Sitting here, the morning after a benefit concert held for my husband and myself at Kings Park High School I am still overwhelmed. I have the stationary to start writing out my ‘Thank You Notes’ (I was raised right) and I know that I cannot possibly send one out to everyone in attendance because unfortunately I do not know every person who was there. Never, in my wildest dreams did I think that eight years after my graduation I would be back in the auditorium experiencing what will most likely be one of the most heartfelt, touching nights of my life. At nine months pregnant I look back on what my husband and I are going through and almost can’t see the damage anymore. The cracks have been filled, twice over, by the amazing people in our lives and we could not be more thankful. I am compelled to write this, and please bare with me as I am emotional, and so very grateful.
On January 6th 2015 I arrived home from running a quick errand to see a police car, my Father-In-Law and neighbor standing on the lawn in front of my apartment. Fearing somebody’s injury I paused in my car, while my Father-In-Law walked up to me and slowly said, “The apartment is on fire, where is Annie?”. Annie, our Dog was not in her crate as usual. I left her out since my Brother-In-Law was coming over to start work on the nursery. Seb, (the Brother-In-Law) was first on the scene and ran into the burning apartment to try to find our dog several times. I ran up to my door screaming her name while the Police Officer held me back since in my condition, it was important to stay as calm as possible. I was driven away by my Mother-In-Law while I shakily made the necessary phone calls to my husband at work, and my parents. The smoke was thick, and abundant. Every minute that passed was painful as we waited to see the fate of our pet. About ten minuets after the fire department arrived, Annie was rescued. Blackened, sick, but alive she licked my face and in those moments that is all that mattered. It took Steev two hours to get home, and when he did everything became too real, too quickly. The fire department cleared the apartment and soon family members were running into the place trying to salvage whatever they could. Luckily, we did get to save many sentimental objects - but our home - was gone.
Truthfully, it was difficult not to take this personally. Who are you fire? Who are you to come in, tear my life apart and just leave? It was violating, and mean, and we really did not appreciate it very much. See, things were going in a really cool direction for us. Finally, we were starting a family - Steev was moving up in his job and things looked really bright. After the fire, things were a little dimmer for a while. Time moved extremely fast yet everyone was moving in slow motion. When my Mother took me shopping for clothes, I broke down in the shoe aisle realizing just how much I lost. When I finally brought myself to see what was left of the apartment, I saw the photos of my family and friends burned, my favorite mug shattered, and every ounce of love and effort we put into building our lives together scorched right in front of me. This brought the anger, this revealed the true pain, this is also what sealed the closure. It was time to move forward. The idea of perseverance was scary since we felt naked. It is sort of like being twelve again and deciding that you want to sit with a new group at lunch. Will it work out? Will they like me? Will we ever feel normal again? Is it worth it? We had no choice but to find out.
While all of this was going on in our minds, we were taken care of. Our families, who are incredible, pretty much grounded us immediately. They came up with a plan and without hesitation we had shelter and security as my pregnancy rolled on and preparation had to keep going. The process of our recovery was launched by my cousin - who not only dug in my ransacked bedroom for my jewelry - but started an on-line fundraiser for us. As people donated I was reduced to tears on many occasions. Names of old friends, family members and strangers flooded in. Why us? My husband and I were floored, humbled, and truly shocked by the outpouring from our extended community. We are not people who ask for help. No. We are people who help, and accepting all of this was something I needed to be reassured of. It was too much, yet it was everything we needed. This support, this kindness gave us footing again. We could actually own a place of our own this year, we could actually move on in a big way. Our Son’s future was not lost in that fire - it was almost as if it was being born from it. As time pressed on, the check-ins slowed. The donations seemed to reach their top, and we were grateful.
Painfully the trauma of all of this has been a slow and steady build that hides behind unexpected corners. So, when nearing the two month mark my stomach started to turn and the vulnerability was rattled by a few events that have followed in the wake of our loss. When an old friend reached out to me to check in, it made me smile. Jonathan Wibben and I were fast friends in first grade, and throughout school kept hanging out in the same circles. While adult life put distance between me and my theater friends of Kings Park High School, I’ve always held these people in high regard. They were kind of magical in a way, ridiculously talented with big smiles and warm hearts. We sang show tunes together at my Sweet Sixteen and still can laugh at jokes from our musical days. When Jon called me with Emily Truisi and informed me of ‘Welcome Home’ as a project I stopped dead in my tracks. The tears started and all I could utter was ‘wow’. I think as mortals we all fear oblivion. Being forgotten is heartbreaking and scary yet inevitable in a lot of ways. Yet, there I stood, thinking I was a distant memory to this wonderful group of people and never in my life have I been proven so, so wrong. I really cannot type how this felt. I could barely say the words to my husband. After stammering out what I could to him he quietly responded the same as I did ‘wow’. We took a deep breath while I cried with gratitude.
Expectedly the anxiety of seeing the community and old friends crept up as we walked (I waddled) through the doors of Kings Park High School on February 28th 2015. The feelings of ‘who are we?’ and ‘we don’t deserve this’ crept up as I saw a ton of high school kids and volunteers who didn’t even know us running the lobby. Walking down the familiar hallway to the band room brought back plenty of emotion and memory, then entering the band room to see all of my peers just like we all were years ago right before a show was priceless. It was hard to address them, feeling as if no time has passed yet it had been a century all at once was difficult to grasp. These beautiful, wonderful people were all there to hug me and laugh while I tearfully said whatever I could to express my excitement and joy over this event. They were all prepared, and dressed and gorgeous and as I took it all in all I could do was smile. People show you who they truly are when you’re in need - and I saw them. I really saw them for what felt like the first time.
I would not be Stephanie if I did not take a quick sidebar to say something that I thought was really important. While my old friends put their time and talent into this, my teachers helped secure the venue and get current students involved. Current students who have no idea who I am, who my husband is and whether or not we really did deserve this participated because of their teachers. A scantron and a number two pencil didn’t play guitar during one of the performances. A little blue book didn’t help run the lighting and sound. There were no multiple choice questions that led my former educators to donate their unneeded baby clothes or take time out of their retired life to attend. No, my teachers showed up because that is who teachers are. They are not just knowledge robots. They are shapers of dreams, securers of passions, and protectors of youth. They are guiders and doers and they face opposition as legislation gets passed that makes their required curriculum impossible and parents angry at them for no reason. The war on teachers needs to stop, because a test score did not come to my aid. My GPA did not facilitate this concert. My teachers did, and I will forever advocate for them, and for the arts because they not only got me through high school, but they didn’t forget about me either.
To wrap it up, the benefit was wonderful. If you were taking bets on what act would make me cry, Shaye Miller’s rendition of ‘How to Return Home’ got me pretty good when it came to the tears. Then when the alumni came out to sing ‘In My Life’ I lost it. I told you, these individuals are magic, and I love them more than they’ll ever really know. When it came time for me to address the crowd, I had a ton of things prepared to say and yet I do not even remember saying anything. Returning to a stage that gave me a ‘home’ in high school brought up a ton of emotion and then seeing the outline of a crowd filled me with warmth. Thank you just does not seem like enough. What I wanted to express was much greater than a simple ‘Thank You’ yet that is what the English language has allotted for such an occasion. I stood up there, awestruck, with my son gently rolling to the side as I got emotional with my heart open and flooding the stage. The strangers, and old familiar faces that filled the room were spotlight enough. I was so proud to be someone who grew up in this beautiful town. I was so happy that my jaded disposition of expecting the best out of people was proven to not be so jaded. My outlook of going above and beyond for the little things in life or for the people in need came back and looked me in the face. To the community of Kings Park: We fully and completely intend on using all of your kindness and generosity to build a better, beautiful life for our son in our own home some day. Your thoughtfulness in attending, advertising and participating in this event for us is something I will carry with me forever - we will never forget this. Thank you, so, so much.
With all of our love,
The Coiro Family
Stephanie, Steev, Annie & (soon to be) Baby Holden