Stress is often associated with Christmas along with its promise of holiday cheer. But for residents who suffered great losses from Sandy and its aftermath there are extra burdens. In some cases storm's victims are putting their lives on hold.
"We were supposed to get married, trying to set it for next September, but I don't think that's gonna happen," said Angelita Liaguno-Dorr of Union Beach, New Jersey, who along with her fiance, spends her days still trying to recover.
Liaguno-Dorr's beach front restaurant, Jakeabob's Bay, was destroyed in Sandy. While she spends most of her day trying to help her neighbors by volunteering at the area's food shelter, her fiance Walter sorts through what was left of the restaurant and tries to fix up a different building that can someday house the business. This work is taking a toll on their 10-year relationship.
"It's been a little rough, we're close, but it's a lot of stress," said Liaguno-Dorr. "He just said to me the other day, you know, we need just a day for ourselves where we can just figure that out. And then we laughed, because how are we going to get that? Because the phone rings and this one needs this, and we need to go here," she added.
For other storm affected residents life is turning into something of an extended family reunion. The Hardy family is native to Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, going back several generations and they’re already closer knit than many families could stand. But Sandy is putting even them to the test.
The Hardy’s house is currently just barely livable. After Sandy, the family removed a fallen tree, replaced soaked dry wall, fixed the electricity and heat and threw down rugs to keep the dust and mold from overwhelming them until they do the work it really needs.
Heather Hardy and her 8-year-old daughter, Annie, were actually living here with Heather’s parents before Sandy hit. Over the summer, they lost the apartment they rented a block away to a fire. So while they were waiting for the landlord to rebuild their place, Heather and her daughter moved into her parents’ 2-and-a-half bedroom house. Her 23-year-old brother has the downstairs bedroom and her 24-year-old sister Kaitlyn comes here every afternoon to watch Annie and her own son.
The evening that the waters of Jamaica Bay rose up and turned hundreds of houses in this neighborhood into swimming pools, the Hardy’s were all at the house with their parents. “We had everybody in the family here that night because we thought it would be safer,” said John Hardy. But then water started to seep in every crack.
John had recently injured his back and as the water rose past thigh level, his son and nephew had to pick him up and pass him out the window, along with the grandkids. They feared if they opened the doors the water would overwhelm them.
In the days that followed, a few important things happened in the emotional life of this family. First, the father of Kaitlyn’s 2-year old boy showed up to help. Everyday. He had been on the outs with Kaitlyn’s family. Over the summer, he got drunk and beat up a neighbor. He’s also hit Kaitlyn. He was in rehab when Sandy blew in and Kaitlyn was trying to work things out with him, but her parents were wary.
“I don’t think they would have given him, right now with the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, like as open of a chance as they did because he helped them so much,” she said sitting around the kitchen table with her mom and sister. “He cut the tree down, he put walls up, he carried things for Daddy, he did everything he was asked to do and then did more,” she said, “and I don’t think they would have given him enough chance if he didn’t show himself the way he did.”
“But I also think it was the proximity,” Kaitlyn’s mom piped in, “Everybody was here every single day for the first two weeks. And, she’s right, we got to see the side of him that he wanted us to see.”
The side, said Kaitlyn, that represents “the reason why I go back to him all the time and don’t leave like everybody tells me too.”
Sandy’s truce may not last forever, the Hardy women agreed. Only until another episode of violence occurs. “Until something happens that causes us to need to be at the hospital,” Linda Hardy said. To which Kaitlyn added, “Or — it will never happen again!”
“Yes, I pray to God that it never happens again,” her mom answered.
Heather is 30 and the oldest sibling. She’s a professional boxer out of the legendary Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn and works as a trainer there, as well. Though she appreciates getting to live with her parents in her time of need, Sandy has left her feeling more stuck than ever.
“There’s nothing in Gerritsen Beach to rent. Everybody’s looking, there’s so much competition,” she said. And she says nobody wants to rent to a single mom. “People hear I’m a single mom and think, ‘All she’s got to do is stop paying the rent and I can’t kick her out for 18 months,’” she said. Not to mention that she’s no Derek Jeter — she’s not making millions as a professional athlete.
Heather’s won all three of her first professional fights. But so far, she’s still living on what she makes as a trainer.
From Heather’s mom’s perspective, Heather shouldn’t feel bad about living with her parents. “We’ve told her may times it doesn’t matter how old you are, who cares what anybody else thinks,” she said. Living here, she can pursue her boxing career and it’s easy for her parents to help take care of Annie.
But Heather worries about her daughter.
“You know she’s eight and everybody needs their own personal place,” she said, wishing she could find a way to give Annie a bedroom of her own. “Her father, my ex, just recently got remarried and is moving back into the house that we lived in when we were married. So my daughter is now getting her own room back and she gets all this stuff on the weekends and I don’t have anything to give her,” she said. “That’s super hard. It makes me really worried.”
Questioned by her mom and grandmother back at the kitchen table, Annie said she’s fine with no room.
“I really don’t mind,” the girl said.
“What about when we had our own apartment — you miss that?,” her mom asked.
“Kind of,” Annie answered.
Heather says if were up to her mother, her whole family — kids and grandkids — would just stay in this house forever. “She’s like, ‘Ok we need to rebuild, let’s just put on eight more bedrooms so no one has to leave!’” she laughed.
Linda and John Hardy do plan to rebuild bigger if they can. “We’re going to put space aside for the two of them so Annie can have her own space and they can have some privacy,” she says.
This Christmas Eve, the Hardy’s will go to mass like they always do – then come back to their patched together house to be with each other and any relative, friend or neighbor who stops by. For better or worse, Sandy has brought the Hardy’s even closer together.
(The Gerritsen Beach neighborhood has been reclassified as Zone A – to be evacuated under threat of a flood.)