It always seems to be what people ask.
If your house was on fire what three things would you grab?
It's easy to answer that question when your house isn't on fire. I've heard camera, laptop, pets, photo albums...stuff that's expensive or not easily replaceable. In the past I've answered photo albums and portfolio which morphed into flash drive as life turned digital.
When I woke up to a smoke filled apartment two weeks ago, I wasn't thinking about what I should grab because I wasn't fully aware of what was going on. I put on pants, grabbed a jacket and scarf and as I was calling 911 I reached into my school bag with the intent to grab my flash drive and came out with my wallet. By this time the operator was telling me to get out of the apartment and the smoke was so thick I couldn't even find my shoes.
Outside flames were exploding out of the kitchen window of the apartment next door. The fire continued to eat up the building and initial feelings of panic collapsed into terror.
Every resident made it out.
Hours later and the fire under control they told us everything was gone. The second floor had collapsed into the first. It was unsafe to enter the gutted, skeletal structure that had once been our home.
Everybody tells you that the most important thing is that you survived. But nobody tells you that survival can feel like drowning, treading water to keep your head just barely above water. That even little decisions like choosing a pair of shoes because you no longer have any can feel overwhelming. That sirens in the middle of the night will wake you up in a cold, terrifying sweat. That the last two weeks have felt like two years.
That fear can be an isolating and lonely place.
(But you survived.)
Peeking in the window of my bedroom later that day as my now former landlord literally looted the place for anything that had made it, a twisted, wet ball of fabric caught my eye. It was a vintage dress that I had only worn once. A memory. Something bright to cling to amidst the wreckage. Something strong to hold onto in a space crowded with doubt.
(I am so grateful and touched by the outpouring of support from the London community and the help and support of my classmates and faculty as well UWO. My heart is so full from their generosity that it is sometimes difficult to find words to express my utmost thanks.)