All of her life, Kayla, 15, had a place to call home. But last year, her world totally changed when her family lost everything in a violent storm.
I've lived my whole life in Venus, a tiny town in Texas. Growing up, I always thought of my house as the safest, warmest place. My family had a large four-bedroom mobile home. It was big enough but cozy. My sister and I had our own bedrooms, and we had four dogs.
But the thing I loved most about my house was my room. It was just me. My walls were covered with a porcelain doll collection, sunflowers, a yellow VW beetle poster and tons of family photos.
Then last April 23, my world fell apart. My family's nightmare began when my parents and my 2-year-old nephew came to see me play French horn at a school concert honoring troops in Iraq. Midway through the show, an announcement was made: "It's reported that there will be hail and high winds. If you'd like, you're welcome to go." But everybody stayed to watch the show.
LONG RIDE HOME
After the concert, the storm was so intense my dad had to pull over halfway home. It felt like the winds would blow our van over. After we hit four detours, we were very worried. My mom said, "My house is gone--I know it!"
I said, "Mom, you're scaring me! You're blowing this way out of proportion." Just down the road from our house, a police car appeared. Then, we saw something huge in the road ... and realized it was our neighbor's house! I felt sick. Their entire house was a block away from where it had been! As we got out of the car, a neighbor drove by and said, "There's nothing there!" My mom fell to her knees, bawling. My dad tried to comfort her, but she was devastated.
We called my sister, who was out with her boyfriend. Luckily, she was safe. But we had left the dogs on the porch. My mom told me to stay in the car while she and my dad looked for the dogs. All I could see were downed power lines and my dad's 18-wheeler. I thought, "This must be someone else's truck," because my dad parks his truck next to our house. Then it hit me--everything was gone, even our house!
I wished I were dreaming and started to cry. But then I thought, "This isn't the time to fall apart." So I pulled myself together and tried to be strong. I sat in the van in disbelief, my nephew asleep in my arms. My dad returned and handed me a porcelain doll he'd found in a field. I cried like crazy. I was happy to get my doll back but, at the same time, I realized how much we'd lost.
It took over an hour for my mom to find the dogs, all in different fields. I was so happy when Beanie, my favorite, greeted me. That night, we slept in my dad's truck. We were just grateful to have somewhere to stay.
A STARK REALITY
I woke up praying it had all been a nightmare. But then I looked out the window and knew it was real. Red Cross and Salvation Army workers were handing out food and water. I learned that, thankfully, no one had died in the storm. And of all my friends, I was the only one who lost her house.
My uncle searched for our belongings, and found one salvageable item--our American flag. He and my mom believe our lives were spared because we had honored our troops that night. We flew the flag from our clothesline pole, the only thing left standing.
After three days, I went back to school. Everyone was so nice; one friend even gave me a shirt. That shirt will always be special to me. We only had the clothes we'd worn the night of the storm, so we got $400 from the Red Cross. We felt guilty taking it, but it was helpful. People constantly offered to give us things, but my mom hates handouts. We replaced just the essentials, like kitchen supplies, linens and a TV.
We took up temporary residence in a one-room trailer. That was so hard, especially because all our dogs had to sleep inside since there was no fence.
We were totally appreciative to have a roof over our heads, but everyone was stressed. After three long months, our insurance money finally came through. We bought another house that we put in the same spot. The new house was great; it just wasn't home. Our old house was full of irreplaceable memories.
One thing I missed most was the feather pillow my grandmother gave me before she died. I couldn't sleep on any other pillow, and I was so upset. But my mom found it in a faraway field, and I swear it was a miracle. I truly believe I got the pillow back because my grandmother is watching over me.
WEATHERING THE STORM
The hardest part wasn't the loss of my things or even the house; it was watching my mom fall apart. That scared me, because it felt like my world had ended. She's always been so strong, and I thought she could survive anything. My sister moved to Arizona after the storm, so I decided to take over for my mom--cooking, cleaning, taking care of my nephew--to give her time to heal.
Even though it's been over a year, my mom hasn't fully recovered. So I guess my biggest loss has been the loss of my childhood. But the "best" thing that has come from losing everything is that I'm more independent and know I can survive anything. I have to admit that, for a while, I was really angry that I had to take on so many adult responsibilities. But as every day passes, my family is getting back to normal and I'm learning to be "the kid" once again.
The most important lesson I got out of losing everything is this: Don't ever take anything for granted. You never know what might happen. If we had stayed home the night of the storm, we definitely would have been killed. Knowing that has really changed my attitude toward life.
Now, I'm focused on living in the present. As for the future, I'm really motivated to make the most of my life--hopefully, by becoming a pediatrician. I mean, you really never know when it could all be taken away.
By Kayla Schuete, 15, and Sandy Fertman Ryan
POSTED ON 12/29/2009 7:00:00 AM
POSTED IN dealing with tragedy