“In all my years I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s like Katrina in New York,” my mother said as she looked outside. You’ll never know what it’s like until you’re forced to look it in the face.
From the car window, I had a view of a war zone. A heap of tree limbs mixed with sheet rock mixed with wood and nails blocked the roads. People with gray faces and deep set eyes entered through their garages and came back with sheet rock and ruined furniture to deposit onto the side of the street; emotionless, like slaves. Every gas station on the boulevard was bordered with orange cones. Desolate. As we turned onto the block where my grandparents reside, we slowed down to observe a large boat that gruesomely jut into the side of a house, laying on a heap of backyard fence. There were cars spread out in abnormal formations in the middle of the road, all of them weathered with sea water. Beneath the lopsided sign that read “Roma Street” were hills of hay from the ocean, rubble and sediment. A Mercedes was half buried under a pile of straw. On my grandma’s neighbor’s lawn was what looked like a brand new washing machine, tossed into the heap of garbage in the front lawn. Couches, end tables, shoes, coats, rugs, shards of glass. I stepped out of the parked car with caution, and stepped onto a sidewalk coated in yellow-brown mud.
Nonni’s neighborhood looked like a post-apocalyptic field. Inside, the hallway that used to smell like musty roses now smelled like putrid mold. Nonno’s shoes in the closet were wilting, soaked. The water mark was about four feet high; I couldn’t imagine it flooding their house at this height. Nonna used to have these gorgeous white knit pillows (very 70′s), but now they were sprawled across the floor, stained with brown. Plants knocked over, dirt everywhere. My childhood coloring books and drawings thrown like a piece of shit. Mom’s old typewriter face down on the floor. What hit me the most, however, was seeing Nonna’s garden in pieces–that was her pride, a project she had been working on for years.
Where do we begin? It’s a question that thousands of Staten Islanders are asking.
Laura is the tenant (a single mom) that lives downstairs. I saw her last month, but it looked like she had aged about 10 years. Her wrinkles traced heavy lines of gray on her skinny face. Hair frizzy, tired eyes. Victoria is her 17 year old daughter. She was one of the few people I know that always wore a smile. But her face, like her mothers, was dry, gray and aged. They waited out the storm and now regret it, Laura said. She motioned a hand, placing it midway up her thigh. “The water was up to here. Our brand new couch was floating like a raft.” Their mattresses were soaked, so they had to sleep over a friend’s house.
The mailman came by and I overheard his conversation with the neighbor. “I’m alright. I’m trying to deal with the loss of my sister.”
This is real. You’d never think this would happen to such a quiet, normal suburban neighborhood. We see those stories on TV and think, these things don’t happen to people like us. But they do, and at the worst of times. My family was very fortunate, but others were not so fortunate.