It’s been over 2 years, one month and one day since the Superstorm Sandy encroached on Staten Island’s shores, but the horror of it still remains. Although the loss of lives and the devastation of property is not an on-going phenomena any longer, it is still, nevertheless a debilitating issue.
For me, it means I will never be in my house by the seashore again. My beautiful little 2-bedroom cottage, that I adored, is no longer an option for me. Never will my grandchildren be playing on the swing set that I bought second-hand through the classifieds 2 years prior. My only grandson, Nicholas is just about big enough now for the basketball hoop and backboard that I also acquired through the newspaper. He is turning 10 in 6 days and has grown in leaps and bounds. At 5’2”, as of his last measurements, he is more than ready to assume the rigors of a basketball “court”. However, this was not meant to be for him in Midland Beach.
Having been rescued that terrible night in 2012, after hanging from the gutters of my roof, pushed and shoved, beaten and prodded by floating debris in the foul, murky water for two hours, was nothing compared to the present day.
It looked like my world was looking up in the ensuing weeks, people were so good and generous and caring. I was enamored of all the individuals that showed up at my door giving and wanting to help, it was beautiful. Little did I know that it was all to go downhill really soon.
I have worked all my life, most of the time with a part-time job as well as a midnigh- to-8 AM full-time employment. Twenty five years at one bank on Wall Street, and 17 years at a banking firm in South Plainfield. I had no intention of ever leaving work till I reached the Pearly Gates (if I was a desirable candidate?). But my last job moved out of state, leaving a big void in my life.
It was at that time I decided maybe I should retire, since I had my dream house and my “grands” were still small and they so loved the beach. This was in July of 2012. And then fate swooped down and obliterated all my joy three short months later.
Thinking I could rebuild, I spent every day for months after the storm at the house, cleaning and discarding, etc. Until, I developed a hurting cough that hospitalized me for ten days in late December, early January. It seems like I developed a breathing problem due to the mold infestation. And as my luck would have it, a diagnosis of COPD was to follow.
Just when several prednisone treatments were finally showing some results, a huge depression surfaced in my persona. After much urging I went for some help. It was then that I was told I’m suffering from PTSD. How many more acronyms are going to emerge in this lifetime of mine?
Newly acclimated to Zoloft, I guess I’m making strides, LOL.
In any event, my living accommodations left much to be desired. First my niece's tiny apartment with 12 other people, then my daughter Denise’s house in the Catskills. Too far for me, I’m a Staten Islander forever, despite SANDY. I was offered a 3-room, third-floor walkup in Sunnyside. No furniture, no gas, black garbage bags covering the windows, a tiny cot brought to me by Denise, along with bits of furniture and new underwear and socks placed in boxes on the floor. But, hey, I wasn’t in a shelter. It wasn’t long before, FEMA came through with a couple of thousand dollars for my essentials. At this stage, everything was essential. I had so much donated clothes in this apartment, all sizes shapes and conditions. Just about every day, I would open the closet door looking from one side to the other, and say aloud, “Hmm, what shall I wear today, size 6, 8, 10, 12 or 14?” Despair made me a comedian.
After a few months, when I could no longer bear the three flights of stairs, which sucked the breath out of me, Denise and I discussed me moving. There must have been an angel listening, because I was notified shortly thereafter, that I am eligible for an apartment in a brand new senior citizen’s complex. Being a Sandy “victim” I was pushed to the top of the list. Yippee, I thought, I’m finally going to be able to get my life back together. Or so I thought.
Markham Gardens Manor turned out to be a state of the art building with many amenities. Unbeknownst to me, this is a very low-income senior citizen’s residence.
Not having any resources at the time (and I still don’t), I guess I fell in that category. A first floor apartment, wonderful neighbors…and A LOT OF THEM. I have never lived in an apartment building before, so it was all new to me. In the following weeks/months, I learned that with my Social Security and my small pension from Citibank, I was ineligible for a lot of the benefits accorded to most of the population in the building, i.e., food pantry delivery, preferential utility rates, CASC vehicle access, to name a few.
But I was able to make ends meet, just barely. The main reason I am usually without funds is my car. My original car was lost to the flood and I was reimbursed just the BOOK value of my Hyundai. I subsequently replaced it with a 2002 Ford Windstar, which is a money pit. I have no personal option but to keep this vehicle, since I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY INDEPENDENCE. (Call me Patrick Henry)
Then the electric bills started coming in for outrageous amounts. They ranged from $125 to $200 per month. I called and called and was told they can do nothing. They surmise, my air conditioners and refrigerator are the culprits. And they won’t come to check out anything because it is an apartment building. So I made an agreement to pay installments on my previous bills. But the thing is, when a new bill comes in, I’m right back to square one. Now I get a turnoff notice every month, but so far so good. Con Edison says my income is a little higher than the criteria need for reduced rates, HEAP, or a one-time assistance.
In response to me asking a majority of my neighbors how much their average bill is, ConEd maintains that just about everyone in the building gets preferential rates. I went to the building management and was told there was nothing they could do. So I said, “I guess I’ll have to get a job so I can afford the electric bills, but then if I do, my rent will increase”. Her response was “pretty much, that is the case”.
So, in essence, as a 72 year old woman, in order for me to be able to afford to live in a low-income senior citizen residence, I have to get a job, which in turn will raise my rent.