankfully I had renter's insurance which helped greatly, but how do you go about rebuilding your home? Your life? The pain of that loss still brings me nearly to tears all these years later, and probably always will.
A brief note to anyone who rents; if you don't have renter's insurance, GET IT. It is, at most, $10/month for a policy. Trust me, while you hope to never need it, it's invaluable when you do. We were the only ones in the building who had it...
In the days that followed, I discovered how you survive. It's with the help of family and friends, for you cannot, cannot do it alone. Step one was realizing that we were both alive and that was a pretty damn good for starters. We got everyone out of the building that night and are still remembered as the ones who helped save lives. Step two was not being afraid to say 'yes' when family & friends asked if we needed help. Through that network we had a new apartment that weekend, dishes, towels, and even some furniture. We were well on our way to rebuilding our lives.
What then moved me to tears (and yes, still does) was the outpouring of love & support from our online communities. People we chatted with every day or week, whom we had never met in person, were suddenly sending gift cards to help us rebuild. That, coupled with the help from our local friends & family, was completely overwhelming. It still is, and I would do anything I could for each and every one of them if they needed it. Something like that is never forgotten.
Time moved on and I married my fiance 6 months later, right on schedule. We've since bought a house, started a family, and welcomed new kitties into our lives. And yes, I did have the thought my first night in our house, that no neighbor could burn it down on me. Still, every year at this time as I'm surrounded by those who helped us when we were down, I get overwhelmed yet again by the love and kindness they showed us.
Happy New Year everyone; hold your friends and family close, and never miss a chance to tell them how much they matter to you. May 2013 hold lots of joy for you and yours!