Saying you’re from Christchurch is like saying you have cancer

I remember when Simon was first diagnosed with cancer and we had to let people know what was going on, they often didn’t know how to react.

I had many many conversations that went something like:

Friend: “So I heard Simon was sick, I hope he’s feeling better”.

Me: “Um no, he has lymphoma. It’s a form of cancer. He’s probably going to die”.

Friend: blank look, stare, look of horror or something similar.

Then I would spend the rest of the conversation comforting them and helping them through the shock of the news. Simon and I both did it on an almost daily basis for ages. It was hard. I didn’t want to NOT talk about Simon’s cancer with people, but everyone got so upset about what they had just heard. It didn’t occur to them to ask how I was doing. The conversation was always all about the cancer – what kind, where, treatment etc. etc.

It might sound self centered, but I often just wanted people to ask how I was. Not Simon, not the cancer, not the chemo, but ME.
One day, someone greeted me with, “Hi, good to see you, how is Simon?”, and I responded by saying, “I don’t know how he is, but I’M not doing so great!”. Every time after that, they asked how I was.

So, I’ve been away for a few days in Wellington and Auckland, meeting with lots of different people. They ask, “Where are you from?”, and I’d reply, “Christchurch”. And the response is similar to the one I’d had with Simon’s cancer.

I’d either get blank stares followed by an “OH” and an uncomfortable silence, or they’d want to talk about broken buildings and cost of repair and isn’t it just terrible.

I’m not criticising – I know people are just dealing with the situation as they know how, but I was just struck by how similar the reactions and conversations have been.

From my point of view, every time I leave Christchurch I am pulled out of the strange reality we live in here, and realise the rest of the country now has a different (shinier, normal) reality. It can be quite disorienting. I’m reminded of what I’ve lost. And then I have these strange conversations.

Sometimes I just really want things back the way they were.

4 thoughts on “Saying you’re from Christchurch is like saying you have cancer

  1. ange July 31, 2011 / 9:08 AM

    That is too true šŸ™‚ I had not thought about how hard it must be to actually leave and come back.

    We have strangely come to think of what we live in and how we live as ‘normal’. I guess we have had to to help us cope with it all. I often wonder how it’s going to affect Callum when he grows up, not cos he was traumatised by the quakes, but cos we drive most places at 30 kmh and often I catch him looking intently on the big piles of rubble/collapsed buildings that still abound. Maybe it will make him want to be an engineer…

    And isn’t it funny how in Chch you feel like you can’t really tell people how you are feeling … it’s as if you have to put on this staunch, not complaining demeanour, because in the scheme of things, your house isn’t red stickered. But you have made me realise, it’s not just the four walls we live in that is home, it’s the environs – the park down the road that still has a huge hole at the bottom of the slide where they have taken out the silt, not being able to amble down to the mall or go t the beach without worrying about contamination…. meeting friends in town for lunch.

    Drving through the neighbourhood where I grew up and my parents still live, that has had the most effect on me. More so than the loss of the CBD – the ‘heart of the city’, my old neighbourhood is the ‘heart of my world’ with so many good memories… and although the memories of course will live on, the triggers for them I guess will go. But hey, I have just had a thought that this does not only happen because of things like earthquakes, people that grew up in areas that have now been modernised with town houses etc etc must feel the same.

  2. Erin July 31, 2011 / 9:41 AM

    I agree that this is very true. I’ve only been here six years but the city I call home has been transformed. I turn a corner and a row of buildings I used for a landmark is gone. Friends are moving to other places. I hate change and this sucks.

    I met some girls from Dunedin a while back during an ice hockey tournament. They just wanted to talk about how they couldn’t cope with it. The fact that we are doing more than coping makes me very proud. The spirit we’re showing is awesome. I love the shorthand conversations we have when we meet someone new. “Is yours okay?” “Yeah, yours?” “Yeah, no worries mate.”

    Still, I wish I could bike down to the central library and get some new books. I miss going to Mrs. Higgins Cookies on Hereford before catching a movie down the street. I want to go to the market in Cathedral Square. I never bought anything there but it was fun to wander around to look at people and what was for sale.

    Having said that, I’m very glad we have each other. We know what this feels like. We’ve had the earth suddenly decide to start jumping up and down under our feet. Even if the others can’t understand, we do. I’m proud to be one of us.

  3. Denise Frayle July 31, 2011 / 12:29 PM

    Totally agree as will most Cantabrians who have experienced the last 10 months. We all put on the brave faces and staunch hearts and say, “yes we are fine” but inside we are bleeding for the beautiful city we had which gave us so much, even if we didn’t take advantage of a lot of what we had and for the lives we had before Sept 2010..Being an older person, I just hope they complete the new Christchurch before I take of to the next realm!!.Bottom line is, that we still have each other and the love and caring shared with friends and family is so healing to the soul. Just be there for those who need you.

  4. shona September 13, 2011 / 11:13 PM

    So true, I moved to Wellington in May and when people ask me where im from I tell them and they say stuff like what was it like? and I just cant tell them the truth because I dont want to share what is actually very personal, and i cant explain what it was like in three sentences it was complex, so now I just say “very unpleasant” . Next question is did you leave because of the earthquakes? “no my husband was transfered” you must be pleased to be away from them now “yes but I feel like I left my tribe who are still at war”

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