Sunday, 13 October 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving each year gives me pause. I remember and I am truly thankful.  

  Not because that is what you are SUPPOSED to do, rather because it is the anniversary of a very traumatic event. 

Don't get me wrong. This is not a depressing time for me. Or a depressing story. What my boys and I went through  was horrible, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, not even my ex-husband, but my life changed dramatically because of what happened, and those changes are things I am so thankful for and would never want to give up. 

Let me take you back to Thanksgiving 2007

Actually, let me take you back a little farther. 

Labour Day 2007, the first Monday in September. I was in the kitchen, prepping peppers for canning. We had two dogs at the time, Teddy, a shih tzu we'd had since my middle son was an infant, and Susie, a pointer, 5 years old. As I was going through the bushels of peppers, Teddy rounded the corner into the kitchen. He looked up at me. Then he laid down and passed away. It took a few moments for this to register. Teddy was gone.
The family was devastated. 

So when Thanksgiving weekend came along a month later, I was determined to put smiles back on my boys faces. It was going to be a very special holiday! I was working as a Personal Stylist and Special Event Manager at a large  retail chain at the time. I enjoyed my work, but it wasn't a great working environment (understatement). I had arranged my schedule so that I had the weekend off to be with my boys. It meant I was booked solid with appointments on the Friday, but it was worth it. I had ordered my holiday groceries for home delivery from Grocery Gateway so that I wouldn't have to fight the crowds. My silver was polished, my china and crystal just aching to be used. 
I was very excited.

I was in my office on the Friday with a style appointment. Someone knocked on the door.
'There's a call for you. Your son'.
I asked her to tell him I would call later, I was with a client.
A few minutes later, another knock.
'There's another call for you, they didn't say who it was'  
I couldn't help roll my eyes. 'Take a message'
A few moments later, another knock. 
NOW I was annoyed.
'You're being paged over the PA. Code 99 (that meant emergency)'
What on earth? 
I apologized profusely to my client, rescheduled with her, then rushed out to answer the page.
I was connected with another call. 
It was the police.
I wasn't scared. Just confused. 
'Ms Pollard? I regret to inform your son was home, cooking, (WHAT? They're all at school? ) and there's been a fire'
I dropped the phone.
Next thing I remember I had my coat, my purse and was running out the door grabbing a cab, shaking. I was just barely able to tell the driver my address. My fear and anxiety must have been evident because he took laneways to get around traffic and get me home FAST!

As the cab drove up to the front of my home, I saw an ambulance, fire trucks and police cars everywhere. I also saw my mother and Godmother. When they weren't able to get a hold of me, they had contacted my mom. 

And then I saw my son.


I jumped out of the still moving cab and ran to my son. The police ran to intercept me, but nothing was keeping me from my boy. I hugged him with every ounce of my very soul, asking over and over 'Are you ok, you sure you're ok?' 
The officers laughed, they had expected me to freak out on my son. Apparently that's what usually happens. That concept still to this day escapes me. You just found out your child is safe and your first response is to go balistic? Nope, I'd save that for later. Right then, at that moment, all I knew and cared about was that my boy was ALIVE! Safe and somewhat sound. He had received minor burns, had singed his eyebrows and eyelashes, but did not even have to go to the hospital. 

The house was a different story.

Apparently Chris had skipped school, and knowing I was at work, had come home to make himself lunch and play video games. He fell asleep. The oil he was using boiled over. The stove caught on fire. When he was woken by the fire alarm he raced to the kitchen, saw the fire, and without thinking grabbed a bowl full of water, and threw it on the GREASE fire. Apparently there was then an explosion of fire. My son was able to run out the door, Susie at his side. 

I was in a 2 year long relationship at the time. Well, stuck in a relationship. He saw me as a mother replacement, someone to look after him, not as a partner. But my youngest son had bonded with him, and his children had bonded with me. Anytime I tried to leave, he got the kids involved and I was guilted into staying. Nope. Not exactly a healthy relationship. When I was in the cab I had called him, told him what had happened, could he please come down, I needed him.  He hemmed and hawed, but eventually did show up.

The firemen asked me about insurance. I knew exactly where my papers were, so one of them went inside and retrieved them for me. I called the insurance company. They told me to look for a hotel room for the long weekend and we would go from there. I called around. Even had a concierge friend make calls. It was a long weekend. Everything was booked. We had nowhere to go. 

My boyfriend had a four bedroom house, with a separate, unoccupied 1 bedroom basement apartment. He lived in this house alone. I was sobbing on the curb, thinking my children and I were destined for a homeless shelter. He never once offered to let us stay for the 3 days we needed. Finally one of the police officers, disgusted, prodded him, and he let us stay at his place. It was such an eye opener, and so humiliating. It was one of the things that eventually gave me the strength to ignore the guilt trips and get out of that relationship. 

I called the insurance agent back, told him where we'd be for the weekend, and he said he'd give me a call on my cel at 3pm.


Oh My God! 

My other boys would be finishing school soon!

I had my mother go pick up my youngest son, still in elementary school. The problem was going to be my middle son. Eric. Eric is severely autistic. His school bus would be bringing him home any minute. He would have no idea why he could not go into his home. What was I going to do?
I spoke to one of the police officers. He walked away and spoke to the firemen. When he came back he told me his nephew was autistic,  and one of the fireman had a son who was autistic as well. 
They understood. 
When Eric arrived on his bus the fireman would take us through the house so that my son could see that it was 'broken'. I doubt this was protocol, I hadn't even been allowed in to retrieve my insurance papers. This eclipsed the realm of 'Above and Beyond'.  Gratitude of a magnitude I cannot express washed over me.

Three fireman, one ahead, one beside, and one behind, escorted Eric and I through the house.
Eric was in a panic. He could not understand. He screamed and cried and banged his head.
And I couldn't help him, because at that moment I felt exactly the same.

The kitchen was no more

The rest of the house was filled with smoke and water damage. 
I did not know how we'd get through this.
I called work, explained that I could not be in on Tuesday (the day after Thanksgiving) as it would be the first business day after the fire and there was a lot to do. I was given a 'warning'. Like I said, not a great working environment.
The insurance agent called and told me not to remove anything from the house. That they would hire a company that specialized in removing smoke odors and repairing smoke and water damage. So, off we went for the weekend to my boyfriends house, with just the clothes on our backs.

I made a quick stop at a second hand chain store to grab pjs and a change of clothes for the boys and I. My boyfriend wasn't to thrilled when I asked to use his machine to wash the clothes, but I was so angry with him already that he knew better than to say no. 

My town home had been a rental, and I was able to contact the landlord and rent another unit a few doors over. We moved in the next week, without so much as a bar of soap. 

We slept on the floor, not on mattresses on the floor, we actually slept on the floor. 

I was a single mom, and although I was making a fairly good salary, my childrens' needs were so great, therapy and care so expensive, that I basically lived paycheque to paycheque. I was praying the items being cleaned would be retuned to us quickly. In the meantime, trips to the dollar store and walmart became de riguer for things we take for granted. 

A comb. A toothbrush. A towel. A sponge to wash dishes. Dishes. A broom. 

After the first week, I called the insurance agent.When were my things being returned? He wouldn't answer my calls.

A month later I got a call from the cleaning company. They'd be dropping off my things the next day. 


Remember. I had been on a tour of my home. I knew the state my belongings had been in. What was returned to me was HORRENDOUS.
Every piece of furniture, clothing, toys, books, everything that was not made of solid wood or china was destroyed. 

I had among my things a bottle of un-opened over proof rum that a friend had brought me back from Jamaica. 

It was returned. Nearly empty.

From the battle over the next year, it became evident that someone had placed my items in the cleaning chamber thing they use, and had somehow left them several hours too long, causing irreversible damage. I'm sure "somehow" involved the rum. 

The insurance company did not want to pay for replacement items. They said it was the cleaning company's fault so I would have to sue them. Even though it was the insurance company who insisted I leave the items in the house to be cleaned in the first place, and they had hired the company. 

During that year long battle we still had to LIVE. And we had nothing.

Family and friends were wonderful, as was the Geneva Centre For Autism. We were given old linens and furniture to tide us over. GCA allowed Eric to attend weekend respite, every week, no charge. They held a drive and people donated all the things a kid with autism needs but are so hard to get. The schools gave us food baskets and gifts at Christmas, and slowly, steadily, we rebuilt our lives. 

The people whom I would want to keep in my life shone during this time. And those who needed to be cut from our circles made it very easy to do so. 

The reaction at work convinced me that my loyalty was misplaced. When the insurance money FINALLY came through (yes they coughed it up), I had already replaced anything that needed replacing. I had too! It had been a year, you can't let your children go without, no matter what your circumstances are. So when the cheque arrived it gave me the cushion I would need to embark on another phase of my life. I volunteered and worked with children and adults with autism and other special needs. I have never had a "Bad Day at Work" since.

A year with nothing, all while fighting insurance companies, getting seriously (and permanently) injured at work,and dealing with stress everywhere, while at the same time meeting true Angels, new friends and learning to cope taught my boys and I a lot of lessons.

My boys learned that nothing can destroy this family. They learned we are all here for each other and that nothing can change that. We have had other really bad things happen, but we know now we can get through anything, 'cause we already have.

I learned I am much stronger than I thought. I also learned that I would become extremely loyal long before someone has proven they are worthy of that loyalty. I actively worked on that and I don't fall victim to abusive or neglectful relationships (romatic, family or friend) anymore. I am able to spot them before it goes too far, and walk away. My misplaced loyalty never allowed me to do that before. 

I learned that I LOVE working with people with special needs, and that I am a natural at it. I believe I found my calling. That wouldn't have happened without the fire.

But most of all I learned that when you hit bottom, there really is only one place to go. And things have been looking up ever since.

I am so thankful to have my boys. Thanks to the fire I know that without even a change of clothes or a toothbrush, we still have each other, and that people care. That's all that matters.

Everything else is gravy

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

What are you thankful for?


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