How the worst day of my life led to the best day of my life.
By Mike Morales
Last August I took a trip that changed my life. I was a member of the German Club at Raccoon City High School. Every August, the second year German class takes a trip to Munich. The drinking laws are a bit more lax than in the United States, and my best friend Tim and I were hoping to try a maß (pronounced mahss) of German beer. The maß holds a liter of beer with room left over for a head on it.
We never got the beer. As it turns out, the day I left for Germany was the last day I saw my mother. Our chaperones, Rolf and Frieda Berghoff, heard the news first. They double-checked it before rounding us up and letting us know the grim news: Raccoon City was no more. We were shocked. I mean, how does a city of a half a million people cease to exist? We got the word through the Internet that the nuclear power plant experienced a melt down and finally, a nuclear explosion killed everyone within a fifteen-mile radius of the blast site. This was truly the worst day of my life.
The Berghoffs asked us to stay in our dorm rooms. Tim and I were bunking with Jeff and Gary Kern. We were talking about anything other than the city being destroyed. We couldn’t admit to ourselves that everyone but our group of 22 people had perished. We didn’t want to believe it, I suppose. If we didn’t accept it then it never happened.
I tried calling home; Mom authorized my cell phone for international calls. The calls went nowhere. I let Tim and the Kerns try calling their homes. They had the same failed results. Finally, I called Uncle Pete’s number and it went to his voice mail. I left a confused message about Mom being dead as well as Tim’s entire family and I begged him to take Tim so he wouldn’t end up in an orphanage.
The Berghoffs went from room to room, getting the names of our relatives or family friends who were not living in Raccoon City. The Kerns had their grandparents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I had my Uncle Pete in the Chicago area, but Tim… Tim had no one. All of his relatives were in Raccoon City. He started to freak out; he didn’t want to go to an orphanage. He said he’d rather live on the streets and beg. I told the Berghoffs to call my Uncle Pete and ask him if Tim could come with me to Uncle Pete’s place. “We will see” was the only answer we could get. I know when Mom said, “We’ll see”, it always meant “no”.
(Uncle Pete told us later that when I was trying to call him that he was talking with the Berghoffs and assisting in not only taking Tim and me, but in tracking down the next of kin for the others as well.)
One by one, we were given airline tickets. Jeff and Gary were going to their grandparents place. I got a ticket to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago… Tim got one too! We couldn’t believe our luck! Uncle Pete was taking both of us! When we got to the Munich airport, at least ten of us, and our chaperones, were flying to Chicago. Once there, we went through US Customs. It seemed to be a formality; I think the Customs Agents knew who we were. In moments, eight of us were transferring to other flights. Tim and I weren’t sure where they were going. We were just happy to see Uncle Pete waiting at the arrivals area in Terminal 5.
“Boys, I’m so sorry.” Those four words brought our spirits down to the lowest since we heard the horrible news about Raccoon City. They told us that it was true, that my mom was gone, and that Tim’s entire family was gone. We successfully fought back our tears; we didn’t want to seem weak in front of Uncle Pete.
On the ride to Uncle Pete’s house in Lombard, we were in the worst spirits yet. Uncle Pete told us that he wanted us to recall some of the good times that we remembered about our families. We started slowly, and if we slowed down or stopped, Uncle Pete told us to continue. By the time we got to Uncle Pete’s place, we were laughing so hard we were crying. Uncle Pete told us that the next time we felt sorry for our loss that we should recall the good times and remember that our families are still with us. Over these last several months, I’ve done that a number of times, and each time my sadness faded.
The next day, Uncle Pete took us to the Dirksen Federal Building, in Chicago, to start the adoption process. Uncle Pete brought two large manila envelopes with him. He had very little trouble adopting me since he was my last surviving relative. But it was a different story with Tim. That’s where the manila envelopes came in. Uncle Pete had gathered documents and photographs from over the years to demonstrate that not only was he familiar with Tim and his family, but that he was a true friend of Tim’s parents. The piece of evidence that convinced the board was Tim’s baptismal certificate showing Uncle Pete was Tim’s godfather. They still questioned Tim, me and Uncle Pete, both in a group as well as individually, but when it was over, Uncle Pete was my adoptive father and he was Tim’s legal guardian. Within six months, Uncle Pete will be Tim’s adoptive father as well. We started to call him ‘Dad’, but it just didn’t feel right, so we went back to calling him Uncle Pete. When we got home that day, we truly felt like a family. What was the best was that Uncle Pete treated us as adults, not children. I think this was the best day of my life.