53. House to Home

53. House to Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

House to Home

Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things,
but just look at what they can do when they stick together.

~Fay Seevers

“Mike, you need to leave work right now. I can see your house on the news and it’s on fire.” My friend’s voice on the other line was filled with concern.

This cannot be happening to us. This is not happening to us, I thought. I was getting married in four days and the reception would take place in the backyard of our home.

I had met Lorena three years earlier and immediately developed a wonderful friendship. I soon knew my best friend was going to be my wife. A couple of years passed and after purchasing a home together, the conversation about getting married came up in passing.

“We should just do it,” I impulsively suggested. Luckily for me, she agreed. With money tight, we planned a simple courthouse ceremony and a nice reception at our house. Little did we know our life plan would be turned upside down.

The wildfire started on a nearby hillside. Although we heard different updates, the final outcome was not good. “Your house got hit pretty bad,” a friend informed me. I headed home from work as fast as I could.

My fiancée and I drove up at the same time and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Why are all these people here? And the news media? I thought. The house doesn’t look that bad. The tall trees in the front yard hid our view.

The short walk past the people and media was the longest of my life. Despite the chaos surrounding me, my world fell silent. There, barely standing, was our only possession — our future. The one thing we owned as a couple, the one thing that held our belongings and sheltered our lives. Totally destroyed.

We hesitantly approached what was now walls and mortar and looked in the window to our bedroom. The entire roof had collapsed on our bed; embers and charcoal engulfed every surface; water-drenched belongings still dripped. Lorena’s eyes filled with tears. Why did this happen? I thought. We have no money and no house. I was numb.

Bewildered, Lorena and I rummaged through the house. Suddenly, all I could think about was the wedding. Would Lorena still want to marry me? What if she wanted to postpone it or maybe even call it off? It dawned on me that, with time, the fire would be a mere memory. But if we didn’t get married, it would affect the rest of our lives. We’d lost our home; I didn’t want to lose Lorena, too.

A reporter began interviewing me. I told him about our upcoming nuptials and admitted my apprehension about Lorena’s unwillingness to go through with it.

Little did I know the same reporter approached my fiancée and told her I had mentioned we were getting married on Friday. Moved, she looked at the grinning reporter, smiled and started crying in relief. In the midst of our crumbling world, we each thought the same thing — we didn’t want to postpone our marriage.

As the day’s mayhem settled, we were left alone to search our soaked, burned, broken belongings, looking for anything salvageable — including our wedding rings. By 3:00 A.M., hungry and heartbroken and with no rings in sight, we clung to a few salvaged photographs as if they were gold.

The days to follow were surreal.

We were bombarded by an outpouring of donations, support and kind wishes. Neighbors and strangers alike brought gifts, money, food and knickknacks. A local television station organized an on-air donation fund.

Having always worked hard for what we had, it was difficult to accept money and gifts from strangers. But with everything gone, Lorena and I knew we had to set aside our pride and let others help. The simple act of a pizza delivery woman giving us a blanket from her car filled our hearts.

And then the irony hit. In spite of our losses, we realized how lucky we were. Our newfound perspective left us thankful for community support and grateful to be alive and together.

The wedding was scheduled for Friday. Although the media asked to attend, we wanted this special moment alone. My mom and the priest were the only people present. Having no idea of the week’s events, the priest commented that we seemed happy. After explaining why we were so emotional, he cried along with us.

We were happy. Happy for a new beginning and happy to move forward without looking back.

The day before the wedding, I received a call from the owner of a local café. George offered to host our reception at his restaurant after the wedding. Although it seemed a bit much, we accepted his offer to invite our closest friends and family for a small get-together.

Once again, I was shocked and overwhelmed to see the crowd that awaited us. Outside the restaurant we found reporters, news anchors, firefighters, Chamber of Commerce representatives — well-wishers wanting to congratulate us.

As reporters approached me, I thought, the real heroes were the firefighters. The real heroes were the community. I encouraged them to interview those who stepped up to the plate during a disastrous and wrenching time — the people who put their hearts first to help out a couple of strangers.

Inside the restaurant, we were overwhelmed with love and cheers from friends and family. We discovered generous donations: a keyboardist, a wedding cake, a honeymoon train trip to Arizona and a limousine ride to a night’s stay at a local Hyatt.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, a stranger who noticed our party approached us. “Will you please accept this for your wife?” she asked. “It belonged to my grandmother.” The sweet woman slid a beautiful ring on Lorena’s finger and the three of us tearfully embraced.

Now we see our tragedy as a blessing in disguise. God intervened during a difficult time and gave us a fresh start. Not only are we more stable financially, but we’ve been blessed with a closer, stronger relationship.

Next, we plan to rebuild our house. After all, how could we leave a place filled with people who loved and supported us? More than ever, we look forward to the day that our house is our home again.

 

~Mike Zeballos
Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul

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