This article was originally published in The New Paltz Oracle.
I’m going to take the unprofessional route and admit that I have no idea how to start this column, so I’ll just blatantly state what it’s about.
On Sunday, Jan. 15, I came home after spending the weekend in New Paltz to find that my house on Long Island had caught on fire and everything inside the house was either melted or was heavily damaged. The support beams looked very charred and it’s a miracle the whole house didn’t fall to the ground.
It goes without saying, but I felt a terrible hopelessness that I didn’t know one could feel. I had lived in that house my entire life and out of nowhere it and everything that I had owned were practically gone. The following week was the most surreal seven days I have ever experienced. Hotels turned into the only place we could sleep and my dirty laundry from the weekend became the only clothes I owned throughout all of it, I managed and have managed to keep my head up and remain positive. However, my ability to remain calm and upbeat has very little to do with my character and who I am as a person.
First of all, no one was hurt. Even though my family drives me absolutely insane, I wouldn’t have it in me to write about this if any them got injured in the fire. Even our two cats made it out okay; the only living things that didn’t survive were plants.
My family and I were showered with an unbelievable amount of love and support, so much so that I couldn’t feel sad about the situation if I tried. Just hours after I came back to my destroyed house, dozens upon dozens of people reached out to me and not just close friends and family members. People who I barely speak to, people who I hadn’t spoken to in years and people who I didn’t even know cared about me enough to speak to me. Even the smallest and shortest of texts reminded me that everything will be okay.
Yes, it still sucks beyond words that my house caught on fire. I still have days where I think about it and play back the experience in my head and it gets me very down. It still makes me sad to think about all the stuff I lost, but I always remind myself that everything that was lost is replaceable.
I lost some of my nicest shirts, but I can buy new ones. I lost my favorite Mets hat, but I can buy a new one. I lost objects that had sentimental meaning to me, but I can always make new memories.
The constant support also reminded me of all the things that I still have and can’t replace.
I can’t buy another Jack O’Brien, who started a crowdfunding page as soon as he heard about the fire. I can’t buy another Greg Schotte, who also experienced his house catching fire and helped my family and I through the situation. I can’t buy another Rachael Purtell, who spoke to me on the phone every night for a week following the fire. I can’t buy another Berkowitz family that offered for me to stay at their house for as long as I need to until mine gets rebuilt. I can’t buy another SUNY New Paltz Athletic Department full of coaches and staff members that donated to the crowdfunding page. I can’t buy another block full of neighbors who my family and I only interacted with in passing but still raised hundreds of dollars for us. I can’t buy another 4-year-old neighbor that gave my family and I every quarter he had been saving in his piggy bank.
I didn’t lose anything that a year from now I won’t have. In fact if you ask me, I got off easy. There is a lot more I could lose than some clothes and whatever other crap was stored in my house. There are dozens of other people I could list that gave my family and I support that I truly appreciate beyond words.
In fact when I look at this whole experience a year from now, I don’t think I’ll view it as anything more than just another bump in the road. I have everyone that helped my family and I through this experience to thank for that.
If anything, this was an eye-opening experience. I felt more love and support than I thought I ever could, and I honestly did not know that that many people care about me as much as they do.
It sounds cliché, but I promise to become a better person from this and appreciate everyone and everything around me more than I did before the fire. I hope to help anyone in need and give them the same feeling of love and support that I have experienced from so many people since my house caught on fire.
I lost the only house I ever lived in, and I’ve never felt more at home.