My family had recently moved into a new home - our first house. No more apartment living! No more stairs, no more sharing a room with two sisters, no more waiting in line to use the one bathroom. Gone were the paper-thin walls and neighbors practically living on top of us, no more echoes whenever anyone opened or closed their front door...Years of living like sardines packed tightly in a can were over.
With that first house, my world drastically changed. At long last, we finally had a yard. A front yard, a back yard, grass, trees, a beautiful orange tree, room for rabbits, dogs, birds. For once, I was able to have friends over after school - there was finally room for guests! I had sleepovers. We had big family dinners, we celebrated birthdays in the backyard and had Easter dinner in our own dining room.
I loved that house. I loved having my own room that was free of Lego and Barbie shoe land mines. I loved climbing the sturdy tree outside my parent's bedroom window, settling onto my favorite branch and losing myself in my latest book. I loved the windows. There were windows everywhere, every room was full of sunlight - even the bathroom. We planted flowers in the flower beds, tea roses in front of the porch. We had patio furniture. We owned a lawn mower.
We had arrived.
It took my family a few years to make that house our own. We painted, decorated, bought furniture piece by piece, redecorated, hung photos on the walls, changed light bulbs, welcomed new pets, new children...we grew and the house grew with us. I knew after a short while that I would never live in an apartment again.
And then came a day that would change everything. None of us knew what to expect. Nothing like this had ever happened to us before...
Hurricane Andrew came hurling at us at a slow, steady pace for days. I was young, but old enough to be aware of what was happening and I felt uneasy. For the first time in my life, I felt dread. The meteorologists kept telling us not to worry, that that Category 3 storm would change direction and head north at the last minute.
We were so unprepared. Within 24 hours, everything about the house I love had changed. There was nothing left of our former lives.
The wind and rain came in and swept my beloved artwork off the walls. Family photos? In a matted mess on the floor. My favorite dolls? In puddles (or carried away by the hurricane-force winds). My favorite orange tree outside? Split in half. My reading tree? Thanks to a flooded yard, it literally came up at the roots. Albums full of photos of my deceased aunt? Notebooks of her poetry? Our family photo albums? Childhood mementos? Literally washed away. My rabbits? My dog? My canaries? My cat? Gone. Drowned or washed away, there's no telling...furniture, toys, clothing, knick knacks - everything was water damaged and before long, moldy and ruined.
I had never experienced a natural disaster before Hurricane Andrew. Of course, in much later years, I saw on television the things that have happened in other parts of the world: the Tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina. Those catastrophic events made my own measly disaster pale in comparison.
Growing up, I have not been sentimental about many things. I have felt as though nothing lasts, memories fade and are soon forgotten.
You never know when a big rain will come along and wash it all away.