I had just turned 17 years old.
I was going into my last year of high school. I’d lost 80 pounds. I’d told the girl who friend zoned me, and then tried to still pull me along, to fuck off. I had a driver’s license and my own car; my own job and my own money.
Seemingly, everything was well.
“Kyle, the barbecue is on fire!”, I heard as I was upstairs jamming away on the guitar.
Well, that’s not good.
So I rushed downstairs, fully expecting it to be…well, a barbecue fire. Something that would be manageable; I figured I’d grab the fire extinguisher and have the thing out in no time. Not quite.
Instead, I walked downstairs and was met by a searing pain in my eyes. The entire kitchen window, roughly six feet wide by four feet tall, was ablaze. All I could see was a bright orange, resembling the sun. My life flashed before my eyes momentarily before I came to my senses. And it’s a good thing I did, because my mom certainly wasn’t thinking clearly. Realizing that all hope was gone, I pushed her towards the front door, grabbed my dog by the scruff of the neck to drag him outside, all whilst fumbling in my pocket to pull out my flip-phone and dial 911.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to literally watch your childhood home crumble to the ground in front of you, and I don’t even know if I can try to put it into words. All I remember is me comforting my mom as she sobbed into my arms. While it might seem unfair in hindsight that she wasn’t comforting me, this became one of my first realizations as a young man that you must always be the pillar for women. It is simply the way life is; at least a mother’s love is unconditional.
There I stood, at 17 years old…watching the flame engulf the house. Hearing every window in the house shatter like a gun going off. Seeing dozens of cars driving up the street to get a glimpse of it; many of them ended up blocking the firetrucks from getting to the house quicker – those soccer moms with their need for drama are a large part of the reason some of the house wasn’t salvaged. I distinctly remember going up to one car and screaming, “Get the fuck out of the way, you dumbass!”, and she responded with a look of horror that I would say that in front of her children.
Everything burned down.
My sister eventually made it home. I had to call my dad, voice shaking, and tell him that he needed to come home immediately. He couldn’t comprehend it at all – shock. I had to literally repeat ten times, “Yes, dad, the house burned down. We are all okay. Just come home ASAP.”
Situations like this are never easy. People all respond differently. In that moment, where I was standing outside, helpless to do anything…I grew up a lot. I didn’t have a choice. At that moment in time, I was the man there.
Here are the results of the aftermath:
Life Isn’t Fair
I held everything together, including holding in tears, for many days afterwards. That first night, we slept in a neighbor’s house. I may have been on the floor in a sleeping bag, I don’t even remember. Whilst that day seemed like one of the longest of my life, and I was completely burnt out (no pun intended), sleep eluded me.
I had just lost all that weight.
I had finally had the courage to stand up to a girl who treated me poorly.
Everything in my life, which was pretty ridden with anxiety, rejection, obesity, and was generally pretty pathetic – had just started getting good. And now this happened, something completely out of my control. For a 17 year old with a narrow worldview, it’s hard to stomach. The real pain was not the pain in seeing my house burn to a crisp. The real pain was thinking that I could never get a break in life.
Just when things were looking up…now I was homeless.
And that was when I learned that life is truly never fair, and that the only way to counteract that was to man up, work hard, and deal with the cards that you’re dealt.
Because shitty things happen in life.
In the grand scheme of things, I think it’s fair to say that having your house burn down, have to witness it, and then deal with the aftermath (it’s a lot of paperwork), is pretty high up there in regards to the “shitty things that can happen to a person” rankings. Sure, I’d pick the fire over being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I can’t even imagine the pain if I’d lost one of my parents or sister in the fire – but it was really fucking hard to deal with.
My Anger Was My Fire
Men are meant to move mountains. Moving a mountain does not come without setbacks. It is the pain that makes you stronger. As a man, you are in charge of your own emotions. You can choose to let the setbacks get you down indefinitely, or you can use them as fuel to the fire for your mission.
At 17, I didn’t quite have a handle on all of my emotions, and for the next few months I had flashbacks to the moody, video-game obsessed, fat teenager I’d been up to that point in my life. But I didn’t let this fire define my life path for the next few years. I dealt with my pain, moved on, and used it to make me stronger. When other setbacks have occurred to me in life now (such as having my college admission revoked (my high school’s fault), to being questioned by cops for something really stupid, to every little bump in the road on the way.
I just look back and compare.
“Well, this sure as hell isn’t bad as watching my house burn down and being homeless again.”
Setbacks give you perspective.
Perspective gives you strength.
How you bounce back determines who you are as a man.
So, what kind of man do you want to be?