I was in the eighth grade, sitting in math class. My best friend, Ryan and I had our desks pushed together as we did our “work.” There was a knock on the closed classroom door and the lady said “Whitney Mars is checking out.” I thought “What? I haven’t called my mom.” I was notorious for asking my mom to come get me quite often. As we approached the office, I noticed that my mom wasn’t waiting for me, my Gangan (grandmother) was. That peaked my curiously. I instantly knew something was off. The solemn looks of the school staff gave it away: something was definitely wrong. As we walked out of the school doors and towards the car, my Gangan mentioned they were supposed to have me ready and waiting for her. I started quizzing her about what was going on. Was someone in the hospital? Had someone had a wreck? Are mom and dad okay? The list went on until I said “Is my?” She looked at me and I knew. She answered “yes” and we left to go to my home.
On the way, a thousand thoughts ran through my head. We were a few miles away when I spotted the thick, black smoke and I knew it was worse than I had thought. The fire squad and policeman were already there, along with my parents, some family, and friends. Flames were bursting out each window and holes the firemen had sawed in our home. The day turned to a blur, but I do remember many things. Family and friends gathered around us as we sat in outdoor chairs and watched the flames grow bigger. My Pawpaw said “You’ll get more than you think out of there!” and I think everyone wanted to slap him across the face. In the end, although we didn’t recover much, we did recover more than we had hoped for. For the most part, we were in shock. I can’t tell you a thing my parents and I talked about. We watched as the brave firemen ran in and out of the house. They had cases of water sitting in the front yard. One would come out, gulp down a few bottles of water, and go right back in. Later, the fire chief told us that it was one of the hottest fires he had ever gone in. I remember my dad mentioning a beautiful suede trench coat I had received thebefore. I had begged for it and when I opened it Christmas morning, I cried because I was so happy.
It was one of the worst days of my life, but in ways, it was one of the best days. There is no doubt, it was a huge turning point for me. We had only the clothes we were wearing, but by the time we left that evening, we had toothbrushes and toothpastes, clothes, hairdryers, curling irons, even make-up. I remember looking up at one point and there were about one hundred people there to support our family as we watched our home burn. One man in particular, a friend of my dad’s, offered us a place to stay. My dad refused. He had always been the one helping people, he had never needed help. The man insisted and contacted my dad over the next few days. He finally told my dad to move in or his feelings would be hurt. I guess that guilt trip was enough, because by that weekend, we were moving in our new home. It was a gorgeous, newly built two-story home, much larger than the one we had lived in. The upstairs didn’t even have flooring down yet. This angel man, Mike, allowed us to live rent free for a few months to decide if this was where we wanted to stay. It wasn’t where we wanted to stay, we wanted our home, but we have tried our best to make this our home. The kindness of people during that time still amazes me to this day. I am absolutely in awe when I think back to that crowded yard. Those people wanted to help. They held food drives to stock our pantry, they held clothes drives to fill our closets, and some helped us dig through the rubble.
My best friend, Ryan, came over as soon as school let out. He had been my closest friend for almost four years at the time and I walked out to meet him. We met under a beautiful Magnolia tree in our front yard and he simply put his arms around me. I needed that hug so badly and I will never forget that simple gesture. While we aren’t as close as we once were, I still consider him one of my best friends. If at anytime he needed me, I would be there in a heartbeat. I’m sure that day was full of kind words, but that hug is one of the only things I truly remember.
I’m not sure what pulled me to post about this. As I tried to go to sleep last night, I felt the need to get out of bed, sit down, and write this. I will continue the story over the next few days, because I don’t want to bore you all too much in one sitting.