This story reflects the challenges of being a teenager,
and the problems of growing up. How does the author
overcome his problems?
MY first year of high school felt awkward. After leaving junior
high at the head of my class with all the seniority the upper grade
levels could afford me, it felt strange starting over as a freshman.
The school was twice as big as my old school, and to make matters
worse, my closest friends were sent to a different high school. I
felt very isolated.
I missed my old teachers so much that I would go back and
visit them. They would encourage me to get involved in school
activities so that I could meet new people. They told me that in
time I would adjust and probably end up loving my new school
more than I had my old one. They made me promise that when
that happened I would still come by and visit them from time to
time. I understood the psychology in what they were saying, but
I took some comfort in it nonetheless.
One Sunday afternoon, not long after I had started high
school, I was sitting at home at our dining-room table doing
homework. It was a cold and windy fall day, and we had a fire
going in our fireplace. As usual, my red tabby cat was lying on
top of all my papers, purring loudly and occasionally swatting at
my pen for entertainment’s sake.
She was never far from me. I had rescued her when she was
a kitten, and somehow she knew that I was the one responsible
for giving her 'the good life'.
My mother kept stoking the fire to keep the house nice and
warm. Suddenly, I smelled something strange, and then I noticed
it... smoke pouring in through the seams of the ceiling. The smoke
began to fill the room so quickly that we could barely see. Groping
our way to the front door, we all ran out into the front yard. By
the time we made our way outside, the whole roof was engulfed
in flames and it was spreading quickly. I ran to the neighbours to
call the fire department, while I watched my mother run back
into the house.
My mother then ran out of the house carrying a small metal
box full of important documents. She dropped the case on the
lawn and, in a crazed state, ran back into the house. I knew what
she was after. My father had died when I was young, and I was
certain that she was not going to let his pictures and letters go up
in flames. They were the only things that she had to remember
him by. Still I screamed at her, "Mom! No!"
I was about to run after her when I felt a large hand hold me
back. It was a fireman. I hadn't even noticed that the street had
already filled with fire trucks. I was trying to free myself from his
grasp, yelling, "You don't understand, my mother's in there!"
He held on to me while other firefighters ran into the house.
He knew that I wasn't acting very logically and that if he were to
let go, I'd run. He was right.
"It's all right, they'll get her," he said.
He wrapped a blanket around me and sat me down in our
car. Soon after that, a fireman emerged from our house with
my mom in tow. He quickly took her over to the truck and put
an oxygen mask on her. I ran over and hugged her. All those
times I ever argued with her and hated her vanished at the
thought of losing her.
"She's going to be okay," said the fireman. "She just
inhaled a little smoke." And then he ran back to fight the fire
while my mother and I sat there dazed. I remember watching
my house burn down and thinking that there was nothing I
could do about it.
Five hours later, the fire was finally out. Our house was almost
completely burned down. But then it struck me ... I hadn't seen
my cat. Where was my cat? Much to my horror, I realised that
she was nowhere to be found. Then all at once it hit me' the
new school, the fire, my cat' I broke down in tears and cried
and cried. I was suffering loss, big time.
The firemen wouldn't let us go back into the house that night.
It was still too dangerous. Dead or alive, I couldn't imagine leaving
without knowing about my cat. Regardless, I had to go. We piled
into the car with just the clothes on our backs and a few of the
firemen's blankets, and made our way to my grandparents' house
to spend the night.
The next day, Monday, I went to school. When the fire broke
out, I was still wearing the dress I had worn to church that morning
but I had no shoes! I had kicked them off when I was doing my
homework. They became yet another casualty of the fire. So I had
to borrow some tennis shoes from my aunt. Why couldn't I just
stay home from school? My mother wouldn't hear of it, but I was
totally embarrassed by everything. The clothes I was wearing
looked weird, I had no books or homework, and my backpack
was gone. I had my life in that backpack! The more I tried to fit in,
the worse it got. Was I destined to be an outcast and a geek all my
life? That's what it felt like. I didn't want to grow up, change or
have to handle life if it was going to be this way. I just wanted to
curl up and die.
I walked around school like a zombie. Everything felt surreal,
and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. All the security I
had known, from my old school, my friends, my house and my
cat had all been ripped away.
When I walked through what used to be my house after school
that day, I was shocked to see how much damage there was '
whatever hadn't burned was destroyed by the water and chemicals
they had used to put out the fire. The only material things not
destroyed were the photo albums, documents and some other
personal items that my mother had managed to heroically rescue.
But my cat was gone and my heart ached for her.
There was no time to grieve. My mother rushed me out of the
house. We would have to find a place to live, and I would have to
go buy some clothes for school.
We had to borrow money from my grandparents because there
were no credit cards, cash or even any identification to be able to
withdraw money from the bank. Everything had gone up in smoke.
That week the rubble that used to be our house was being
cleared off the lot. Even though we had rented an apartment
nearby, I would go over to watch them clear away debris, hoping
that my cat was somewhere to be found. She was gone. I kept
thinking about her as that vulnerable little kitten. In the early
morning when I would disturb her and get out of bed, she would
tag along after me, climb up my robe and crawl into my pocket to
fall asleep. I was missing her terribly.
It always seems that bad news spreads quickly, and in my
case it was no different. Everyone in high school, including the
teachers, was aware of my plight. I was embarrassed as if somehow
I were responsible. What a way to start off at a new school! This
was not the kind of attention I was looking for.
The next day at school, people were acting even more strange
than usual. I was getting ready for gym class at my locker. People
were milling around me, asking me to hurry up. I thought it
strange, but in the light of the past few weeks, nothing would
surprise me. It almost seemed that they were trying to shove me
into the gym ' then I saw why. There was a big table set up with
all kinds of stuff on it, just for me. They had taken up a collection
and bought me school supplies, notebooks, all kinds of different
clothes ' jeans, tops, sweatsuits. It was like Christmas. I was
overcome by emotion. People who had never spoken to me before
were coming up to me to introduce themselves. I got all kinds of
invitations to their houses. Their genuine outpouring of concern
really touched me. In that instant, I finally breathed a sigh of
relief and thought for the first time that things were going to be
okay. I made friends that day.
A month later, I was at my house watching them rebuild it.
But this time it was different' I wasn't alone. I was with two of
my new friends from school. It took a fire for me to stop focusing
on my feelings of insecurity and open up to all the wonderful
people around me. Now I was sitting there watching my house
being rebuilt when I realised my life was doing the same thing.
While we sat there on the curb, planning my new bedroom,
I heard someone walk up to me from behind and say, "Does this
belong to you?" When I turned around to see who it was, I couldn't
believe my eyes. A woman was standing there holding my cat! I
leapt up and grabbed her out of the woman's arms. I held her
close to me and cried into that beautiful orange fur. She purred
happily. My friends were hugging me, hugging the cat and
Apparently, my cat had been so freaked by the fire that she
ran over a mile away. Her collar had our phone number on it, but
our phones had been destroyed and disconnected. This wonderful
woman took her in and worked hard to find out whose cat it was.
Somehow, she knew this cat was loved and sorely missed.
As I sat there with my friends and my cat curled up in my
lap, all the overwhelming feelings of loss and tragedy seemed to
diminish. I felt gratitude for my life, my new friends, the kindness
of a stranger and the loud purr of my beloved cat. My cat was
back and so was I.
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