"The house that no longer exists"

Melissa, age 16

Have you ever woke up in the morning to have someone tell you that the place you call home no longer exists? Have you ever sat with your family and friends wondering where you were going to sleep that night or the next or in a month? Have you ever not owned a single pair of socks? I did this on July 19, 2014. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have those things that are always simply there. Socks. Underwear. Pajamas. Regular things suddenly gone.

They said it wouldn’t burn. They said it couldn’t burn. It was supposed to be safe. They meaning the firefighters. These trusted workers, many of whom were close friends. Carlene one of the main ones and a very, dear friend of my family told us that they had put 800 gallons of water on it. She said the left it because it was safe and there was no way it could burn. It did. So, there we were; homeless like so many others.

Weeks later, I was still avoiding the word “home”. I was able to volunteer alongside many friends and strangers at the different locations. This way I got a chance to talk to everyone who lost something and everyone who had come miles and miles and miles to help. I was amazed by the people not only in my community, but the people all around who felt the need to help. The thing about being there amongst the helpers was that people at first assumed that we had not been personally affected by the fire. Usually, because it was hard for people could not even fathom that a 16 year old who had lost her home would be here helping, they would all ask where I live. I’m not a simple person so everytime I had to explain where I lived and where I was currently living. Of course, this brought hugs and apologizes just making it awkward and uncomfortable.

Seven weeks of homelessness. Seven weeks of sleeping in a motorhome in the church parking lot or on a church bench. Seven weeks of wondering. Seven weeks of looking for a place to live. Seven weeks of torture. Seven weeks of awkward apologies. Seven weeks of meeting new people. Seven weeks. That’s all it was. How did those seven little weeks feel like such a very long time? It took FOREVER. Definitely longer than seven weeks, in any case. After seven long weeks of homelessness, we got a rental to live in. Just days before school started up again we moved in. Life was still so chaotic at this point (still is really). People kept saying that us kids needed to get back into school; “get some normalcy” back into our lives. What many weren’t realizing is that the school had a significant amount of damage as well. This caused school to start a week late.

When we were finally sent back to school it was anything but normal. We got there and first off we weren’t allowed inside at first. Then, the normal ten minute “Welcome Back” assembly lasted an hour. During this assembly we had several guest speakers, including a senator person. Someone read a very long letter from the governor who apparently wished he could have been there for our first day of school for some reason. Why did anyone want to come to our first day of school?! It’s JUST school!! Next, the staff was introduced to us, among them were THREE counselors. That’s right three. Were they trying to scare us off? When the assembly finally ended we went to the usual class meetings where we had some unusual experiences. Backpacks and school supplies. They handed out backpacks and school supplies on the first day of school. That just doesn’t happen. There were funny looks and glances as those who didn’t know tried to figure out who all had lost their houses. I knew already that the teachers all had lists of who we were. They kept asking how we were doing and if we needed anything.Was this supposed to be normal?! Is that what they call this?

Here I am, three months after the fire that devastated our lives so greatly. The other day, I discovered that I still only owned one pair of pajama pants. Not only that, but the pair I had were from my house. This realization was a painful one. To think that after three months there was still so much that I didn’t have. Now, I look to the future wondering what the winter will bring. I need boots and coats of course. I had a brand coat, I think, which I had gotten at the end of winter last year and had never even worn. These simple things I keep thinking of. I’ve got to get winter running gear...again. Sitting at school as people begin to discuss holiday plans, I have been trying to picture myself and my family celebrating the coming birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in the new house. Yet, I just keep seeing us around the kitchen table in the house I can’t help but call home. “The house” that no longer exists in this world. I wonder if it will ever stop being my home.