Student Finds Silver Lining in Tragedy

Unable to process the scene before her eyes, she can only stare in horror at the shell of what was once her home. The back wall has disintegrated into a pile of ash, revealing the blackened interior. Inside, the second floor and the attic have collapsed onto the first, leaving only the garage and a closet intact. Weeks after the fire, she peers into what is left of her room. She can see the remnants of her computer smoldering on her half burnt desk. Her eyes begin to water, but she thinks of the people who have helped her, the new home she will soon have, and the tears retreat.

“I experienced the unthinkable. My house, something I always saw as protection, safety, and joy, was destructible,” Melissa Wijono ‘18 said. “So I realized, even the most important things in life are destructible.”

On Feb. 17, Melissa and her family – including her sister Stephanie Wijono ‘16 – lost their home to a fire. There was no one home during the incident, and no injuries were reported. The investigators were unable to determine the specific cause of the fire; however, they know the fire started from the back porch. The firefighters responded around 5:30 p.m., and the fire was contained by 7 p.m.

“First, I was like ‘this isn’t real’ and I kept telling myself ‘this isn’t real’ because I never really thought that my house would burn down,” Melissa said. “When it really hit me, I started losing it. I started crying because everything I had was in that house. Everything I’ve ever worked for, won, and built over the years — my entire life was in that house. I guess you can say that house was my everything, so that’s why it was a tragedy.”

Although Melissa would describe the experience as a tragedy, she feels the experience had a silver lining.

“I feel like this is a new beginning in a new world. It isn’t a bad thing to have to start over, this whole process of overcoming this obstacle in my life has probably made me stronger, as a person,” Melissa said. “But the hardest part of this whole incident was getting over the things and memories that I can’t replace — some childhood treasures and recent ones as well.”

Although the Wijonos lost many things to the fire, they were able to salvage some belongings.unnamed-1

“I would say that I also want to save our childhood pictures but my mom is actually able to save some. It was in her bedroom and in our house – the parts that weren’t burnt were my parents closet because it was, like, just the very front and it was sticking out – and our garage,” Melissa  said. “A hole full of crap. So my mom saved some pictures – not all – but it made me feel a lot better when my mom found some childhood pictures.”

While the fire was burning, Melissa was rehearsing with her accompanist for her upcoming piano competition. Except for her piano bag, all she had with her were the clothes she was wearing and her phone.

“I was upset I had lost all my homework and all my notes because I’m a really studious student, and I had a lot of goals and grades I wanted to meet and, it hit me that [all] I worked for has gone,” Melissa said. “And then it also hit me that all my piano awards, and trophies and stuff that I’ve won from my three instruments that I play were gone.”

In addition to playing piano, Melissa plays the guqin, which is a Chinese harp, and the violin.

“I probably would have wanted to save my violin as well,” Melissa said. “It’s not my dream to become a violinist but you know I’ve been playing since I was young and it took me a while to find that violin. It’s really hard to find a good instrument, as a musician it’s really hard to find the right instrument and I felt like that was really my violin.”

Since her sister started using a friend’s violin, Melissa  has been using her sister’s violin. However, she recently bought a new violin to replace the one she lost.

“My dad bought me a new violin that I am starting to like,” Melissa said. “But again, friends, family, and this entire community has helped me realize that there are things that are replaceable, and even the littlest things can mean a lot when starting over.”

unnamed-2In order to help the Wijono family through the tragedy, the community has organized many fundraisers. Marjon Ahmadian ‘16 raised $10,347 through YouCaring. Some fellow friends of Stephanie and Melissa donated gift cards, school supplies, and small packages to help the sisters feel better.

“My family and I were able to overcome it really quickly because of the support that we got. We got a lot of support,” Melissa said. “After this whole incident happened, I was just so grateful. I never knew how much these people cared and strangers came up to us, even our neighbors who we never really knew, they came up and offered us little things and gift cards. There’s really no words to describe how thankful we are at all the people who has helped us.”

For the time being, the Wijonos are living in their neighbor’s house as they plan the rebuilding of their old home. The Wijonos have already made an outline of their new house and have scheduled the tear down of the burnt house.

“I look forward to having my bigger room,” Wijono said. “I’ve always had the smaller room and now I get to redecorate and in my old house, this is probably a little embarrassing, but it was filled with a lot of my dad’s stuff cause he just had a lot of stuff and now I feel like I can start decorating my room the way I want it to be and kind of like expressing, ‘oh this is me.’”