It’s been one week since I watched my apartment burn down. It’s been one week since I have had to start redefining normal and rebuilding my life.
This is in no way a full account of events, but a slightly detailed summary, we’ll say.
On Wednesday, August 17th, I went to work. I’m a special education life skills teacher at a high school, and I love my job. It was the week before school started, and after work I went to visit 3 of my students. They bring me such joy! I then went to Pizza Hut to pick up the pizza I had ordered 4 hours ago, and I STILL had to wait 20 minutes for it to be ready.
Can I just say that my heart is racing as I type this, because I know what comes next?
I left Pizza Hut and got to my apartment complex 3 minutes later and saw smoke coming from behind the front building. I got worried about what it might be, but never thought it could be coming from somewhere familiar to me. I turned the corner and saw my apartment building on fire. I started freaking out, parked, and called 911. As I was on the phone, I was frantically texting my friend Teo, my friend Danielle, and my supervisor, telling them that my apt was on fire and I didn’t know what was going to happen.
Teo is my best friend who lives in Romania and was asleep at the time, but she is the one I talk to about everything all the time.
Danielle is my friend that lives 6 minutes away…I am basically family. I nannied her kids for forever.
My supervisor needed to know that I didn’t know if I could come to work the next day.
And then I waited. I wondered what would happen. I pleaded with the fire to stop growing. I tried to breathe. As soon as I saw the teenagers that lived next door to me, I got out of my car and we hugged each other as we watched our apartments burn and let the rain soak us through. I cannot explain how we felt.
I took this picture after about 5 minutes of arriving home. It was still small. My apartment is up the stairs on the 3rd floor. On the right side of the staircase. I could see that there was already smoke coming from it.
Danielle arrived and she couldn’t get in because police and fire trucks had already blocked the area. She had to park at the movie theater across the street. Hard is not the right word here, but it was hard for me to walk away and go across the street to her. We were able to walk back, but couldn’t get back to my car. At this point, I just wanted the pizza on the front seat of my car. Because I didn’t know what else to do. As we watched the apartment burn and people being evacuated from surrounding buildings, I cried, tried to breathe, and kept thinking of things that I had lost. My scrapbooks. My flamingo collection. My pictures. My green box (full of super important personal things). My letters. My journals. My quilts. My kitchen. My BOOKS. My personal library! I am a girl of many collections, and I was watching them burn.
I went through stages of crying, naming things, staring at the fire, and trying to breathe. Danielle called my mom for me (she lives in Utah) and she also called my supervisor. I could not talk to anyone. I could not breathe.
Danielle recently told me that I kept trying to walk closer to the building, like I thought I was going to be able to save something, and she had to lead me away.
After a while, everyone from building 3 was called into the front office. The American Red Cross and the apartment management handled the situation very well. The investigator from the police dept (I think) was super insensitive. I got up and walked away from him. It was ridiculous.
I could not stop crying. Danielle was calling anyone I asked her to, and explaining the situation to them. I did not want to be contacted because I didn’t know what to say to anyone. I had just watched my apartment burn.
I always have a book in my purse, and I had my purse, so I did what I knew how to do. I read. That was the only way I could be comforted. No words could be said and no action could be done to make me feel better. I needed to escape. So I read. I didn’t get very far before I started thinking of all of the books that I had just lost. And then everything else that went along with that.
Danielle was amazing. She was right there with me, holding me, helping me, and gathering all pertinent information from the authorities, because I was in no state to remember things.
When Teo woke up, we finally got to talk. I was in Danielle’s car across the street, charging my phone as we talked. She is my sanity, and I was relieved to finally be able to talk to her. We couldn’t talk for long, because I had to go back to the apartment office and take care of things with Danielle. But it was comforting to finally be able to talk with her.
Before we even left, I had a small glimpse into the miracles to come.
Every human and every animal was saved from the building. THAT is amazing.
Danielle posted about the tragedy on Facebook, and within minutes my friends were rallying together to help me rebuild my life and redefine normal.
I was amazed at how many people were offering help. Friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers alike.
Turns out, lightning struck the apartment at 6:30. I arrived at 6:37. We didn’t leave until 11:30, with generous help from the American Red Cross and an offer on a new lease in the same apartment complex.
I was grateful that I could stay with Danielle’s family, but it was not my home. My home was gone.
I slept for only about 2 hours. Mostly, I cried.
The next day, I went with Danielle to sign the lease on my new apartment. I was lucky that they had a vacancy in the same complex, 3rd floor.
My friend Raspbana showed up to take over when Danielle had to leave. We can equate this to babysitting. I needed someone with me. I simply did. Raspbana was the perfect person for the job. I figured out insurance, signed on the new apartment, and ignored a call from LuLaRoe Onboarding.
You see, on July 8th, when I was in Romania, I signed up to be an Independent Fashion Consultant for LuLaRoe. I knew there was about a 2-month waiting period to onboard, and I was expecting my call at the beginning of September. I had been doing many things to prepare, and even bought some of the supplies I would need.
My computer was gone, along with all of the work I had done to prepare to be a LuLaRoe consultant. The supplies that I had bought for my new business were gone. I didn’t know what to do. So, when LuLaRoe called me to onboard as a consultant, I didn’t answer, knowing that they would call back twice if I didn’t answer.
It was very rainy. Each time it rained, I cried. I was thinking of my apartment, with no roof…I knew that anything that could possibly be saved was now getting rained on. Again. Each time it poured. Each time it sprinkled. Everything that was left in my apartment was getting wet.
Yes, logically it was already wet from the fire hose and the rain on Wednesday night. But it was like pouring salt into a wound, letting it rain on my already burned apartment.
Raspbana and I went back to Danielle’s house and started to make the list of everything that was in my apartment and the cost to replace it all. Oh, daunting. I can’t even tell you how many little treasures. Well, just think of your house. Try listing each and every thing inside of it, while sitting 6 minutes away. Furniture, books, clothing, trinkets, kitchen goods, floss, everything. And then finding out how much it all costs. And then imagine that you will never see any of that stuff ever again.
On Friday, I was outside of my apartment looking up at this.
They were pulling things out of my apartment!!!!! I couldn’t believe it!!! I had to sign a release form so that I could get things…drama. First they said that nobody was allowed in the top 4 apartments. Then they said they were. Then they weren’t. Long story short, the apartment didn’t want anyone in. The cleanup crew said they were going in. So, I am forever grateful that they went in!! It looked like they threw anything in a bag that they could get to, and that looked like it could be saved.
Then it started to rain. Again. I had to wait my turn for them to get to my apartment, and I needed to be present for them to bring stuff down. So I could not leave. I needed to see what I still owned.
Eventually, they started bringing my things down. I cried. This time, happy tears. Not all was lost.
He said there was about this much more up there, but he had to wait until the crew got off lunch and then they would take it down.
I had nowhere else to go. So I waited. Danielle and Lucas showed up just as I was going through A SCRAPBOOK. THREE of my 12-ish scrapbooks were saved!! The three that my mom had made for me as I was growing up. I turned each page and cried as I savored the half-soaked pages. Worth saving.
I spoke to Damien, the main guy on the cleanup crew. Oh, he was a miracle worker.
Then they started bringing stuff down.
See that green box by my left hip? That’s THE green box that I mentioned wanting earlier. AND IT WAS BASICALLY UNTOUCHED. It’s like the fire jumped around some of the things that were most important to me. God works in mysterious ways, y’all.
Damien was amazing. He kept going back up and getting things for me…passport, journals, and more. The structure of the 3rd floor was unsafe, especially with the ceiling hanging down, but he kept going back. That man is amazing.
Going through the bags would have been impossible without the support of my friends. Danielle was there, and Raspbana and Sarah showed up shortly after. Their presence was invaluable.
Honestly, we had to throw most of it out. The water and smoke damage did most of it in.
However, I GOT WAY MORE THAN EXPECTED!!!!!!
We took a lot to Danielle’s garage, and over the next few days I slowly went through things, with a little help from my friends.
I spent hours each evening in the garage…with a hair dryer, drying out journals. But I am grateful to have them.
The kitchen table at Danielle’s house is full of my journals and scrapbooks drying out. And I am grateful to have them.
A few days after the fire, I was going through a bag, and I found my box of letters!!! The red and white box itself was ruined, but WHO CARES!? I had the letters!!
We laid them out to dry, but I still have to go back and wipe off ashes and rubble.
A lot of the stuff we took to Danielle’s garage had to be thrown out. But that’s okay. I just wasn’t ready to let go of it yet on Friday, but by trash day on Monday, I had come to terms with the fact that I had to rid myself of the damaged items that could not be kept, and move on.
I cannot tell this story without mentioning the love and support that I have received. Danielle stepped right up and basically took over my life, answering questions, receiving phone calls, and managing donations. I don’t know how she could handle it all.
HUMANS ARE AMAZING.
Once my LuLaRoe consultant friends found out what had happened, they contacted other consultants that they know, and by Saturday I had a whole new wardrobe being built. I HAD CLOTHES!!!!
After seeing the response from my LuLaRoe community, and after talking to some key people in my life, I decided to go forth with my LuLaRoe business. I decided that I wasn’t going to let the fire hold me back. I was going to continue my life as planned, and start a new business venture. Now I just had to wait for LuLaRoe Onboarding to call me back.
Also, I had to start school on Monday. I had to be there for my students. I needed them in my life, now more than ever. I spent most of the day on Saturday on campus, preparing things. I had missed work on Thursday and Friday, so I had quite a bit to get done. Luckily, an amazing lady, Lisa, came up and helped me with my classroom!
The first day of school came, and I was in full work mode. I didn’t have time to think about my problems. These kids needed me. And I needed them.
I am glad I went back to work on Monday. Connecting with my students had a sort of healing power that helped me in a way that I cannot describe.
I am overwhelmed at the support I have received in the past week.
Danielle had created a GoFundMe account, and I still can’t believe how many people have donated. It warms my heart to know that I have financial support to redefine normal and rebuild my life.
Renter’s insurance, y’all. Get renter’s insurance. And the right amount to TRULY cover your belongings. I now realize that my policy basically just covered my book collection…but at least I had insurance!
Thanks to friends, family, and friends of friends (of friends, too)…my Converse collection is being restocked, my flamingo collection is beginning again, my Alice in Wonderland book collection has restarted, and my personal library is being rebuilt as well.
The booster club at my school has raised money for me, allowing me to go this weekend to buy new furniture for my apartment, among other things. The support I have received is incredible and unbelievable!
Most importantly, this is not the end. It is a new beginning. Everything that is in my new home will have a story and will be there because someone loves me and supports me.
LuLaRoe Onboarding called after work on Tuesday. I pulled over, took the call, and became an Independent Fashion Consultant for LuLaRoe. I am so excited for this journey ahead. I am proud to be a part of a company and a support system of ladies that have helped me through this trial in my life. And let’s be honest, I can’t wait to share these comfortable clothes with everyone! Plus, a little extra income right now would definitely be useful as I try to rebuild. Shameless plug: Go ahead and “like” my business page on Facebook! LuLaRoe Chloe Palethorpe
And now for the name sake of this post…Just Like Fire.
This song came out with Alice Through the Looking Glass in May of 2016. I fell in love as soon as I heard it. I have been jamming to this song ever since I first heard it. And now I listen to it all the time.
This part of the chorus speaks to my soul:
“Just like fire, burning out the way
If I can light the world up for just one day
Watch this madness, colorful charade
No one can be just like me any way”
I am going to let this fire define me. It is part of my life. It changed my life. I will now burn my own new pathway through life, lighting up the world, even if for just one day. No one can be just like me.
I still have moments.
I was driving home from work on Monday, listening to the radio, and I heard a song come on. I remembered that I have a really cool mashup of that song, and then I remembered that it was on my iPod, and then I remembered that my iPod is gone, and then I started thinking of all of the other things that are gone. I had to pull over to cry before I could finish driving home.
Last year, my class read an adapted version of the book Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I read the full version before we read the book in class. There’s a character named Aunt Elinor. She is a crabby old lady who lives by herself, and every room of her house is filled with books. And she has a library that has her most special books inside. Elinor left her home to help her niece find her father, who had been taken by Capricorn. When Elinor returned, she found that Capricorn’s men had burned down her house and destroyed all of her books. As I think of the hours I spent standing outside, watching my house burn and knowing that my books would not be spared, I feel connected to Aunt Elinor, as she stood and mourned the loss of her precious books that defined her life.
I still have thoughts along the lines of “if only Pizza Hut had had my order ready on time…I could have been home.” I tend to think that I would have been able to save more things. I could have thrown things off of my 3rd floor balcony, down into the grass, and then I could have been able to save more of my scrapbooks, my books, my quilts…but people keep telling me that “at least I’m safe” and I don’t know that it would have worked out that way.
I know they are right. But I can’t help but have these thoughts.
One week ago I watched my apartment burn. I have seen a lot of positivity since that dreadful night.
I am forever grateful for the first responders that were there that night. I found out shortly after the fire that my friend Madeline was one of them. She went in towards the end to put out hot spots on the 3rd floor (my floor). About 8 months after the fire, I found out that a friend from high school, Matt, was in my apartment that day putting out the fire. It truly is a small world. These people put their life in danger to save others, and I am eternally grateful for their service.
Life is unexpectedly incredible.