How to Lose a Home
Eat oven roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, and roasted broccoli for dinner with Mom, Larry, and Chris in the dining room. Emergency candles set in place. Max and Daisy begging under the table. Sip red wine. Watch a transformer blow, streaking the sky like blue lightening.
No one left. Who knows if the outcome would have been different, would have been like Breezy, for instance, where many left but perhaps forgot to pull breakers so fire spread wild and homes disintegrated into grains of sand. The matter of the fact is no one left, so when Mom, Chris, Larry, and I foolishly ran (Max was carried, Daisy swam) out the front gate to get to the car the water was already waist high and we retraced our steps back through the black water, shouting in the dark of which spots to be mindful.
I learned to swim on a private beach where the cheese fries from the snack bar were incomparable to any other but the canal water we swam in, wading ever so close to the sanitation plant, was always questionable. We played whiffle ball on the street, fearing fly ups in Mr. Salinksy’s yard; Beacon Court’s Mr. Wilson, his front yard a Brooklyn suburb’s Beast.
My neighbors are aunts and cousins, not by blood of course, but by time. Uncle Dave lost the basement, a basement he rebuilt five, six years ago when Aunt Joanne was still alive, before Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis stole her life. Eight years ago Uncle Dave and Aunt Joanne moved in with Aunt Barbara and Uncle George while their house was under construction. At around 8:00 at night in the middle of Sandy, watching her triplet grandchildren get carried from the rising water, Aunt Barbara suffered from chest pains that would not cease. I think of these moments and others as I separate soaked photographs row by row across dry surfaces. Reports have surfaced that taking a photo of the old photo with an Iphone is the best mode of preservation but I am telling you that sheer window blinds placed between each row on a flat surface will do the trick.
There is nothing quite like Gerritsen Beach. I’ve lived in many places: Boston, London, Sardegna, and though each place filled its role, Gerritsen Beach is home. At six, seven years old, I’d run around the corner barefoot to the Milk Farm to pick up Virginia Slims for Aunt Joanne. Men are either firemen, police officers, plumbers or all; wives are teachers, mothers, friends. It is easy to spot someone who is not from the neighborhood.
During the surge, much of our time was spent waiting. We waited for high tide to come, for low tide to recede. We spent two hours naming things we wanted to need that may have been destroyed, photographs of Grandma, a laptop, a book a painter in Boston put together inspired by my poetry. Chris stripped naked and ran down to fetch the photos, his only clothes already drenched; polos, cashmeres, and khakis molding by the minute. Finally, the water became too high to test.
Mom is wondering if Sandy is the event that will break her. All Moms are. I see this in her eyes while she listens to the sledgehammer smash the walls in the dining room, as she tries to trace the location of the helicopters as they fly through the sky. She says I am half her age, I do not understand.
I do know, though, that if you can’t find something to smile about today, chances are you may not find something to smile about tomorrow.
Gerritsen Beach will rebuild because once you have lived in Gerritsen Beach no other neighborhood will do. The place is old fashioned, there are no sidewalks; it is an old fisherman’s village, home to the last volunteer fire department in Brooklyn, Big Al’s Barber Shop, the Gather Inn, and the Larry Veiling Memorial Field, named after Larry Veiling, who passed away with a few others from the neighborhood on September 11, 2001. In Gerritsen Beach, neighbors turn into family, and in some instances, they legitimately are.
Just like New York, Gerritsen Beach will persevere. Everyone must. Sandy warned everyone that complacency is life’s worst enemy. Be shook to the core for the ones you love, be thankful, be careful. After Sandy, life must go on exactly as before, save for ignorance and smut, save for sarcasm and bitterness.
Sip wine slowly. Enjoy dinner with family at the table. Check in on friends regardless if it is during a time of disaster or a warm afternoon in May. Eat oven roasted chicken, even if it takes a little longer to make.