Days after the fire a family friend messaged me and let me know friends of hers had a bed and some other furniture they would like to give me. Days after the fire I couldn’t even comprehend buying underwear, much less what furniture we would need. My brain was broken, it didn’t function. I’m not entirely sure I even responded to her message, save for months later, last month actually, to say I was ready for furniture, I did know what we needed and if they still had anything and if they were willing to still give it to us, that would be spectacular.
I connected with her friend via text and arranged with another friend of mine to help me with his truck to pick up a queen sized mattress, a few lamps, and whatever other odds and ends she could provide. Strangers, again, months after the fire, are giving us things. That is amazing to me.
We met up at their storage unit and immediately hit it off chatting about life, and their recent travels around Europe and that they used to do the “storage wars thing” which is why they still had a storage unit and garage full of furniture.
Realizing everything they were going to give us wouldn’t end up all fitting inside my friend’s truck, her husband offered to follow us in his truck and drive the remaining items to our house, about 30 minutes away.
The kindness of strangers will amaze you.
“Is it ok if we take the beltway?” my friend asked.
“Yes, I get to drive it for free because I’m a veteran.”
“Thank you so very much for your service,” I told him. I never feel like this is enough. The words never quite reach the depth of my gratitude.
We arrived at our house and unloaded his truck first. Then my friend ran inside for a moment and I began to talk with the man who had just provided us with the last few items we needed to get rid of the remaining rental furniture. I found out he was a photographer, classically darkroom trained like myself. We talked about the portrait photography world and what he likes to shoot and that I lost all my gear and wasn’t sure if I’d pick up photography in any fashion again. Then he said something that stopped me in my tracks.
“I’ve always had a camera in my hand, even in Vietnam when it was shot right out of my hand. Then I got injured and I was in a bad place for a real long time. But eventually I got it together, my brain came back.”
I stared him straight in the face. “How, how do you make it better?” Then I back pedaled… “I know that’s a personal questions, I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer it. I just can’t figure out how I get better.”
“It took 20 years.”
Tears started filling my eyes. For the last two weeks I feel like I’ve regressed emotionally. I went from being ok to angry to just being depressed and lethargic and just fed up. I’ve been fighting off panic attacks almost daily after weeks of not a trace of one. And sometimes, I just let them take me, because I am so very tired of fighting.
I’ve walked every step of this long exhausting path just swallowing myself.
Our house burned down and I watched it from the back of an ambulance. Ok I can do this.
Our dog died in that house, she’s gone. Ok I can do this.
Bill’s company gave away his position while he was on leave. Ok I can do this.
Rebuilding is going to take longer than we thought. Ok I can do this.
He interviewed for what seemed like the dream position within his company. We won’t know if he got it for three weeks. Ok I can do this.
I drive past my burned decaying home every day. Ok I can do this.
The property tax office is raising our taxes and because my house burned in February and not January I have to pay the increased taxes for the entire year on a house that doesn’t exist. Ok I can do this.
Bill didn’t get the job. I don’t know if I can do this.
The rebuilding process is delayed again. Seriously?
There are other positions open that weren’t open before. Ok, maybe I can do this.
Our puppy has eaten two iphone chargers, three pairs of shoes, a brand new rug, and two pool toys, I miss my dog who didn’t eat all the things. Ok I can do this.
All the positions for Bill that are open are all overnight. Fuck this. I’m done doing ALL of this.
There are only so many times where the “I’m alive, Bill is alive, Issa is alive and we’re all ok” mantra covers me. I need progress from “we’re alive”, and I feel like I’m standing on the first rung of a very long ladder that is this process. It’s steep and it’s hard not to slip off, but my arms are aching and tired of holding on and the rung of the metal latter is starting to dig through my shoes and into the the arches of my feet. I’m not allowed to go up, I just have to keep holding on, and it’s exhausting.
Meet my regression, combined with a just crap load of guilt and welcome to me, really really not ok.
This man I was speaking with, this stranger, I was standing on the front lawn of our rent house with tears streaming down my face and I didn’t care. He told me about how it was really bad at first, and how it never truly goes away. You’re just different, changed. You see the world differently, you’re more cautious, you’re more severe about certain things. But the pain becomes less and the terror becomes less. You eventually stop having nightmares. You eventually start sleeping better. But you still always see the images. Those are always with you. And because of them, you see the world differently; from the eyes of someone who has experienced trauma.
“Just keep talking about it. When people ask, tell them. Some people will want to hear it, others don’t know how to hear it, but always, always talk about it. That’s how you move forward. That’s how you get past it.”
This man, this man experienced war. I watched my house burn down, with my dog inside, not fully knowing if my husband was alive or dead. I watched my house burn down because I left a candle lit. And while I think about war, I think about how my situation pales in comparison to that nightmare. But I heard him speak and I thought, “YES, finally, someone else gets it.” It was like he was in my head, my very broken wounded head.
Though our situations were vastly different, in the end, we both experienced life altering trauma and our bodies and minds, in both cases, responded the exact same way. But here was a man at least 20 years my senior who had lived through the trauma AND the aftermath that lingers on so much longer. And there, standing in the grass of our rent house with a stranger who had given me things without question, in the afternoon heat, with sweat dripping down the small of my back, and tears streaming down my face, he also gave me hope.