Creative Non-Fiction: Meeting Sandy

BY JEAN LEE
SC Staff Writer

Kim DiFilippo Slammed the driver’s side door of the Dodge Durango, started the engine, and screamed, “Come on, get in!” All three of us girls hustled to grab a seat because when Kim told us to do something, we did it in a hurry. She became our second mother over the years from an Italian origin. My friend Christina sat with me in the back and Jen in the front. “Staten Island, here we come!” Jen screamed from the passenger seat. With a trunk full of bread, blankets, water, clothes, and stationary items, we set off on our adventure. The four of us headed to the streets of Staten Island, where the devastation of hurricane Sandy swept through the streets a few days prior. We felt hope in our hearts and happiness to know we were about to become part of the hurricane relief volunteers, but we did not expect to see the reality of hurricane Sandy. We didn’t expect to see the amount of pain expressed only by a sunken pair eyes or a city put into ruins in only a few hours.

Glenda Moore strapped her two sons Brandon, 2, and Connor, 4 into her SUV on the evening of October 29, 2012. The flood waters of hurricane Sandy began to rise, so she decided to flee from her Staten Island home and drive to her mother’s house in Brooklyn. Her car stalled along Father Capodanno Boulevard due to the rising water levels. After a moment of panic, a terrified call to her husband, and the waters pushing and pulling her SUV, she decided to grab ahold of her two boys and abandon the car.  With an intense amount of power and determination Glenda tried to push through the waters and make her way to safety. Unfortunately, a strong wave of water came and swept her two boys out of her grip. For hours she searched for her boys and knocked on different neighbor’s doors to find help, but no one responded. On the back porch of a Staten Island home, Glenda pounded on the back door and an older man answered. She screamed about the wave sweeping her children away from her. She wanted help searching or even shelter from the storm. The man said, “I don’t know you. I’m not helping you,” and shut the door. Glenda took shelter for the rest of the night on a porch of an abandoned home, where she suffered through the cold with hypothermia. A few days later, the bodies of her two sons were found in a marshy area. Neither survived the storm.

When we arrived to Staten Island, we asked a local police officer parked along the road for directions to the nearest donations drop off. He gave Kim, a former Brooklyn resident, the directions to a local drop off. As we drove along the streets, I saw Kim cover her mouth and mutter, “oh my god.”

I raised my head from looking at my Iphone screen and looked outside the car window. The news described the destruction in detail by talking about the destroyed homes and the lives lost, but we drove along a street of reality. Home after Home passed had gutted out every piece of their furniture and thrown it into a pile along the street. Torn pieces of tables, sofas, and dressers rotted away in their waterlogged state. As Kim parked the car on a street off of Father Capodanno Boulevard, I couldn’t help but stare at a small girl helping her father throw miscellaneous items out of her second story window and into the street.  Hundreds of items gained though out a family’s lifetime, gone.

When we stepped out of the car, a black family approached us, “You need any help unloading those donations?” the mother asked. Kim sighed in relief and was glad for their help. The mother’s four daughters, between the ages of ten and seven-teen, helped unload our trunk. I couldn’t stop myself from watching them and trying to figure out if they were victims of the hurricane or volunteers who drove here like we did. As we walked toward the donation tent, I felt something soft under my feet. When I looked down, I noticed a patch of sand covering the entire street. Hurricane Sandy pulled the Midland Beach waters all the way to the Staten Island neighborhood we found ourselves in. Though, the sand covered streets surprised me, more destruction awaited as I turned a corner.

The donation tent held blankets, clothes, food, toothbrushes, and other products in boxes. Above the tent hung a sign which read, “Jeanie’s”, and volunteers served hot Italian food for free to the hurricane victims. A Mexican family browsing through the donations had wrapped plastic shopping bags around their feet. Maybe the bags helped stop water from soaking their shoes, or maybe they had no shoes at all. I studied their muddy and weak looking bodies. The father and two teenage sons grabbed what they needed from the boxes and walked away from the area with their heads hung low. All three of them carried a sack over their backs as they walked, only a sack, muddy clothes, and their plastic shoes. I turned away, in hopes to shield myself from the destruction for a few minutes, and only found more. Across from the donation tent, an abandoned home had a lit candle in the doorway and a bouquet of flowers. “R.I.P. Jimmy”, read a sign over the front doorway. I turned and walked down the Sand covered street.

Further down, I found a whirlpool hot tub stuck in a tree. For a second, I laughed, and forgot about the pain surrounding me. How did a hot tub get so high in the tree? I imagined myself stripping down into my bathing suit, climbing the tree, and taking a dip in the hot water. After a few seconds of fantasizing, I turned to my left and saw a small fishing boat slammed into the roof of a home. The wooden planks of the roofed caved in like the boat had been dropped down from the sky. I didn’t fantasize about sailing in the boat, but I pictured the family coming back to their home and finding the mess. I imagined the mothers break down when she found the keel of the boat smashed down onto her china cabinet. I imagined a set of china passed down by her great grandmother shattered into hundreds of pieces. I imagined her falling to her knees and grasping her hand over her mouth, and then I imagined her sobbing and pulling onto the pants of her husband for support.

After we dropped off our donations, we walked back into the car in silence. With each of us still busy re-organizing our minds, we waited for Kim to start the engine. “I can’t believe this,” she muttered and started driving. We turned onto Father Capodanno Boulevard and passed more homes torn to shreds. At a red light, I stared into the eyes of a man on his porch. He inhaled a cigarette and blew out the smoke. In the few seconds we halted at the red light, I witnessed the grieving in his eyes. No windows survived the storm, and with no power, I knew he would be sleeping on a wet carpet in the cold November weather. He knew it too, but he inhaled again, and Kim hit the gas and drove on. A few houses down, I felt Kim slam on the brakes, and my body flew forward in the seat a little. “That’s the house! That’s the bastard’s house!” Kim said in a firm tone, leaning over Jen a little to look through the passenger seat window.

“What bastard?” I asked.

“That’s the guy’s house who turned that woman and her kids away. I think her name was Glenda Moore. It was on the news. You didn’t see it?” She said louder in her Italian tone, and pointed her finger over Jen’s torso.

“Wait, what?” I asked, having no knowledge of the subject.

“This woman was driving with her two kids, and the water knocked the car over. She was pounding his door for help and he turned her away saying that it wasn’t his problem.” Kim explained.

“Are you serious?” Jen slipped into the conversation.

Kim ran on with her anger still, “Yeah, her kids were little babies. How could he just turn them away? What I wouldn’t do to go knock on his door and kick his face in. My cousin told me that he guarded the door all night to make sure she didn’t get into the house.”

“That’s so messed up,” I blurted out.

“People are disgusting,” said Jen. We continued the ride with more silence, staring at broken homes and a dysfunctional city

After the long drive back to Pennsylvania, we returned to our warm beds, ate a dinner we cooked over the stove, and ignored the simple pleasure of turning on a light switch. I tried so hard to appreciate my home and safety after the trip to Staten Island, but living becomes a routine. I never have to think about the feeling of hot water in the shower or the heat from my pellet stove. For a few days, I cherished the feeling of dry furniture and carpet, but eventually the appreciation disappeared, and I stopped thinking about it.

Email Jean at:
jean.lee1212@yahoo.com

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