Wednesday, November 23, 6:56 p.m., on the road home, somewhere in Mississippi — I can’t remember who actually proposed the idea to take a vacation, but we all decided that it would be best for us to take a little holiday, some time to get away from everything that has been going on lately. No FEMA, no school, no refugee existence. Just for a little while. Everyone, all my friends, my parents, myself … we were all winding down. It’s going on three months since the hurricane hit and all of this started. Everyone was desperate for a break, so we decided that we would go to the Smoky Mountains during my Thanksgiving holiday.
Every year during the summer, my parents and I head to the Smoky Mountains and stay a few days, our only family vacation. I love the mountains there. I love the smells of the trees and how the air turns cool when you drive higher and higher up. Maybe it’s nothing more than the fact that I love being above sea level. Whatever the reason, I love the mountains.
This time, though, we were going in the late fall, something we had never done before. We’ve always gone in the middle of the summer, when everything is hot and green. This time, Mom and I hoped we would see snow.
We left our camper early on Saturday morning, and we managed to reach Pigeon Forge, Tenn. a few hours past midnight. We checked into the hotel, and for the first time in a long time, I slept in a real bed where my feet didn’t hang off the edge. I was warm because of the heater, and it felt absolutely amazing. Heading back now, I realize that I don’t want to go home.
What I like about snow is that it’s magical. Snow is clean. I have only seen snow twice in St. Bernard, the first time when I was only two. But then last Christmas, it snowed again. I even made a little snowman and used the orange cap of a glue bottle for a nose. He stood around a foot high, and I used old black buttons for eyes.
It wasn’t until yesterday that we finally saw snow. It had started the night before, high in the mountains. Then, we drove up the next morning, and it started to fall. Men were stopping cars to make sure they either had tire chains or 4-wheel drive to go on. We didn’t, but we parked on the side, and I stood there in the snow.
It fell and flakes stayed in my hair. It was beautiful, and I know it doesn’t mean anything to some people, but seeing the snow meant something special to me. Snow is from television, of happy Christmastime Hallmark movies where people are in love and happy. It means something good. It means warm cookies on Christmas morning and snowmen and Santa and reindeer. Snow is happiness, and happiness fell down from the sky, getting caught in my hair and falling on my face.
I needed this vacation, even though I honestly wasn’t looking forward to it before we left. A lot of me that hadn’t been happy since this summer finally had the opportunity to let go and heal — thanks to a lot of things, including a friend of mine from Hannan, as well as my amazing friend Kelsy. Healing isn’t always easy, but there’s always a way to do it. Anything is possible, whether it be hurricanes that swallow the Gulf or whether it be healing.
It’s interesting to see how different people handle disasters in their lives. The hard disasters, like losing love or losing a home. Some people I know have turned to friends and lovers, but friends and lovers can be fickle. Others have turned to substances, because substances are always there when friends may not be but betray the user.
I lost myself a lot before this vacation, even before the hurricane. I stumbled around for a long time, and it took the loss of my friendship with Michael to help me realize that the one person I truly need to depend on is myself. It took so much more — this vacation, a talk with a friend, and some good music — to help me make use of that lesson.
I found my feet again during this vacation. I’m going to try to keep them ahead of me where I don’t trip and fall again. I am my own person, and right now, even though I’m heading home to a camper and a broken heater and a bed where my feet hang off the edge, I am happy.
I’m so lucky to be able to write, to have the good feeling words give me. I had that feeling again because I started really writing, writing my own things, my own stories. I haven’t done that in so long, and it feels great to be sitting in the backseat of this car, thinking of the stories I have in my head.
Whatever we learn will help us in the future. My friends and I who have been affected by this hurricane are never going to look at the life before the same way again. The days before the hurricane are precious to us now, like an old man’s childhood as he looks back on life. But I know that the lessons I have come away with will help me in the future. I know that writing is going to help, whether writing for others or just for myself.
The most important lesson that I have learned is that healing takes time. Lots of time. It’s never easy to heal from something that hurts, but it can be done if you only believe it can. Healing takes courage, it takes strength — and it takes a hell of a lot of Bon Jovi. No one said it would be easy. If they did, they lied. It’s just that simple.
And late tonight, when I’m back in our little camper, having taken my shower and run out of hot water and when wrapped in my throw blanket because it’s too cold, I’ll be having a writing night of my own stories, and I will be happy.
Life isn’t easy, but it’s not an impossible game to play. You just need to learn how.
Samantha Perez is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.