Today I drive down Harrison Street in the passenger seat (approaching Franklin Ave with Passaic Ave behind) and my heart breaks seeing the accumulation of ruined things placed curbside, house after house. Mattresses and lamps, furniture, black trash bags in heaps. You think you have it bad, but someone always has it worse. Driving through the intersection of Franklin and Harrison, having seen a photo or two of it severely flooded a few nights before, and my heart breaks for the businesses, likely already struggling due to COVID, the owners now having to deal with cleaning up what may in fact be the sole lifelines to their own livelihoods. I wonder if their homes have also been devastated as well.
I wasn’t out and about in the neighborhood to do a tour of the damage, but was coming home from the laundromat with my brother who was driving. We had made a pitstop, picking up a few bottles of Cherry Coke at 7-11; A rare, indulgent, but well-deserved treat for the both of us. We reminisced about the last time we drank a Cherry Coke; It had been awhile for both of us. The family washer and dryer and hot water heater are completely shot and non-functioning. More will be revealed, but it’s safe to say we’ll be without for a few weeks at least. Maybe longer…There certainly will be more laundromat trips in the meantime.
Many of our family’s things are also curbside, if they haven’t already been taken by the garbage truck that conveniently came the day after the rain. I won’t even begin to list but I mean: a trunk my mom bought with Nonna and my dad on Canal St in Chinatown, right before they were married. That sits curbside now. Soaked and ruined. My 88-key Suzuki piano from my childhood, unsalvageable toys, ruined pictures and papers turned paste, old school papers I was proud of, elementary school writings, American Idiot confetti that rained down from Giants Stadium that I gathered up and stuffed in my pockets from September 1, 2005, my wisdom teeth, as well as greeting cards from friends and family I had saved that meant something to me – Many from Nonna. I cried a lot when the water finally receded from the basement. Almost 2 feet total had accumulated when it was all said and done. “This is our lives!” I cried to my mom the day after, despondent and inconsolable. She had to throw out a wedding album she had given to Nonna; It had found its way back to us after she died. It was falling apart and impossible to save. And even though it wasn’t even my mom’s copy of the wedding album, I became emotional. Because it was Nonna’s copy. That was hers and now it’s in the trash.
I’m not here to lament. I mean, I’m devastated. And I’ve cried about it. But I’m trying not to get lost in the quicksand that is grief. Because I can get lost in it. I know myself well enough to know that. There’s this strange dichotomy and different levels of reality I currently find us all living in: The affected and the unaffected. And it’s…strange. Makes you feel a little bit like an alien walking through a slightly different dimension.
We are saving as many photographs as we can, the discs of our CD and DVD collections (tossing away the cases). We recovered my diplomas, but their cases are completely ruined. My mom has been trying so hard and painstakingly to save what she can. There are dropcloths throughout the first floor of our home to protect the wood flooring from water as we make the many trips up the stairs to take the wet things out and to the curb. This daily trek we now must make until there’s nothing left to remove. The dining room and kitchen tables are full of damp photographs drying out.
Tragedy and crisis are always strange. And even though this is personal and I feel incredibly affected by it, I do try and look at it with a birdseye view; Here is rebirth, here is cleansing, here is renewal, here is starting over fresh and clean. It doesn’t make it any easier, but…the thoughts are there under the surface. I will admit there is excitable family chatter about remodeling and finally making good on all those plans we had to better the basement, move things around, make the house better and nice.
And we can talk about global warming, better preparedness for next time, etc. We can go on a George Carlin-esque rant about “stuff” and “things”. We can play “coulda, woulda, shoulda” and spit regrets until the sun comes up five mornings over. But this happened. This is reality. It rained too much, too hard, too fast and our homes were overwhelmed. Tomorrow will not change cold hard facts. I am saddened by my own situation, as well as the situation of my community and neighbors. Overall, these two years have been insurmountably difficult and this event just feels like an added weight.
Approaching Franklin, I see the waterline, leaves and debris on a now ruined chainlink fence right before the stoplight, right after Ravine. CVS is home to three dumpsters now. I was just in there few days ago to get eyedrops and the manager helped me when the self-checkout froze. She was so nice and sweet. I told her this was my neighborhood CVS and she hoped I’d be back soon. I promised her I would.