Life is Precious (Part Two)

November 14, 2010
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There had been three feet of the worst possible degree of sewage water in my house. One of our neighbors had a little less in theirs and three others had a little in their garages. We were hit the worst.

That next day my high school softball team had practice. No one knew what had happened except Amanda and Keli’s family. I called my coach, who I could always count on for personal issues in my life, and told her what had happened and that Amanda and I wouldn’t be at practice, because we needed to get back to my house. However, It was beyond impossible to get there by car. Incredibly, the waters had risen slightly more than they were last night. We took the interstate that lies directly across from my house so we could see in broad daylight what damage had been done to my house. When we spotted it I was speechless. Again, it didn’t seem real; almost as if it was a sick dream. My house was half-buried in what looked like chocolate and I could hardly see the windows. I needed to get to it. My parents had told me it was starting to get muggy and humid in the house and all photographs and electronics had to get out.

We attempted to drive back through the way they had found us the night before and were able to drive through a little bit of the water, but not the first vast body we encountered that night. We parked her Jeep and waded through the water by foot like I had done previously. An immense amount of people were there and were doing the same. Once we made it through the sewage water, we walked to my house, bringing all my emotions of the previous night back to the surface. It smelled so exceedingly awful that it was almost unbearable. We saw that our friends who lived down the street had brought over a canoe and were making trips in and out of my house with essentials and perishable items.

My neighbor took me in the canoe and literally paddled me through the murky water in my house and into my living room where the stairs stood. My parents seemed happy to see me, but I could tell they were stressed and they’re smiles were plastered and fake. I couldn’t stay in that emotional hell-hole for long and needed to get out of there as fast as I could. My dad lightly lifted me from the canoe, trying his best to make it a more pleasant moment by joking that I wasn’t little anymore. He carried me through the muck and allowed me go up stairs to salvage anything worth keeping and anything I’d need to live with. After taking a long last glance at my room that had kitchen chairs, trash cans, clothes, and pots and pans scattered about, I left and secured myself back into the unsteady canoe with a fake smile plastered on my face, too. I put on my sunglasses to conceal my shaken faith in the Lord and we drifted back to Amanda with my few belongings.

After the canoe trip, things went quickly. Keli’s family lent us what they called their “mother-in-law” house attached to their own, but it was too little for four people to sleep in so I slept at Amanda’s house every night for over a month. I’d never felt so blessed in my entire life than I did those several weeks. I literally had a home away from home and a second family who all loved me and treated me like part of the family.

It was the beginning of May so we were not out for summer break, however we had been over for three days due to the tormenting rain. I came back and aimed for a nonchalant attitude as if nothing had happened, because being the center of attention was not one of my goals in life. My plan worked perfectly for a few hours. I entered class and every teacher would ask if everyone had enjoyed their days off and played in all the rain. Occasionally, a teacher or two would have the heart to ask if anyone had damage to their house or other personal items and kids would rant and rave about how close it had gotten to their house, but not one had the damage I did. Even though the kid’s irritating stories of canoeing and swimming in their backyards irked me, I stayed silent and fixed a smile to hide my wounded, damaged face.

Eventually, I was caught in fourth period and my gig was up. I walked in and sat down at my seat, being as normal as possible and casually talked to some friends while we waited for class to begin. The bell rung and immediately Mrs. Birkofer looked up from her desk and stared at me for a minute. It took me by surprise when I saw tears forming in her eyes. The flood didn’t even come to my mind and I had thought something had happened to her. “Are you all right?” I asked. She looked at me like I had just told her I had a terminal illness and had a few months to live. “I am so sorry, Hayley. I heard about your house. That’s just terrible. Is there something I can do? Anything at all?” I could tell she was about to really let the tears flow, so I just smiled and gave a little cackle and prayed to God that I wouldn’t cry in front of her or the twenty students staring blankly at us. “We’re okay. No one was hurt and we got most of our things upstairs before the water got to it. How did you know?” “Hunter told me earlier this morning.” Well, great. So she had been waiting all day to see me then. I wondered who else he had told. “Mrs. Preston also sent out an email to the entire faculty and staff about an hour ago.” Wonderful. I was convinced God was playing a cruel joke on me. Mrs. Preston is a substitute teacher that works at the school and also happens to live a few houses down from me. Now my name was permanently posted on an email sent to every teacher throughout my entire school.

Softball practice that afternoon went pretty well. Several of my teammates knew which I was okay with because these girls were my family and always would be. They supported me and reassured me I’d be back on my feet soon, but they reminded me why I really loved them by backing off and treating me no different. School the next day, however, was grim.
I walked in to first period having the same cool-mindset and looked at the board to see what we’d be doing that day in class. Nothing. Well that didn’t surprise me too much, considering school was over in a few days, but I started to feel a little anxious after the late bell rung. My teacher got up from behind her desk and told us, “Do whatever, just don’t be loud,” and turned in my direction. Oh, crap. She walked over to me, pulled up a chair, sat down in it, and stared at me. “Hey, Mrs. Meadows,” I squeezed out with yet another smile knowing exactly what was about to follow. Mrs. Meadows was young, a little insane, and spoke her mind, naturally making her everyone’s favorite teacher. “Why didn’t you say anything yesterday?” She looked at me in her usual everyone-is-insane-like-me look. “Didn’t feel like it was something to share.” She sat and talked and asked questions with me till the bell rang a long hour later. Throughout the whole day all of my teachers took me aside and spoke to me. I must have put on quite a show, because they all believed my lies of being perfectly fine.
I had a softball game that night. A couple broadcasters, lots of cheering supporters, a few camera men, and a newspaper reporter were present. Just a normal high school game, but after this one I was stopped by a reporter. It’s happened before once or twice, but I hadn’t made any spectacular plays or won the game so I was curious as to what he wanted. “Hayley?” he asked. “Yes?” “Hi, I’m from the Daily News Journal and I heard what the flood did to your house.” After that I stopped being surprised and just expected people to know about it all. He wrote a short column on me that night, asking me questions like, “How has this affected your game?”, “Is softball a distraction to it all?”, and the all-famous, “What happened?”
No one knew what had happened to “the people of Beach Road” because we had been trapped for a week with no way out. We had been helping each other as if we were our own little town, even having large meetings on what to do. After we were discovered, we turned into a publicity spiral and were given water, food, medical supplies, and more. Big corporations pitched in like Publix, who gave us food, and shoe stores who gave us free shoes. My parents were interviewed on the news a couple times and in the newspaper as well. Once people could make it through the mess, demolition began on our house. Everything four foot and below had to be dismantled and rebuilt.
By the third day back at school I could feel stares on my back as I walked down the halls. People would look at me then quickly glance back at their feet or whisper to whoever was nearby. I felt like I had the plague or I was Amy from “The Secret Life of an American Teenager”. One thing I surely didn’t expect from any of these people was money, but yet again I was caught off guard and surprised. A couple days later, the teacher in charge of one of the major clubs at my school pulled me aside from class. They had gotten all the clubs of the school together and with what was left in their bank accounts for the year they bought two gift cards totaling over one thousand five hundred dollars. I almost broke down into tears right in front of him. I was astounded that people cared that much. Awestruck, I thanked him. After he left, I sat down against the wall and stared at the wall, because I was so dumfounded. Soon after that, we were given several gift cards from friends and family and an abundant amount of food. We thanked Amanda’s family with a small gift card that we thought could go towards some big home improvement they were hoping on, which with no surprise to us, they refused. With the Cahoons we had to do a little more research. Their lawnmower had been broken for several weeks before we had moved in and were paying a person to mow their lawn. We asked a few generous friends and happened to get a used one for a small price. Keli was in tears when we gave it to her. It was the only way my family could think of to say thank you.
Once school let out for the summer it was harder to keep my emotions in check cause I didn’t have to put on an act for two thousand people. I told myself I’d never cry about it again and turned to a total depression and anger stage. The only way I knew how to cope was to bottle it up and deny anyone the right to my heart. I was being unfair to my friends and family, which they didn’t deserve, so I decided that it’d be best if I got away from everything for a while. We made some arrangements and I flew out alone to Chicago, where some of my family lives. For two weeks I saw the city, relaxed on a lake, made some money babysitting (where I found my tolerance again), mended my relationship with God, and gathered myself together. It was the only place where I knew I couldn’t be rude and ruthless and the only reason I came back refreshed.
I returned home feeling revived. My house was almost livable and three weeks later we moved back into the upstairs. One bathroom worked and we had air conditioning and electricity upstairs so we couldn’t complain. We were finally back home, though it wouldn’t be complete for many months to come. Through this whole experience I had realized God would never have put us through this if He knew we couldn’t handle it and I was wrong to ever of been upset with Him. He wanted us to see who our real friends really were. He wanted me to change my image and shape up, which I had almost lost completely after becoming a teenager. He wanted me to grow closer to Him and to my friends I put distance between. Now as I’m looking back on that dreary May second night, I can remember every minor detail as if I were watching a movie. They’re terrible flashbacks that have the powerful ability to make me shed a tear. I can see everyone’s face, hear the shakiness in our voices, and feel the cold sting of that black water. For a moment I thought the water had taken my life deep below the surface refusing to give it back like a little child with a new toy, but I realized everything happens for a reason and everything in the past belongs in the past. Life is full of blessings through tragedies, just as in the movie “Precious”, and in a moment everything can change. I’m now happier than I’ve ever been and I can thank God for the entire journey.

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