During the last week, I’ve been struggling with memories rooted in a catastrophic event (a fire) that took place in 2011; troubles compounded by frightened people I had thought were my friends, and who did more harm than the fire ever could have. I term these people, who are in my life only as memories, as Ghosts.
As I’ve tried unsuccessfully to resist being dragged down this particular memory lane, there have been also a few old, familiar faces from that time—people who ‘raged against the dying of the light’ with me, through benevolent acts.
It seems to be the Way of many blog-writers to be the self-appointed arbiters and critics of society in general, and I’ve regrettably contributed my share of negativity. From our armchairs, we rail, wail, and assail just about anyone or anything, freely and without fear. You can’t be sued for your opinions, which is pretty much all a blog is. It’s pleasant, then, even rooting around ‘among the Ghosts’, to rediscover acts of kindness. Those memories blunt the edge of fearsome recollection.
While I was in hospital, the day of the fire those several years ago, a man appeared in my Emergency Room cubicle. He owned a used bookstore near where I lived, and I often went there to browse and carouse. When he heard about my catastrophic event, he called all the hospitals until he found me. He came to see me right away, and afterward, I visited his store almost daily. The following year, he helped me leave the East Coast and begin my journey to American Siberia. His store became a haven of sorts.
As kind as he was, his assistant excelled him in good works. As soon as I was released from hospital, I went to the bookstore to thank the owner, and I mentioned that I was concerned about all the books that I’d probably lost. There was one in particular that I treasured, but the title of which escaped me (even without PTSD, I have a poor head for names). Based solely on the description of this book, the lady did some searching and within a day or two, had found for me the exact book I was missing, and put it in my hands. The following Christmas, she gave me ‘The Complete Works of William Blake,’ the first Christmas present I’d had in years.
I’ve mentioned previously the staff and patrons of a cigar lounge in the heart of that city, and particularly, the former Marines who recognized my plight and treated me like a brother. I learnt that it’s okay to wrestle with returning to normalcy, especially since the alternative is much less pleasant. The whole bunch of them helped me simply by not treating me differently from others. There was the photography professor who was my first ‘victim’ in my attempts to hold a conversation, and the attorney who used to discuss points of criminal law with me. He took me to lunch at his club one time—that was a stellar event!
Just after the fire, I went to a church for help (they were ‘my brand’), and had to explain to an intercom, while I stood on the windy, icy winter pavement, that I had an emergency and needed to talk to someone. I was turned away because I didn’t have an appointment. I went to a Roman Catholic church some blocks away, and met a fantastic priest who had been a Franciscan missionary in Papua New Guinea for almost four decades. During the next year or so, we met as often as I needed. He listened to me, and did not judge. It’s fascinating that the most helpful thing a person can do for another is often also the most passive. I learnt a lot from him.
Near where I was staying, mere blocks from the bookstore I mentioned, was a Japanese/Korean restaurant where I ate several times weekly. I used to sit at the sushi bar and talk to the sushi chefs. The head sushi chef, who was also the owner, sometimes greeted me with ‘You look hungry’ and started feeding me sushi and sashimi immediately. His wife often brought me special dishes from the kitchen, ‘for health’ she would explain. I formed close friendships with some of the waitstaff as well. I have to say, I haven’t had a decent Ojingeo-bokkeum since I left the East, and I miss their ebi, ika, and otoro!
Those were the Angels of Then and There.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be out of the clutches of my Ghosts; they seem to arise when I can tolerate them least. I’m happy to realize, though, there are others, Angels, that kept the Ghosts at bay then, and I encounter some of their Angelic kind even now.
(That’s one in the eye for PTSD!)
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A very personal discussion about coping with a major disappointment/tragedy, and the counterpoint of people who helped to mitigate the hurt.