I’ve been putting off this post for a while, but I think it’s time to talk about what happened.
Today is the day. Kaelyn is sitting in the living room watching TV after a morning at the dentist. Pierce is fussy, so as I’m typing this I’m wearing him in my Tula gently swaying to Explosions in the Sky. I don’t know if it’s the music, or the dreary day outside, or the amount of time that’s passed. But I’m ready.
Every year we head up the mountain to Boone, NC for our Labor Day camping trip. We were all so excited and anxious, especially given this was to be our first time tent camping as a family of four. Our car was packed to the brim. Thursday, September 1st we were off.
The 5 hour car ride up was going great! Pierce was pleasant, and Kaelyn was just the best traveler. We sang songs, reminisced, colored and ate junk food. We were 30 minutes away from our destination, climbing the beautiful mountains of NC.
Ken was driving, I in the back seat between the kids. As we were approaching the Blue Ridge Parkway it was so serene. I felt a sense of excitement with the upcoming weekend and memories that would be made. Ken casually asked me if I saw smoke. I looked ahead, and didn’t. Just saw the beautiful sky and mountains ahead. When I looked to my side, however, I saw it. The smoke. And lots of it, billowing out beside the car.
The next 15 minutes are a blur. I remember telling Ken to pull over. I remember being overwhelmed with anxiety when we stopped and saw just how much smoke was coming from the hood. I remember screaming Ken’s name, jumping out of the front seat and running around to grab Pierce. I remember Kaelyn screaming. As I was pulling Pierce from the car no more than a minute after we stopped, I remember being surrounded by a smoke.
We ran as fast as we could away from the car. Barefoot. Kaelyn was screaming, I was frantically crying. Ken steadfast and calm on the outside, but I could see the fear in his eyes. He put Kaelyn down and ran back to the car which was almost engulfed at this point. He was trying to throw as much as he could out of the car. Trying to save what he could. I’m pretty sure I frantically yelled his name and for him to come back. That the car was going to blow up. The flames were so high, the smoke black. And we were going camping, so the car was filled with propane tanks for our lanterns, cookware, etc.
4 minutes. 4 minutes between when that first picture was taken, and second picture was taken. To say things escalated quickly feels like an understatement.
Tammie and Bill. Two names I will forever be thankful for. Tammie was driving the opposite direction when she saw us running from the car, and pulled over to help. In case you haven’t figured it out yet from my blog and facebook page, I’m blunt. I appreciate being told things straight up, and thrive on open, honest, real relationships. So when I frantically pleaded to Tammie that “I needed to get it together, huh?” her response “Yes. You do. For your daughter.” really helped. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
For the next hour, Tammie stayed with us. She brought out a blanket for Kaelyn, and they had a picnic. She helped hold Pierce. Gave us water, and hugs. When the fire was being extinguished and the reality set in that we were without everything and were 5 hours from home, it began to rain. Tammie didn’t skip a beat. She treated us as if we were her own. She called her husband Bill, and he came down to the side of the road to help. Kaelyn, Pierce and I rode with Tammie to her house while Bill stayed behind with Ken to help finish up all that had to be done, and wait for a tow truck.
I have a hard time finding the words to describe how I feel about these people. They were total strangers and yet they were so kind, helpful and treated us with so much love. I don’t know if you’ve ever been through a traumatic event, but your body goes into shock afterwards. I felt numb. I couldn’t make the simplest of decisions. Tammie and Bill essentially held our hands and helped us decide what our next steps were. They helped set us up in a hotel, took us shopping for essentials, and played with Kaelyn in their home.
And the support we received from each and every one of you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You made it possible for us to provide our daughter some normalcy. To continue our weekend in the mountains. I wanted nothing more than to go home, crawl under the sheets and cry. But your kind words, financial help and encouragement picked me up off the ground, and helped make precious memories for my daughter. For that, I will forever be grateful.
We spent the weekend in a hotel, an adventure in and of itself for a 4 year old. We went to Tweetsie Railroad, and rode big trains, small trains, Ferris wheels. We visited friends at the campsite we were to stay at, which was bittersweet. We hiked. We smiled, we laughed, we had fun. I cried many tears at night after Kaelyn went down. Tears of gratitude we were safe, and tears of sadness that this horrible accident had happened.
It’s been almost 2 months since our accident. Two months and daily, I’m still reminded of it. Phone calls to the insurance adjuster, working to replace items, dealing with my anxiety, dealing with some (thankfully minimal) backlash from some people. It’s hard, but is getting easier.
Something was stolen from me that day. My sense of security. Safety. My anxiety is high just now as I’m typing this. I’ve had worst case scenario moments pop in my head frequently – driving over a bridge, standing near the edge of things, driving in the rain. I’m doing my best to push through it, and have sought out help both medicinally and through counseling. Slowly but surely, it’s helping.
Something was also given to me that day. Compassion. It’s reminded me that you truly do not know what someone else is going through, and to treat everyone with complete and utter kindness. To pass the love forward whenever you’re capable and see fit. That we are all just people, doing our best to muddle through life. And to smile. A smile and hug can brighten someones day. Compassion, and a new sense of faith in my family, friends, and neighbors.
From my little family to yours. Thank you.
Thank you for your help. For your friendship. For your grace. I’m slowly getting back to myself. Without you, I wouldn’t be as close to getting there.
As always, keep that sense of humor going strong.