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Christmas cheer in a FEMA camper

Monday, Dec. 26, 4:44 p.m. Ponchatoula Louisiana

No one can predict what happens in life. Fate is crazy like that. Sometimes, Fate makes life good, warm and sweet like freshly baked cookies. You meet people who care about you or you gain a friend. You walk through a parking lot and find a shiny penny face-up on the ground. But no matter how many good things happen, there are other times when Fate turns cruel. You lose your home in a hurricane or, worse, you lose yourself and become hurt and confused.

Christmas was yesterday. I played my flute for Midnight Mass with the church choir. Even though he had to go to work early the next morning, Dad came to church with my mom and listened to me play. I had a few solos, and when I played, the people in the pews below me turned and looked up at the choir loft. They turned to look. They turned to watch me play.

We came home after Mass and opened a few presents, because Dad would be working on Christmas Day. Mom had bought me the first season of Jonny Quest, and Dad and I were both really excited about it. Mom and Dad fell asleep on the sofa while I watched Jonny Quest until 3:15 in the morning. Then, Dad woke up and left because he needed to be at work for 5:30 — and work for him is back in St. Bernard, over an hour away.

I have been looking back lately, thinking about everything that’s happened. In a way, it’s a frightening, statistical wonder. In the months since the weekend of the hurricane, I have lived in four separate locations: a house, a hotel, a dorm room and a FEMA camper. I have been enrolled in three different schools. At night, I sleep on a sofa, a space heater plugged into the wall beside me. I drive on the interstate to get to my new school, where the people around me do not know me. This is my senior year of high school.

I come home in the late afternoon, and I try to write stories of my own, because stories take people away from bad things. I write, and I write and I am happy. I’m always tired lately, too worn out from everything. It’s stress, I guess. Maybe that’s why I am always getting sick here. Whatever the reason, by the middle of the evening, I’m exhausted. I take my shower at night. Without fail, I run out of hot water, and the cold water that comes in its place is frigid.

When I sleep, I keep my laptop and my MP3 player next to me because I’m afraid that the camper might burn down, and then I would have nothing left to help me keep going.

Like I said, Fate is crazy.

Yet, in spite of everything that has happened, I am happy. I’m not a fool. I know that everything that has happened to me in the past year has made me better, stronger, wiser. I can take more disappointment and hurt than I ever could. I can let the bad fates roll down my back. I dodge punches, and I throw some of my own.

This time last year, I was happy, in a relationship with someone I cared for. Last Christmas Eve, the Ex came to my house. We exchanged Christmas presents beneath my tree, and he said that he loved me. The next day, it snowed. It actually snowed in St. Bernard. White flakes fell down from the sky, and in my front yard, I made a little snowman. That Christmas, this time last year, was wonderful.

The hurricane was unexpected, a fine twist Fate sent my way. I can remember sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s car, looking out of the window. It was still dark because the sun hadn’t risen yet. We had just finished yelling at each other because she had thrown the things I had packed on the floor. I was angry. I remember looking out and seeing the lights of other cars on the road, and I remember wanting to cry. Wanting. I didn’t cry. I kept going.

That’s what I do. I find a way, and I keep going. What else is there to do? I’ve learned to not get attached to things, because with a snap of Fate’s delicate fingers, those possessions can be wiped away. Maybe that’s why I sleep with my laptop nearby. I don’t like letting Fate hold all the cards. I want to make my own Fate. I want a part in creating my future.

Deep down, I am worried about college. Tuition is expensive, and I’m working hard to apply for scholarships. I guess I don’t want to be alone wherever I go, but I know I can’t let my friends change my decision. Everything around me, even my friends, is unreliable lately. I am too, I know. It’s an effect of the storm. No one knows what is going to happen. Definite plans are made in the very last minute.

I don’t know where I will go for college, but I know what I want to do. I’m going to work hard and double major with English and journalism. Doors were opened to me after the hurricane that I did not know existed. I don’t want to close those doors.

I’ve known what really matters in life for a very long time: just happiness. Sometimes, though, I forget, or it slips to the back of my mind. It’s funny, because even though I run out of hot water every time I take a shower and even though I sleep on a tiny sofa next to a space heater, I am happy, and that’s all that matters in life. Happiness.

I live in a snow globe. Fate shakes my world up, and the snow falls again. A lot of the times, the snow is so thick around me, I can’t see happiness or the way to reach it. That’s when life gets hard. The things you depend on fail, or the life you know is blown away. 

What I have learned is that there are things in life that cannot be expected, altered or ignored, and when it comes down to it, the only thing we can do is stand before the monster on our own feet. I learned that. All the things that have happened to me — the happiness last Christmas when I was loved by someone special, the hurt I felt when he left and the fear I face now when I make plans for college — have made me stronger and wiser. 

I have no idea where Fate will bring me next year. I have no idea what I will look like or who my friends will be. I have no idea where I will be. In a dorm? In a FEMA camper still? I do not know, and I won’t know. That’s what makes life tricky. But I know that, because of the things that have happened to me, I am better prepared to face the hard times this upcoming year will bring. All I can do, and all any of us can do, is keep walking along and when a fist comes flying my way, duck. Or work some Jonny Quest Judo magic and fight back. 

Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but right now, I am sitting on the floor of my camper. The space heater is running because I’m cold, and there’s a tiny Christmas tree we bought from Target on our little table. I live in a camper, and my friends live across the state. I have no idea what to do about college and the rest of my future, but right now, I am happy. I have no idea why, but I am.  I am happy! And now, as I look back at all that has happened, I realize that this was the hardest year I have ever lived through, and, despite that, I know in my heart that I would not change a thing.

Samantha Perez is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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