The volunteers had commandeered a football field. Now a woman named Lisa was telling a group of them where to go. She was small, standing on a picnic table, voice big enough without the megaphone hanging by her side.
She was talking to a man with the red gloves. They conferred. His people should go to Cedars Grove Avenue to help with the clean-up. So he held his red gloves in the air and led them to the condemned land.
They crossed the field, enough cleaning products to tidy up after a frat party, but not quite enough to contend with a superstorm. They took a left on New Dorp Lane, a sort of volunteer highway of people carrying brooms. There were crowds and groups, gaggles and pairs. Some were locals. Others had crossed over the bridge or taken the ferry, bringing with them bin bags and rakes.
Cedars Grove Avenue is by the sea. People say water got as far and high as the second floor, too impatient to wait for the stairs. Four forklift trucks gather peoples’ lives into mounds of garbage. Their drivers wear masks, trying not to breathe in the dust as they break debris into smaller, more manageable piles of debris.
Places that were once people’s homes are now wrapped in yellow Caution tape. A birthday present in reverse. A house is crumpled like a piece of paper. Its timber slats and plaster vomited out by the storm and turned into garbage.
But every so often you notice bits and pieces of life. A photo of two smiling blonde girls in a frame that reads “grandchildren,” a model of Santa and his sled, a mattress and a VHS tape, with its ribbony entrails spilling onto the ground. Its memories as damaged as they are distant.
Text by Iris Mansour and photos by Marie Telling.