Disasters make us stronger

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Samantha Gahn, Opinions Writer, [email protected]

I was a sophomore in high school on the dreadful day of August 2003. I had my schoolbooks, my flute and the clothes I wore that day to school and practice. I was on the JV Volleyball team for East Bay High School in Gibsonton, Fla.

I was coming home from practice one evening. I wasn’t allowed to drive my parent’s car because my mom had a doctor’s appointment an hour away.  My mom arranged for one of her friends, Kris, to pick me up. She drives up and tells me that we had to run some errands before she would drop me off.

We were driving away from the high school, passing the fire station five minutes from my home when Kris slammed on the breaks. I was jerked forward into my seat belt as I turned to give Kris a dirty look for her terrible driving skills. When I turned back to the road, I realized the result of the break slamming; a fire truck had just cut us off. Kris started driving again, this time following the truck.

“I don’t want to miss anything exciting! I’m going to follow them.” She turned to look at me and said, “You okay with that?” I nodded my head, a little bit of excitement bubbling in my stomach. I wanted to follow the truck and know what was going on as well.

My house was an open road with only one stopsign, so keeping up with the truck was no problem. But as soon as it pulled into our driveway, our laughing and excitement turned into anxiety.

The whole time I was thinking, “Please drive past my street.” Then the fire truck turned onto my street. I thought, “Please drive past my house.” Lo and behold, the fire truck stops right where I didn’t want it to: my house.

The front of the house was completely covered by trees and bushes. When we pulled up and got out of the car, all you could see was the trees and huge cloud of smoke in the sky. I stood there, mindless, watching the firemen working as the cloud of smoke grew bigger and bigger. Kris came up to me and shook me out of my stupor. She told me I needed to call my mom. I pulled out my phone and dialed her number.

“Hey mom, our house is on fire,” I said in a monotone voice.

“No it’s not. Stop joking around,” Mom responded, brushing it off.

“Mom, I am not kidding, our house is on fire.”

Kris grabbed the phone from me and yelled, “Your house is on fire, get home now!” hanging up on my mom.

After the phone was taken from me, I looked again at the house and realized something that made my stomach drop. My two younger sisters were supposed to be at the house, which was currently on fire.

As I turned to tell this to the firemen that were standing close by, my neighbor told me that no one was in the house. I was instantly relieved. They had decided to go to the beach. They had a grand old time collecting shells and chasing seagulls while I watched our whole lives go up in smoke, literally.

Twenty minutes later my mom and brother, Jeff, pulled up to what was left of the house. The head fireman walked up to my mom and told her the fire was out and there was nothing left. My mom, forever the optimistic, nodded with a smile on her face and pulled out her phone. She had a job to do.

My dad was out of town for work, so it was up to her to find a place for us to stay, at least for the night. We stayed with some family friends, and that night we had a funeral for our dog, Max and our rabbit, Mary, who didn’t make it out alive.

The next morning when we realized that everything had changed. We needed to figure out what we were going to do next. My dad was on the first flight home and showed up just in time for us to go back to the house to clean up. We dug through whatever we could in the remains of the house.

I walked into what was my bedroom, a room that I had shared with my two sisters for seven years. I looked around for my teddy bear I had my whole life. When I couldn’t find it, I couldn’t hold in my pain any more.

I cried, I cried until my eyes were dry and no more tears would come. My whole life was gone. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t want to go to school the next Monday. By that time everyone would know what had happened, and I could already hear the whispers that would follow. I didn’t want others to know that I had nothing now. I didn’t want them to view me as nothing.

But to school I went, and it was almost like no one knew what happened. No one asked me about it. I didn’t feel like anyone was talking about my family behind my back. It was really nice to know not many people knew.

Our family ended up renting a house until we had our new one built. Our local church donated clothes, furniture and everything else that we needed were donated. As a whole, we were well taken care of; all of our needs were met.

When I tell people now about the experience I smile and tell them everything worked out the way it was supposed to. My parents were able to pay off their debts with the insurance money, and we built a home we made our own. It was hard, but we bounced back quickly.

My life is better because of what happened. I am able to handle stress better, knowing what should be done first in the times of hardships. Most importantly I learned about the importance of love for my family. I was scared out of my mind, thinking that my sisters were in the fire. I learned to love them more, even when they were driving me crazy.

When we moved into our newly built home, my sisters asked me to take the middle bedroom so I could be between the two of them. That made me feel loved and wanted.

Family is the most important thing. They are who you fall back on when terrible things happen in your life.

We see natural disasters every day, from the flooding in Colorado to a tsunami across the world. Let’s take the time and effort to refocus our lives. When the hard times hit, we’ll be ready.