***Christine has asked not to be photographed for this interview. Without sharing specifics of Christine’s past that she did not want to be made public, the reader should know that Christine has three children who do not live with her at her apartment; she has PTSD that required our interview be conducted in a common area instead of her apartment. “I know you’re probably a nice guy,” she says to me at the start of the interview, “I just feel more relaxed in an open space.”***
Now that Christine had an apartment, her next objective was to make it her home. With no furniture to her name, her neighbors in Prescott Heights pitched in to assist, “my neighbors made me feel very comfortable and welcomed,” Christine remembers, but they only had so much to spare. Christine needed more assistance to furnish her home. Angela Littlefield, an Avesta resident service coordinator recalls Christine’s first days after moving in:
“After Christine moved in, I met with her to do a new resident orientation and introduce myself. When I walked into her apartment all she had was a kitchen table, a small chair that a neighbor gave to her, a TV stand with a small TV on it, and a mattress from a pull out couch on the floor that a neighbor had let her borrow. Although she did not have much she was very appreciative of what she did have and to have a place to call her home. She stated to me that she needed some furniture and (asked) if I knew of any resources for her. Every resource I listed off she had already contacted. I told her we could try some local churches. I contacted two and let them know the need that was out there. The next day I got a phone call from a lady from one of the churches stating she had a house full of furniture and she was getting rid of it but it had to go that day. I immediately called Christine to let her know and gave her the contact information. She did not have a car suitable to pick up large furniture items so she contacted the other local church and someone there was able to drive her to and from with a truck to haul the furniture in. The next time I went to see Christine she had an apartment full of furniture! The only thing she was missing was a bed she was planning to purchase the next month. She kept stating ‘Things like this just don’t happen to me, thank you so much.’“
Christine’s apartment was fully furnished by a generous donor and neighbors who enthusiastically told Avesta staff that she was “fitting right in.” Prescott Heights’ layout creates its own community, and so Christine found herself with new friends rather quickly. She still had yet to venture into the town of North Berwick, something she was terrified to do. “I have a lot of anxiety around new places and new people,” Christine explains, “but I knew I had to face my fears. First I practiced walking in the parking lot. When I felt comfortable with that, I started walking down the block until I had to turn back. Then once I made it the full block, I finally made it to the library. That’s really important for me because I like to research (religious) texts. It was a huge change in my life when I could walk into town regularly.
“You might not look at me and think that I would have a problem like that, but you never know someone’s story when they’re just walking down the street. I saw a blond lady in a Mercedes once and I thought ‘she’s got it made,’ but when she parked the car and I saw her closer, I noticed the same blond hair I thought looked so nice from afar was a wig. She probably had cancer. You can’t assume you know someone’s life or what they went through until you take the time to understand them.”
Christine’s life 5 months ago was one of rural poverty, near homelessness. She endured these types of conditions most of her life. She was in a place where she actually believed that this standard of living was what she deserved, freezing in her trailer praying for the sun to go down so she could sleep.
What Christine deserved was a warm room where she could knit and sit and watch TV with her cat, a kitchen so she could cook chowder and lasagna for her neighbors, a community of support to turn those neighbors into friends, and she deserved access to groups and resources so that she could learn from and in turn teach other people. In telling her story, she is so careful to site all those who helped her, even to the point of suggesting her story be more about them than herself. She thanked the people who helped place her in affordable housing, the people who helped move her in, the people who helped fix things around her apartment, the neighbors who offered her kindness, even the people who had hurt her in the past as they then taught her how to forgive. And at the end of telling her story the last thing she said was: “Thank you for hearing my story without judging me. It means so much.”