In the wee hours of the morning, I drug my weary body across the threshold of my apartment, so happy to finally be home. I had just finished a busy weekend shift at Bobby McGee’s, a nearby popular restaurant. The restaurant job was a necessity for both my roommate and I, in order to finance nursing school. I was so bone tired that night that I grabbed the first thing I could find that would double for pj’s, which happened to be the shabbiest tee-shirt I owned and a well-worn pair of sweat pants riddled with holes. “Why should that matter?” you ask. Stay with me.
I seriously couldn’t remember when my plump pillow and cozy sheets ever felt so good. I was soon in the clutches of a deep exhausted sleep, dreaming of what life might be like after graduation and how wonderful it would feel to be able to pay my bills without so much worry. Through the dreamy fog of sleep, an unwelcomed assault of loud banging sounds began playing in my head, pulling me away from my comfortable slumber. I could hear my roommate Teri’s voice, imploring me to wake up. “Christi” she urged, “you need to get up.” “There is a fire in the complex!” Now, at this point in life I was a seasoned transient college student, and had resided in a couple of dorms and an impressive array of apartment dwellings. All I could think of was “Great, another frustrating and untimely FIRE DRILL!”. I was flooded with total annoyance. I’d had a hectic week at both school and work, and was finally getting to log a few desperately needed hours of shut-eye. “Please let me sleep!” I whined stubbornly, “It’s just a drill…” quickly surrendering again to the insistent fingers of sleep, determined to pull me back under.
“Christi, listen to me,” Teri coaxed while struggling to remain calm, “there is a fire in the complex.” “The firefighters are knocking on all the doors. We have been told to evacuate.” With concern etched deeply on her face, Teri reached out, gently grabbing my hand. She placed my car keys in my palm, closing my fingers firmly around them. “Christi, listen to me,” it is NOT a drill. I could see the flames from my bedroom window. We need to get out. NOW.” She searched my face with earnest, wanting to make sure that I was cognizant and moving toward the door before heading out to stay with a friend. Teri, always the efficient one, drove off fully clothed, shoed, and with important papers in tow. I, completely exasperated and half asleep, walked from my apartment shoeless and with only the clothes on my back, confident that this inconvenience would soon be over.
I ambled across the parking lot in my ratty old tee-shirt and holey sweatpants, and perched on the curb to wait. As the scene unfolded before me, I found myself in a nightmare of vivid proportions. This was definitely no fire drill! Flames were leaping and dancing across the wood shingled roof without abandon, illuminating the night sky. Amid the chaos and shouting, people were frantically running through the smoke clinging to their possessions and animals. Suddenly, a realization crashed down upon me like a ton of bricks, “oh my God, our cat!”. I rushed back to our door, nearly bowling over a firefighter in my panic to rescue her. Blocking my entrance, the firefighter ordered me to stay back and said, “Ma’am, you can’t go back in there!” “But my cat, my CAT!” I screamed. “You have ONE minute!” he barked, stepping aside. I sprinted through the apartment frantically throwing open doors, looking under beds and tables, and sadly never found her. My prayer to this day, is that she found safe passage out somehow.
My heart heavy with grief, I returned to the curb and observed in utter disbelief the hungry flames racing toward my building. I ran to move my car out of harm’s way, so grateful that Teri had the foresight to place the keys in my hand. When I returned, my home was being ravished by fire. In a mere 30 minutes, it had escalated from one to five alarms. Waves of shock began to wash over me, and I realized I needed to seek refuge at a friend’s. My sister, Sandy, recalls a phone call that she received from me in the early morning hours that followed. Later she told me that all I would utter was “I have no shoes, I have no shoes….” over and over.
The following day, when I returned to assess the damage, the only way I could ascertain where my apartment once stood was by counting the speed bumps. All of my worldly belongings had been reduced to inky soot, ash and rubble. The pungent smell of sulfur still lingered in the air. Barefooted, and with blood shot eyes, I took in the devastation all about me. Reality took hold, and hopelessly I realized that I was indeed truly homeless. Gone were my clothes, shoes, important documents and school books. My most treasured possession, a children’s Bible my late grandma “Meme” had inscribed and given to me for my 6th birthday…gone. My special photos, letters, and a lovely framed poem a dear friend had written just for me…now nothing but ash.
Others on site informed me that a Red Cross shelter had been set up at a local church, and encouraged me to seek help. Nervous and humbled, I walked through those church doors not knowing what to expect. The church was bustling with efficient activity, and Red Cross vests were visible everywhere. I was greeted with such sincere kindness and compassion, that thinking about it today still floods me with emotion.
The volunteers were encouraging and uplifting, spreading hope to the many who were now displaced. The Red Cross notified local vendors who brought in much needed supplies to help us rebuild and recover. They graciously provided payment for the first month’s rent at our new apartment, and gave us a voucher to get a new mattress. I began to realize just how many things I had taken for granted in my life!
I honestly do not know how I could have gotten back on my feet and continued my education without the timely aid of the Red Cross and their amazing volunteers. Their generosity of time, patience, and spirit in dealing with those of us affected by this terrible event inspires me to this day. As I left the shelter feeling less alone and hopeless, I vowed that someday, somehow, I would find a way to pay the Red Cross back by paying it forward.
About every 8 minutes, the Red Cross responds to someone in crises. They respond to 65,000+ disasters every year. By the time devastating news about areas impacted by tornados, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires reach your ears, I guarantee you that the Red Cross is already there. Although proud and honored to be a Red Cross volunteer, my hope for the future is to pay it forward in a way that can have a true impact. Our company vision is that LoveStat will be able to assist the Red Cross with their mission to prevent and alleviate the suffering of those impacted by emergencies. LoveStat would like to contribute a portion of your membership proceeds to the Red Cross to aid their mission, and honor you, the healthcare professional, who helps prevent and alleviate suffering through your chosen profession daily. I’m truly excited to see what we can accomplish together, to support this incredible organization. I encourage you to learn more about the wonderful things the Red Cross does daily to help those in need, both in our communities and around the world. Visit www.redcross.org and check it out!