BY HENRICK KAROLISZYN
When I walked into my childhood home in Broad Channel the morning after the storm, it felt like I’d been punched in the chest.
Sandy tore through my father’s two-story house with so much force that walking around the destroyed first floor crippled me with sensory overload.
Memories of my childhood flooded back to me as I walked across the floor caked with mud.
Blocks of cherry wood I remember chopping and stacking with my father, Hank, had smashed through the sliding glass door. The deer hide couch I once slept on as a child was ruined and reeked of mildew. A chair he used to drink Coors Extra Gold on every Friday night as we discussed life was smashed to bits. A sense that things would never be the same coursed through me. Thousands of others in Queens and all over the New York City area were probably going through the same trauma.
Outside, the wooden fence had been twisted into a spiral; the gazebo knocked over and all but one pillar smashed; the dock nowhere to be found. I worried about my father’s reaction. He is 74 and had a quintuple bypass in 2005. He built the house in the 1970s and he has lived there ever since. It was his American Dream, built on stilts over Jamaica Bay. Broad Channel was a community of like-minded blue collar folks and he fit right in. He worked as a security guard at the Rockefeller Hilton in Manhattan but liked to unwind at home.
He was no stranger to calamities both man-made and natural. He experienced several blackouts in the 1980s, the 1992 nor’easter and last year’s Hurricane Irene.
“I’m confident,” he said the Friday before Sandy hit. “This place has been through everything.”
It hadn’t encountered a super-storm like Sandy - a freak of nature that was a combination of a hurricane and a nor’easter. Experts say such severe weather will become more common as a result of climate change.
Despite the warnings, many of my neighbors took their chances. Christian Beck, 40, was one of them. The first floor of his two-story house is uninhabitable and the future of the home is uncertain, he said on the day after Sandy hit.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said, clutching the hand of his 5-year-old daughter, Vanessa. “The home will never be the same.”
I continued to walk through my father’s house until I found a knocked over cabinet. Inside it were hundreds of soaked photos, a history of our family.
I was devastated.
There were wet pictures, Polaroids and film reels from decades past, including photos that traced my father’s journey from the World War II refugee camps of Germany to Plainville, Conn., where his parents settled.
More photographs showed my mother’s path from rural Canada to Mexico, where my parents met. And there were pictures of Broad Channel. I picked up a shot of me as a boy smiling during a sunset on the deck now destroyed.
I began un-sticking the photographs madly, cleaning off the muck and stacking them on an upstairs bed to dry out.
It felt like I was saving our American story, one with challenges to overcome. I was reminded of this after discovering a picture of my grandparents with their seven children.
I placed all the photographs down and then wondered again what my dad would say when he came home. On the Friday after Hurricane Sandy, he finally saw the destruction.
“We can fix everything as long as we’re alive,” he said somberly. “Not everyone was so lucky.”