The vanishing of a scar is what most would consider a positive end result from a healed wound. The complete disappearance of an unappealing mark that most often represents a negative experience is what people use Neosporin and other ointments to accomplish. As the 1 year commemoration of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti dawns, I have been reflecting on the status of my scars.
The external scars on my back, right foot, and lower right leg are still there, but are much lighter. They no longer properly represent the experience that put them there, and while I thought this would bring me comfort, having no outer blemish, I find myself anxious over their decreasing presence. How do I tell the story to new people without being able to point to something? This ultimately leaves me exactly where I do not want to be. No longer able to deflect questions of my experience with a quick flash of my shin, all that is left is the way more harrowing emotional scars that I rarely discuss.
In a country so full of undesired blotches, tent camps, piles of rubble, and collapsed buildings that seem to serve more as catalyst for the blame game than a continued call to action, I have taken solace in the constant reminders of the disaster. I am in no way suggesting that I want these things to remain, but rather acknowledging that dealing with the tangible is more straightforward. While these feelings might/are odd, when discussing the earthquake with Haitians I find them responding similarly. In talking with World Concern beneficiaries over the last week in preparation for the 1-year-later update, the answers to questions like “how did you feel?”, “describe your greatest frustration”, “what are your greatest needs?”, were physical. Beneficiaries, regardless of their earthquake experience, pointed to cracks in the walls, rubble piles, or items stored in tents, but no lingering sadness, grief, or anger were mentioned.
During an interview with a Quartier (neighborhood) Committee member, Pascal Jeune, who helps World Concern implement our projects in Nazon, the avoidance of anything below the surface was obvious. The 27 year-old father of one who brought his son home the afternoon of the earthquake to friends and family, of whom 13 of would die when his house would collapse hours later, is still clearly as uncomfortable as I am when asked about his feelings. Naturally, when I interviewed him, the death of 13 of his relatives was discussed and the only response I could get from him is that “their absence makes me the head of my household and that makes things very difficult for me.” I tried to continue the conversation after the formal interview was over, but his serious face and welling eyes proved to me that his emotions about the 12th are just as raw as mine.
Now, I realize that having 6 foreigners standing around with video equipment does not create a relaxing environment where one might feel secure enough to open up, but I believe it is more than that. I have been asked about my experience by strangers, friends, and family members and my reaction is always the same. Look at the ground, take a deep breath, think of something light-hearted to say…and then point to the scar.
In rare moments of complete security, usually shared with Frank, I might reveal more. The helplessness, fear, and pain of facing losing everything I loved remains. The constant inundation of images from the earthquake, while I reminder I am not alone, makes my increasing sensitivity to those suffering painfully acute. And in the deepest of places, where I rarely want to go myself, I face the fleeting moments of horrific doubt that I am still under that house and that I never made it out, that this is all a dream. So much for scars fading…
The certainty of life is things move forward whether you are ready or not. While I can so easily transport myself back to that potential coffin of rubble and the emotions that go along with that reality, a year has passed and my exterior marks are fading. I know that my scars on the outside do not have to mirror those on the inside, but their slow departure feels like pressure to move on and I am not ready. So what to do?
I guess the first thing is to be thankful for the support and love I have received and continue to receive. For all of you, who stopped your lives for my and Frank’s recovery, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would not be where I am today without you. Another thing is to realize how lucky I am that my scars are healed and fading while the physical destruction as a result of the earthquake is still the most prominent thing you see as you travel throughout Port-au-Prince. Lastly, is to accept that one year has past and that my recovery and reconstruction has the same status as the Haitian people’s, incomplete.