I was hanging out with my sister the night before Thanksgiving at a bar down the street from my house when the man sitting next to us started up a conversation. He asked where we lived, and I told him but he inquired about my sister's residence. We looked at each other and sort of giggled nervously. And then she said it.
"I'm sort of homeless."
The man was taken aback, probably in part because of how flippant we were about, and I'm sure partly because of the answer. The thing is, I guess we're just not used to it yet.
You see, a couple of months ago, probably in late August, my oldest sister moved back in with my parents to save money. She works in Manhattan, and my parents live in a two-bedroom house in Long Beach, NY. It was a perfect set up for a while. She had her own bedroom and an easy commute to work, and my parents loved having her cat stay with them.
So on the morning of October 29, 2012, when my parents packed up absolutely nothing and evacuated their cars to avoid a power outage from the upcoming storm, my sister stayed. She stayed while the streets flooded with 6 feet of water. She stayed while the neighbor's house collapsed, while the house filled with foot after foot of salt water and seaweed. She ran through waist high water in the pitch black to salvage my parent's wedding albums, my mother's jewelry, my father's medication. She watched in pitch blackness while Sandy destroyed the homes of my parents, and the homes of 3 other family members.
And when it was over, it was just beginning. My cousins' homes were spared, save for their basements which flooded with over 6 feet of water, and their cars. My parents and my aunt and uncle lost everything inside their homes. Everything the water touched is gone. Every piece of furniture, appliance, electronic, even the sinks, toilets, and showers were removed when "repairs" began.
My parents are lucky enough to have insurance, and my aunt and uncle are receiving aid from FEMA to help rebuild. My cousins have both been able to move back into their homes (although one of them still doesn't have heat or hot water). My aunt and uncle are moving in with their daughter (who ironically had just moved out for the first time at age 32). And my parents have a house in Palm Beach that they're retreating to after Christmas.
But my sister? She's not poor. But she's homeless. Right now she's sleeping on a couch in the one-bedroom apartment my parents have rented while work is started on rebuilding their home. But most of her clothing was destroyed in the floods. She has no bed to sleep on, and once my parents leave New York, she will have nowhere to go. For various reasons, she is unable to stay at my place for any extended periods.
The man at the bar asked us if we would be celebrating Thanksgiving. We said of course. And we did. We have so much to be thankful for. Houses may have been destroyed, goods ruined, and cars lost to the forces of nature, but home is where the heart is. My sister may be bouncing from place to place, just looking for a roof and a bed, but she's alive, and she's unharmed.
Superstorm Sandy tore a lot of things apart. But my family is not one of them. I'm sure we're not alone when we say we never expected to find ourselves in this situation. But we will prevail. My sister has all of us to help her whenever she may need it, and in due time she'll have a place of her own again.
This holiday season, keep in mind the true spirit. Hug your family, and hug your pillow. Be thankful for everything that you have. For so many have lost so much.
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