Elaine Boulavsky and Khrysta Herman always know where the exits are.
The fear of being trapped by fire still haunts them, even in their sleep.
The mother and daughter are two of several people who jumped from balconies when a Windsor Green condo building burned on April 12, 2018.
That was the second time this family lost everything in a fire, the first being five years before that when fire destroyed 26 Windsor Green condos.
When the more recent tragedy happened, Elaine Boulavsky was recovering from cancer surgery. The plunge to the ground ripped her stitches, and both women suffered broken bones.
They’ve each had several surgeries and anticipate more.
And while they still have intense physical as well as emotional issues, their outlooks are positive and even inspiring.
They’re both quick to express gratitude, first to God, then to their church, Christ United Methodist, and to their Carolina Forest community.
The family - Elaine and Greg Boulavsky and their daughter and son-in-law, Khrysta and Jacob Herman - have moved into their new home in the Summerlyn subdivision.
“Everything in this house except the TV and the barstools were donated to us,” Boulavsky says in her fully-furnished living room.
“The pictures on the wall, the mirrors, dishes, everything. There were three storage buildings filled with donated things.”
But even as she speaks about the kindnesses extended to them, her daughter shifts to find a comfortable position in her chair.
“They put a piece of metal in my back to hold everything together, and I’m going to have surgery so they can take it out,” Herman says.
The Coastal Carolina University student took a semester off after the fire, and has one semester and a couple classes to go before she graduates.
She was married at Wild Wing Plantation in what she describes as a “perfectly beautiful wedding” on Nov. 3.
“Her best friend’s husband guided me down the aisle, and everyone was clapping,” Boulavsky says about being able to participate in her daughter’s special day.
The women say repeatedly that they’re grateful they, and each other, survived the fire, and both call it a miracle.
But their ordeals are far from over, with the worst being the part that doesn’t always show.
“I still feel the drop when I landed on the ground,” the 24-year-old Herman says.
“Sometimes I’m in class and I remember it, and my body reacts and I’m afraid of having that feeling again.
“Everyone in school is focusing on the class and I’m looking at the exit, making sure I have a way out if I need one.”
Searching for the words to describe how she feels today, she says simply, “I feel…not normal.”
Nightmares and guilt plague her.
“My Mom helped me over the edge when I jumped, but I wasn’t there to help her, so she couldn’t control her fall. I turned my head and saw my Mom falling. I saw the way she fell.”
The younger woman’s guilt even extends to not having been able to save her dog, Klaus.
There are two more Boulavsky daughters; Erika is a social worker who lives in Myrtle Beach, and Sarah is an actress who lives in California.
Sarah sent her sister her own dog to help her recover from losing Klaus, and while “it helps.” Herman says, “It’s just not the same.”
When she talks about her recent wedding, Herman grins, and sounds like every other brand-new bride.
All her engagement gifts and even her veil were lost in the fire, but kindness was on the way.
Her professor, Jessica Richardson, and classmates, contacted Kleinfeld Bridal in New York, and they sent a brand new, beautiful veil as a gift.
“The box was from New York, New York and it was so sparkly,” she remembers.
Herman and her husband are living in her parents’ home to help her mother.
“And to save money,” the newlywed laughs.
Greg Boulavsky works at Texas Roadhouse Grill at Coastal Grand Mall. He’d just come home from work the night of the fire, and saw his wife and daughter on the ground.
“Five minutes earlier and I would have been there,” he has said.
While her daughter is committed to doing everything possible to help with Elaine Boulavsky’s recovery, it’s her daughter that the older woman focuses on.
A committed Christian, Boulavsky says she never questioned God about what she’s been through.
“I believe all of our journeys are God-driven, and He puts in front of us what He puts in front of us.
“I always felt like God was there, and that He put me through this for a reason,” she says.
But what she does struggle with is why her daughter has suffered so.
“When your child is sick…that’s the worst fear. I couldn’t help her.”
The time she spent in the nursing home was the toughest for Boulavsky.
“I was really depressed,” she admits. “Would I ever get out? Would I be able to walk? I was in a hole and I couldn’t get out.
“When I came home and could get around with a walker, it was a little better, but I don’t know if I’ll ever walk normal again.
“I’m taking it day by day,” she says, “and I’m praying for that.”
Boulavsky is anticipating more surgery that will include ankle fusion, tendon surgery and a hip replacement.
In the meantime, there are extra smoke detectors in the Boulavsky home. There’s a carbon monoxide detector. There are no candles.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Elaine Boulavsky says.
“It’s always with us.”