“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” This famous line from A Streetcar Named Desire has been rolling around in my head these past few weeks as we move on from our “life event” of a catastrophic fire that took everything we owned from us. In my mind, this line is said with that beautiful and lilting southern drawl that only those born in the region can truly pull off. If I were to actually speak it aloud I’d sound like something the cat dragged in. So I keep it in my head as I ask for help from yet another stranger.
It is not normal for me, this asking for help. In my life pre-fire, I was quite proudly self-sufficient. Good with directions. Good at figuring stuff out on my own, thank you very much. Nope, don’t want help finding anything in the store, thank you. I can even fix my own toilet if given the right tools. Now I am reduced to asking for help in many areas, large and small. And the truth is — I feel very uncomfortable asking. I would much rather be the person giving aid, giving money or instruction, the one who has control over the situation.
In the fast-moving and precarious current of post-fire recovery, there is no control in sight. I am in a constant state of reaction. My days are filled with Things We Need To Do looming around every hour of the day. Find transportation, buy clothes, buy paper and pen to make a list, get an apartment, fill out forms, obtain insurance, buy furniture, dishes, towels, a bed, the things that go on a bed, bowels, paperclips, shoes… the list keeps being added onto as if vicious little fire elves are adding to it in the night. And I am very tired. What I would rather do than any of these things is nap, or binge watch Netflix or curl up with a good book, or eat Key Lime Pie with a fork out of the pie tin. Anything to escape the necessity of staying afloat, the necessity of keeping my voice from cracking or my eyes from unexpectedly welling up and confusing the stranger I am asking help from. “I was in that big condo fire”, of course is a reasonable thing to tell people but then you have to deal with seeing them take an involuntary step backwards, as if having your life destroyed by a fire is catching. So I try to swallow my sadness, my pride and my childish frustration of not being able to do this on my own. And I simply ask for the help and cross another thing off the list.
The reason we have to ask so much is that our life event happened in a town that is new to us. We don’t know where anything is, we don’t know the names of the streets or how to pronounce some of them. Is it Bow-decker or Bay-decker street? I still don’t know, and I live off of it. We don’t know how to get from here to there. So we have to ask, and go the wrong way and get turned around and keep our tempers in check. Mostly. Then get into the unknown store and… you guessed it, let the people in the store help us find the fill in the blank. They are happy to do it mind you, its their job. Without exception, the strangers we have met have been incredibly kind to us — the sort I guess Blanche depended on, and the ones I used to so proudly think I didn’t need and have discovered post-fire that I need daily.
So I publically want to say THANK YOU to two strangers in particular. Jeanne at the Red Cross for gently explaining that we are never going to get our life back the way it was — that our lives are forever going to have a demarcation line of Before and After the Fire, and silently handing us tissues. And to Lacy who makes the pies in the Tom Thumb bakery department. Her Key Lime Pie is really good. I know because I have eaten two of them with a fork out of the pan, and for a moment was able to forget that our river is forever moving downstream, and what life used to be like is not what life is like today. Nor will it ever be.