Hope (and a Little Mascara)

2015-08-09 17.33.00Today I wore makeup for the first time since before the fire. Not a lot, but mascara and some powder foundation. That might not mean much to some people but for women like me it reveals everything you need to know about where I am in the grieving process and life in general.

Nearly three months have passed.

Three months.

Sometimes it feels more like three days; other times more like three years. The pain is often as fresh as three hours while the fog occasionally mimics the safe illusion of three lifetimes.

May was busy, as usual, with finals, proms, high school and college graduations, schedule changes, employee launches, and summer camp preparation.  Excitement about our Memorial Day trail run and five upcoming summer camps filled my days. The Kitten Pit proved a huge success with seven adoptions the very first weekend of the new program. Business was great, continuing its steady, record setting growth and our staffing was as good as it’s ever been. 27 years of hard work was paying off and many, many of us from the Lawrence area were enjoying Pet World’s success.

And then my phone rang. Two hours into the event, I was getting more PW5K tee shirts out of the back of our car when I heard Tim’s phone ring first, reverberating in the cup holder. I remember thinking, “Who would be calling right now?” It seemed like all the folks who call us had either just left or were at the tortoise farm with us and most were on the trails running or drinking post race PBRs. Service is terrible at the property, too, but I had parked in a high spot to avoid the mud, a spot that apparently has decent reception – not that I had any intention of using my phone. Nor did anyone else since many of them were tossed in my car for safekeeping. No sooner had Tim’s phone stopped ringing than my phone started, and then other phones started ringing. At that point I decided I better answer.

The rest, of course, is history.

They say everything comes in threes. Three hours to get the fire out and determine cause. Three more hours to deem the place a total loss. Three hours for fire to destroy someone’s entire life’s work in the worst possible way. Three weeks to open a temporary location. Three days to clean out the contents of the building. Three weeks to schedule the big investigative meeting with representatives from three parties only to decide they needed three more weeks to meet again and take three days to agree the initial cause was exactly what the local experts said three hours after the fire. Three weeks of delays for nothing. Three months I aged at least three times faster with not enough optimism to even throw on a little mascara. I’ve had plenty of threes. I’m done with threes.

So after cancelling and altering three different summer travel plans we decided to take our kids on a much needed family vacation to Cozumel, one of my favorite places on Earth.  We enjoyed spending time with aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and every day made a conscious decision to embrace life (while we thanked God we had already paid for this all inclusive stay last spring).

"I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared."

“I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared.”

At one point I remember lounging by the pool, feeling hopeful, yet fearing that perhaps I was just going through the motions and not as okay as I wanted to believe. I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared. I snapped a photo and started giggling uncontrollably, knowing everyone around me assumed intoxication – which may or may not have been a contributing factor. If nothing else, at least I knew in that moment I was definitely not numb and perhaps the hope was real after all. I think I actually felt happy.

On the way home, Tim and I stayed an extra day in Dallas to meet with the designer/manufacturer who helped us remodel our live fish department just one year ago. Fully rested, I popped right out of bed and grabbed that familiar, pink mascara tube. We toured the facility, shared ideas, drew sketches, made plans, and revered time spent on conception and creation as opposed to destruction and devastation, surrounded by like minded people who understand our mission and share our vision to bring the Pet World experience back to Lawrence even better than before. No insurance adjusters, no cleanup crew, no accountants, no stench from electrical smoke – just good ol’ Texas hospitality from a creative, Dutch family who runs an impressive American business.

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Our temporary location has offered reprieve for many of us but it’s just not the same. Finally moving forward toward this next chapter, though… Hallelujah.  As for the rebuild, all I can say is that if folks liked the Pet World experience before the fire, they’re going to love it even more when we reopen – our staff as much as our customers.

Our employees are like our kids and laying them off ripped my heart out. My God, what they’ve been through. Customers miss seeing them and they are all still feeling lost. On the plane ride home, Tim slept while I imagined my employees’ faces as they help rebuild, knowing once again their jobs will be secure and meaningful. I pictured the smiles and hugs from our customer family and tried to inhale the inspiration that only children can provide. No matter how crazy things get, happy children always make our efforts worthwhile. Pet World kids give me hope for humanity. I accepted that rebuilding will be exhausting and we’ll have days we question everything and want to quit, but, we won’t quit. We can’t quit. And as I closed my eyes to imagine the joy and relief we’ll all feel when we reopen those doors for the first time I felt my mascara run down my cheeks, carried by tears – happy tears. For the past three months I hadn’t worried about ruining my makeup because I had been too heartbroken, too busy, too stressed, and too numb to even bother with makeup. But tonight’s streaked face served as proof that I was, in fact, feeling hopeful, and that I finally felt good enough to care at all.

Who knew enlightenment could be found in a pink tube?

God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us
 — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments —
can see a possibility of hope.
                              ~Maya Angelou



4 thoughts on “Hope (and a Little Mascara)

    1. Sherry Emerson Post author

      Thank you. What a kind thing to say. When I was a child, I kept diaries. In middle school, my journal was my escape. Then one time a high school teacher told me, “Keep writing. Read everything you can and never stop writing.” In college I questioned the purpose of writing since I had no intention of entering a writing profession. In one paper I basically asked, “What’s the point?” to which my professor replied, “I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t one. But I believe someday you’ll find a purpose and a good use for your gift.” A few times I pursued some professional writing. I have even published (under pseudonyms) yet still didn’t feel any purpose.

      Then came the fire. That god forsaken fire. Our community was in turmoil and we had no way to connect with them. Our social media exploded and my phone imploded. Tim completely shut down and my employees just floundered. The media swarmed and most started producing false reports because they had no reliable information. Our public wanted info they could trust. I was frantic when a friend reminded me I was the only one with the inside track who could speak and I was a blogger. A writer. She and my sister were like, “Sherry! You are a writer. Use your voice. Write something.”

      So I sat down at my computer, frozen. Blank. I closed my eyes and heard the voices of my past. “A writer writes. Don’t think, just share. Don’t make it happen, let it happen.” And suddenly I realized my entire life had led to that moment. Everyone who mattered to me was waiting. And when I surrendered to my calling it was like a shroud of protection flowed around me and my fingertips became a vessel. I have little recollection of choosing my words; they just came out. I didn’t edit because quite honestly it didn’t feel like the message was even mine.

      My writing is neither eloquent nor grammatically proficient but, somehow, it seems to work. You know, I scold my kids for not using their gifts. In that moment the Pet World community needed a statement and what kind of example would I have set had I not answered the call?

      I read a blog post once about how if even one person appreciates or enjoys your writing then you fulfilled your duty as a writer. It’s not my job. It’s not my life. But a writer writes. And it only takes one reader, like you, to encourage me to keep answering that call. Thanks. Rarely do people take the time to say something kind but you did. Thank you.

  1. Debbi

    Oh Sherry– your writing is beautiful. And eloquent, no matter what you say! I can hear your voice as I read what you write, and it’s like you’re standing there talking to me. Keep writing!


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