She opened the door to the studio apartment the four of them were now crammed into. Her face clearly showed the exhaustion of the last two days, but she tried her best to not let it show. “Hi”, my wife Jean said tentatively, unsure how to begin to address a woman we never met, but who had just lost everything. “We heard about the fire, and just wanted to come by and drop off some clothes for you and the kids." The woman struggled to keep from crying. “Thank you,” she said in a slight Polish accent, hugging each of us warmly. “If you want to see the apartment, I can show you.” She disappeared for a moment and we were left to stand in the hall. Through the doorway, I could see the apartment was cluttered with all the things that had been donated from the neighborhood and collected in the lobby the night before. We actually thought the collection was that night and hadn’t expected to even knock on their door, planning instead to just leave our things in the lobby. But one of the neighbors had told us where they lived, and practically insisted we knock on the door.
She returned and said, “I don’t know where the keys are, but I have pictures." She pulled out her phone and showed us what their home now looked like. Nothing visible but blackened walls and devastation. Clearly nothing was salvageable from this. She briefly told us the story of how her daughter had mentioned smelling smoke, and her going out of the bathroom to see the terrace ablaze. We stood there, silent, just listening. “Things you can replace, but so many important things, you can’t replace.” She mentioned a little kitchen magnet she brought with her from Poland, given to her by a friend. “Every time I look at it, I know she is there.” But gone now. Many who lost everything in Sandy, including us, know what she is experiencing. “I can’t even be proud. Can’t even say, no, no thank you, we’re fine.” She told us of bringing her son to school late that morning because she couldn’t find a long sleeve shirt for him. I mentioned that some of my son, Thomas’ clothes would probably fit her son. She turned to Thomas. “Thank you for being so generous.” Thomas smiled shyly back.
Someone had told her to write a list of things she needed. There were no pencils, no paper. In five minutes, everything was gone. At least with Sandy, people had time to prepare, to get things up higher, if they wanted to. Some things could be saved. Here, there was nothing. No time to prepare, just get out of the apartment to save your family’s life.
A delivery man came out of the elevator and approached the apartment. “Boardwalk Pizza heard about the fire and wanted to send this to you,” he said, handing over boxes and a bag of food. She had to turn away to hide her tears. He didn’t stick around for a tip, knowing this family will now need every dime to try to begin replacing a lifetime of belongings.
Another story: “A neighbor comes to the door and says, ‘I think this is yours’,” she said. “They found it on the ground outside the building. My wedding gown.”
I could hardly listen anymore. My wife was in tears. She hugged us again. “If not for you, we could not get through this." She meant everyone, of course, not us. She needed to bring the food down the hall to where her children were staying with a neighbor, so we said our goodbyes.
They say gratitude is the shortest-lived emotion. If ever there is a lesson in gratitude to be learned, the Wroblewski family is both living it and teaching it to us. Let’s not forget it, this time.
My wife and I live next door to the apartment at Dayton Towers (102-00) that had the devastating fire on 3/22. We feel that we are alive today, due to the professional, and great execution, by the many firefighters that fought this blaze. We will always be grateful to NY'S Bravest. THANKS!
Bill & Kathy Dickesheid
(In response to the Participatory Budget Ballot items) We can really use the heated boardwalk bathrooms, and of course funding for the schools. But this labyrinth thing is like taking money and throwing it into the ocean.
BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS