I watched my house burn to the ground - it made me stronger!

My house burning to the ground may have been one of the worst and best things that happened to me. Without a doubt it changed the trajectory of my life. It happened at the end of February in the late 90's, I was in grade five, around 10 years old, living in Ontario , Canada at the time with my mom, my three older siblings and her now ex-partner that I loathed. This was a couple of years after the divorce. When they were still married , he was a dentist and she was a dental technician, money was never an issue. However, following the divorce , while my mom tried her hardest, she was living pay-check to pay-check, just happy to have a roof over our heads and food on the table.

I lived a few hundred meters from my school at the time, and came home for lunch one day with my sister, 2 years older, and a friend of mine. It was just us home. We had made this Hungarian french toast where you soak bread in eggs then deep fry it. The dining room was just off of the kitchen, as we were sitting there eating I noticed smoke on the ceiling. When I turned the corner to check in the kitchen to see where it was coming from, it was already too later. The entire room was engulfed in flames. All four of the walls up to the ceiling and half the vinyl floor had already begun to melt. The dining room had the exit to the back door and off of that was my moms bedroom. I screamed at my sister and friend to leave the house and made sure the dog was out.

In a panic I called 911 from my moms room, although I should have also just left, besides the point. It was a quick call, when the operator answered and asked what the problem was I told them my house was on fire, and everyone was unharmed and had left the premises. They asked for the address and at the time I had a brain freeze, I knew the street but not the number, she pressed for the number again and I just said "look for the house that has flames coming out the fucking roof" and hung up. We all left with nothing but the clothes on our backs. My friend went back to school, my sister , understandably went pretty hysterical, but stayed with me. I then knocked on all my neighbors doors until I found someone that was home. Luckily a sweet lady with some small children was home and let us in. I called my other siblings at school and told them to stay at a friends house for the night because the house was on fire and there would be no home to come "home" to. This is pre-cell phone era, so I called my moms employer and told them to try to get in contact with her. While I was waiting this lovely lady gave us snacks and put on Happy Gilmore with Adam Sandler to lighten the mood.

The fire department and ambulance arrived pretty quickly, and eventually I went back to the scene and watched as the fire demolished everything. There was no saving it. Flames were shooting through the roof on the second floor and all windows, the fire was out of control for several hours long into the evening before it was put out. The images of the kitchen when I first saw it, and the actual house in flames are, pardon the pun, burned into my mind forever. But to be fair, my memory of the period following is pretty muddy. I don't even remember where we stayed that night. I do however recall coming back the day after to go through to wreckage to see the extent of the damage. Nothing was salvageable, it was all destroyed. On the bottom floor was my brothers' room, my moms' room, the kitchen and bathroom. Upstairs is where my sisters and I lived but we were unable to access it. I didn't give a flying fuck about the possessions, I was devastated that all of our family pictures were gone and that it marked our family being ripped apart again, for good.

My oldest brother and sister (6 & 7 years older) where in their senior years of high school, so they moved abroad. My sister went to Hungary and not sure to be honest what my brother did. The house was a rental and we had no insurance. Apparently what happened was an electric spark had flown into the pan of oil igniting the fire. I succinctly remember a few months prior to the fire that I saw a spark fly a few cm from an electric socket on the upper floor, but that wasn't taken seriously by the landlord, anyway, besides the point. So my older siblings moved, we were left with nothing, no savings and my mom had to start from scratch. With nowhere to live, or means with first or last on a new rental she moved into a sketchy motel. Needless to say it wasn't an ideal situation my sister and I.

Without writing a novel , it's hard to go into all the details, but when my parents were still together we lived in Newfoundland, Canada. There I developed a close relationship with my neighbors, Alison & Don , whom I refer to as my godparents. They were a sweet older childless couple, he was an accountant and she was a teacher. They moved in next to us, when I was about two years old, the story goes that I saw the moving van and their dogs and wanted to go say hello. So I did, and came back and proclaimed to my mom that they needed a friend and I was going to be their new best friend. Throughout the years, I did just that, I would go over and pester them, join on dog walks (our joint backyard was basically a huge open field the size of several football fields, the ocean & forest to to either side). Every Sunday they made blueberry pancakes from blueberries that we had picked and froze in from the previous summer, so I'd often knock on their door bright and early eagerly awaiting blueberry pancakes. We played cards and did other activities and they shared words of wisdom. Many visits were spontaneous and for fun, but there were also plenty of times when my parents would fight or I'd get tired my siblings picking on me, so I'd pop over to their house. When things escalated with my father, it was Don that helped my mom leave and in the first few years after the divorce when we moved from there, I would go back in the summers and stay at their house or go camping with them in their RV for weeks on end travelling the Maritimes. They were pretty much like my adopted parents, but it was I that had adopted them.

So when the house burned down, and the situation was dire, I called my godparents and asked if my sister and I could move in with them until my mom could get back on her feet again. They accepted, became our legal guardians and from then on pretty much took over the roll of being my parents. Keep in mind the distance between Ontario and Newfoundland is about 2 500 km. My sister stayed there until she finished high school, I lived with them up until my senior year, so roughly sex years. Which brings me to how my house burning down made me stronger. Under their care, they were loving and caring and treated me as if we were their own child - but also had reasonable expectations from me. Academics, music, sport and community service was important. I ended becoming the typical All-American girl. I had straight A's, was a girl guide, was on the debate team, played classical guitar and first trumpet in the concert band, jazz band and the band for the school musical. I volunteered at the local animal shelter, helping out and taking the dogs for walks. They said I needed to pick at least one sport per term. If I didn't like it , I could change, I ended loving it and played on the basketball and volleyball teams at school and on the side played badminton, completed three triathlons, competed in swimming & got my lifeguard certification. I wasn't allowed to watch tv during weekdays, but it didn't matter to me, there was always something to do. We were the last generation of play outside until the sun came down. In the summers as a family we hiked, biked, camped and canoed. There were plenty of times I whined while out on our adventures that I was tired, but they assured me that one day sweet child, you will look back on these outings and they'll become some of your fondest childhood memories - they were right.

I ended up moving back in with my mom in my final year of high school but moved out on my own completely at 17. My late teens and early 20's wasn't nearly as prestigious as the years I had with my godparents, I did plenty of stupid shit, had self-destructive behavior, poor choice in relationships etc... but that's for another post. My point of this post it to talk about how my godparents set the foundation to my love of sports. Gave me unconditional love in a period of time I needed it the most and was super fragile. Since the divorce when I was about five I have always had abandonment issues deluxe. Every time I would say good bye to a family member or my godparents at the airport, I never knew when I would see them again, it is still the same to this day. After the fire it just got worse, it was and still is often years between visits.

The reason I am sharing all this is because as a personal trainer, I really want people to understand the importance of training for ones mental health. Had training not been an integral part of my life from an early age , I probably would have been and addict or at least in a much worse state than I am today. Training was my coping mechanism for trauma and dealing with my negative emotions. Training has saved my life. I have nothing against Booty Bands Betty that is a health coach, blessed with good genes, is financially stable, has friends and family support, it's easy for her to say training is good for your mental health. While that is true, for some , who have also been dealt shitty cards in life, it might just be encouraging and helpful to turn to someone who has also been through some difficult times, but come out a stronger better person on the other side.