SANDY One Year Later. . .
My name is Leanne Barna, I'm 21 years old and have lived in Rockaway on 118th Street my whole life. Hurricane Sandy. That was her name, the identity of a merciless storm that destroyed my neighborhood along with countless others. As circumstances would have it, Sandy also happens to be the name of my puggle, who is a survivor, and a big mush, I may add.
I get the dry sarcastic laugh from people nowadays when they ask me her name and as I walk my dog along the beach, a different place than it used to be. Before the Atlantic Ocean ripped apart Rockaway’s boardwalk with a terrifying show of sheer, natural power, I find I still can’t believe it.
I walk along. Sandy grunts, staring off at the ocean, the gray waves hitting the shoreline, as if also stuck in some memory of the old days.
“What’s her name?” My dog and I are woken from our reverie and we’re face to face with a tiny old woman. “She’s so cute.” Sandy pants in agreement. I smile to myself and try not to look at the piles of concrete and boards that scatter the beach.
“Sandy,” I say and then look this woman with her two tiny little dogs in the face. My smile broadens and she gets the joke. She laughs as our dogs frolic and says, “Oh, God what a name. Especially for around here.”
I walk away with my puggle. Sandy is happy with the petting she just received. Before I go inside, I do what a lot of people from this neighborhood have been doing lately: I just stop and look. Sort of a long, questioning look at this bleak expanse we all now call home. I just look, as if to pay some silent homage to an unforgiving force of nature that I’ll never forget. I’ll always remember that day because that was the day my life changed. I’ll always remember Sandy.
What I have trouble remembering, is the way things were after Sandy unleashed her wrath upon our beach town. The words ghosttown come to mind and I find they don’t do the devastation justice. It was so quiet, so humbling, so surreal. We were living in a sea of destruction, a war-torn neighborhood nation, and we all had to accept that we had lost this battle.
I do remember the apartment buildings that lined the beach on 117th, 118th and 119th Streets and how they once hummed with activity and in the days that followed the storm were almost desolate. Their broken windows and doors had been boarded up with plywood and the few people that remained had taken it upon themselves to stand guard. Old Irish soldiers, sitting in beach chairs, bundled against the cold, watching over what Sandy had left us, which was nothing but destruction. The buildings become forts, the remaining residents soldiers. “YOU LOOT, WE SHOOT!” was spray painted on every boarded door and window and I knew that this was not a threat, but a promise. “Come on, we’re boarding up!” I heard a neighbor call and hopeless faces filed into the buildings. Those who kept watch pulled their beach chairs in and passed out flashlights. Goddamnit Sandy.
Every single one of us has a story that can give the other chills. We can all nod and agree and feel for each other because we were there. Every single one of us has a story about what we had to do that would make people think twice about the things they take for granted. “Wait, you washed your clothes where?” I blow some air out of my nose and shake my head. This is my Sandy laugh, some type of defense mechanism I’ve developed since the hurricane. “Yeah, in a bathtub of an abandoned apartment in my building. And I hung my underwear to dry on door knobs.”
There was nothing anyone could say then or now that could have made any of this easier, and I know now, a year later that despite all Sandy stole from us, she gave us the ultimate test of courage, friendship and downright decency. And I like to think that Rockaway came out a better, stronger and tougher neighborhood than ever before.
Leanne Barna is 21 years old, lives in Rockaway Park, and currently works at Dalton’s Seaside Grill.