Surviving the Station Fire, fifteen years later…
“Don’t you make fun of me!” she shouted at the super market customers who walked past her. People came and went, some gawking, some ignoring, some just glancing our way. A spilled gallon of milk rested between her legs, a bag of groceries sat next to her, filled with what she had planned to be the ingredients for a “nice night.” A 1/2 gallon of ice cream, some steaks, a can of veggies and some boil in bag rice packages were supposed to be put together for her and her man. Fate intervened. “A friend” offered to “split a pint.”
“Joann, why did you do it?”
“To kill my pain.”
Last week I found her at Kennedy Plaza, unconscious at Bus Stop K. We get a lot of drunks there, usually homeless men, worn out from life on the streets. A blond, young woman stood out, even lying down. She stirred when I shook her but was unable to get up, or even get on the stretcher. We lifted her, she struggled. Somehow during the struggle her shirt and bra lifted, exposing her torso. 80% of her body had been burned, badly. Her breasts were there, but instead of smooth skin and nipples something that resembled wet particle board had taken its place. Any nourishment or pleasure that may have come from her body burned away.
She lay in the stretcher, covered now by a few sheets but still semi-conscious. I sat in the Captains Chair and watched her sleep. The fire spared her face, but her hair had to be carefully combed to hide the bald spots where the grafts prohibited new growth. She was pretty, troubled and scarred, emotionally and physically.
The people continued to stream in and out of the store. Normal people doing normal things. Things Joanne should be doing, rather than drinking a pint with another desperate soul at five in the afternoon.
“I have to take you to the hospital.”
“Can’t I go home?”
“You’re drunk and high. I don’t think so.”
We helped her to the truck. She managed to stay upright in on the bench seat. She told me her address.
“Is anybody home?”
“Will he be mad if I take you home like this?”
They would have let her ice cream melt if I took her to the hospital.
And thrown away her dinner.
And her man would wonder where she was.
And I think she has suffered enough.
I took her home.