At the end of last year Brian and I began looking for homes to buy in the Chicago area, close to where we currently lived. After a few months of looking we found a great condo, 3 bed, 2.5ba, in a great location and fell in love with it. It was early Jan, we saw the place midday, and on a flight delay hours later, while sitting in Midway airport on our way to Orlando, we made the offer. A big and exciting day in the lives of Brian and Melissa.
From FL, I flew to San Francisco where I got to hang with one of my besties, Stephanie, for a few days. Sitting outside with our tea in the CA sunshine with her two boys was nothing short of amazing. A second trip to San Francisco happened in early Feb, with a long overdue trip to wine country with two of my other besties, Lauren and Tiffany. Three more days in the CA sun, only this time it included a trip to Napa and Sonoma, too much wine, Chinatown, seafood, walks along the bay and some pretty good laughs with good friends.
Back to Chicago for a few weeks, making sure things were still being set for our new home. The inspection, the VA condo approval, etc. Mid March was still the goal and as we traveled out to Vail, CO for one of our favorite weeks of the year with the Vail Veterans Program, we knew that our days were limited at our old place and we would soon be home owners!
We got the Vail with a small bump along the way, in that United lost our bags to include my skis and everything else we had with us. We got to Vail bag less but thanks to Cheryl Jensen and all the other fine folks at the Vail Veterans Program, we got to ski our first day with borrowed equipment and clothes and enjoy the 30+, sunny days of Vail with 30 other newly injured veterans. This week is a special one, as you literally see lives transform. Newly injured vets that thought they might never ski again, are out proving to themselves what they are capable of. A week or moving and inspiring moments, of meeting new vets, this time my new friend, and fellow AK Rebecca, and remembering to be thankful for what we have.
The first afternoon in Vail, we got an email that no one ever expects to get. To sum it up, it went like this.
“Brian and Melissa, we are so sorry to hear about the fire. The firefighters said they couldn’t find Jake and we hope he is with you. If you need a place to stay, or any clothes, you’re welcome at our place. From, your neighbors.”
Um, what? As expected, this started quite a panic and a brief heart palpitation. First, thinking it had to be spam, but then seeing Jake’s name and realizing these were in fact, our neighbors. Brian made a quick call to our landlord who was sobbing and we knew that this was no joke. A quick call to Alison and Keri, two of my Chicago friends, who made the drive to verify that there was in fact, a fire. They got to our place, saw the damage, were allowed inside to get out my valuable military medals and paperwork and told us that things didn’t look good. The ceiling had caved in, the windows were boarded up, most of our belongings were most likely gone and we could no longer live there. Wow. How to take all this in. Still bag less and now homeless and thinking of all the things we may have lost.
Back in our hotel room, we made some calls and decided that since there was nowhere to go home too, we would stay in Vail for the remainder of the trip. After some serious pouting on my part, Brian recommended we go meet up with the group we were there with instead of moping around in our hotel room. So we did just that. We went and met the rest of the Vail Vets program at the bowling alley where we ended up sharing a lane with a guy missing both his legs and an arm. He had given so much of himself for our country and here I was worried about all this stuff we lost. Talk about a lesson in perspective. As much as it was our ‘stuff’, it’s just ‘stuff’. We had our lives and Jake (thank god) and lead a pretty great life. Knowing things might be a little tough when we got back, we made the decision to stay in Vail and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our trip. We got 2 more sunny days with great snow, learned to ski bike, got to ski with Tiff and Tim, hang out with multiple cardboard Melissa's, slide down the pole at the Vail firehouse and meet some pretty great people. In the meantime, there were many calls to my insurance provider, USAA, which immediately put me at ease. They gave us the steps on how to get our renters insurance money and set us up with a hotel to stay at once we got back. There was truly no better place to be than in Vail, with the Vail Veterans Program, when hearing such difficult news. We eventually got our bags from United and had a stellar few days in Vail before making the trip back to Chicago.
Back in Chicago, the next 10 days were a bit of a blur. Seeing our place boarded up and realizing that we did in fact lose most of our belongings. Whether it was the fire itself, the smoke or the water damage, there was little to be saved. We saved what we could, wearing masks to go into what had been our home for the past 2 years. Trying to wash clothes 2-3 times, dry clean them, soak them in vinegar and realizing that the smoke smell is a stubborn one. Being thankful for having at least some renters insurance but wishing we had more to cover what we lost. It’s something you never think you’ll have to use, and if you rent, I recommend you stop reading this and increase your coverage now! Fortunately, we were able to get out many of our valuable items to be restored. An expensive process, but one that was needed on things that could not be replaced. So thankfully, military medals and papers were saved. We were living in a one room hotel room for 10 days, checking over bank accounts and on pins and needles waiting for our VA loan to go through and
Also a time of realizing how great our family and friends are. I always knew we were lucky, but a tragic event makes you realize just how lucky you are. I will never be able to say thank you enough to all that helped us. From Alison and Keri, who dropped everything to go check on our place, Diana and Hailey who showed up at our door after a facebook request asking for help to get stuff out, Dave Zaro, who came over after a red eye flight and a 13 mile run to help move some heavy items, to Nico and Keri, who insisted that we make a housewarming registry that was resisted at first but has helped immensely. To our friends and people we don’t even know that have bought items off of the registry, or let us keep things in their garage, or the Wounded Warrior Project who sent us boxes of clothes to help start our new wardrobe. And the list goes on. People are so kind and so generous, words will never be enough. Thank you.
March 13 was a great day as we got the exciting news that the loan had gone through and we had a closing date of March 17! We were ecstatic. We did some early furniture shopping, fired up the utilities and prepared for a fresh start in our new home that Brian and I bought together.
March 17. We signed too many papers, wrote a check that was too big but were finally given the keys to our brand new home and we were no longer homeless. We. Were. Homeowners! It was already a big day.
We got to our new home, opened the door to our new place, empty and perfect and all ours. Brian had a big box with him and asked me to follow him into the bedroom and open the box. I opened it and saw a box filled with picnic items thinking how sweet it was that we were going to have a picnic on the floor of our new, empty house. As I turned around, I watched in disbelief as Brian got down on one knee, told me he wanted to have a million picnics with me, and asked me to marry him! It was an incredible moment followed by lots of hugs, lots of dancing around our new, empty house and lots of ecstatic phone calls to our family and friends. Of course I said yes, I loved this man!
After weeks of stress and uncertainty, the moment couldn’t have been sweeter. Together for almost 3 years, we had made it through a fire, lost most of our belongings, lived in a small hotel room and bought a home together. If we could make it through that, the sky was the limit. I had a new home and a new fiancé and the opportunity to start this new life with this perfect man that I will soon be able to call my husband. Not to mention a beautiful ring on my finger. It was magical. I still have to pinch myself.
It’s been over a week in our new place and there is a long way to go to make our place really ‘our’ place. Walls to be painted, furniture to be bought, and the list goes on. What I do know is that our place is beautiful, I get to share it with my best friend and soon to be husband and that things can only go up from here. I know they are on their way up because of all things to make it through the fire, my stuffed animal, Woodles the bear was resilient and made it through. After being on my bed for 25 years, not only did he survive, but he smells better than ever and looks like new. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most. Long Live Woodles the bear.
This has been long enough and I will end here. With the closing thoughts that perspective and life is a funny thing. We have to except the unexpected and know that things never go as planned. We have to have the strength to overcome hard times and know that it is OK to ask for help. Lean on family and friends knowing that you would do the same for them. Count your blessings and be thankful for what you have, instead of worrying about what you don’t. As we come up on almost 10 years since I lost my leg, these truths ring louder than ever and the small things I find myself worrying about seem so trivial. Life is good, with or without those items I no longer have because I have my life. Life really is good. And I’m going to marry Brian J