DOWNTOWN NOTEBOOK, 2nd Ave. explosion: The view from my window

Photo by Yvonne Collery The writer’s apartment is still off limits due to heavy water damage sustained during the fire. This is what she can now see from one of its windows — an empty space where three residential buildings used to stand.

Photo by Yvonne Collery
The writer’s apartment is still off limits due to heavy water damage sustained during the fire. This is what she can now see from one of its windows — an empty space where three residential buildings used to stand.

BY YVONNE COLLERY  |  When I look out my window, I see what isn’t there.

I see an absence of life, a sobering, empty brown dirt plot that screams with recent memories of lives changed and others that were stamped out in an instant.

I heard the sound of the explosion when it happened. What I heard was like the soundtrack from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. I heard screams that came after a bang that you can’t describe. The screams I heard came bubbling up from the depths of hell amid the sound of thick plate glass shattering at a decibel level that was impossible to comprehend.

I also see the streetscape that was ripped from us seemingly in an instant, or as if time seemed to have stood still like an eternity, take your pick. These moments seemed to loop around; an infinity squeezed inside of a mere instant.

I see the people that I always saw standing in front of the buildings who are not there anymore. I see the lovely smiling face of Moises Locon, who always exchanged a pleasant word with me, “When will it stop snowing?” “Will winter ever end?”

When I see the view out my window, which was the last place Moises Locon ever saw, I think of him and all the others.

When I look out my window I think of my neighbors who will never see their homes again, those who will never see their photo albums, college diplomas, family treasures, favorite furniture and a life’s worth of well-curated possessions. These are the people who were not able to salvage even a single shoe.

I see the people who escaped by a hair’s breath, the neighbors that will always have burn scars and — even worse — scarred memories. When I look out my window and think about the people who were until recently my neighbors, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that my building still stands. 

Every single one of us caught in this disaster has had a hellish time. Even those of us from the buildings still standing did not know if we would ever get back in. We were all displaced for the minimum of 16 days. We left with only the clothes on our backs. We all had to find places to stay. We all cried an uncountable number of tears. And we all had our moorings knocked out from under us. We felt affliction where before we felt comfort.

We are all trying to get back to as normal a life as we can, a new changed normal. A small handful of tenants are back in 125 Second Ave. Some are back in 41 E. Seventh St., which was also evacuated. The people from the three lost buildings are coping the best that they can. Change was thrown at them and they are valiantly rising to the occasion, quietly rebuilding their now-ragged lives that were busted open in an instant.

My apartment is on the south side of the building and we acted as “the fort” that saved the rest of Second Ave. when the wind changed direction. The Fire Department sprayed water for hours and hours on end on our side of the building, wetting it down and keeping our part safe from the raging fire. We acted as a buffer. Because of this, our side of the tenement suffered serious water damage. I am not back at No. 125 and won’t be for quite a while.

Stuart, Kayoko and Hannah Lipsky have the apartment two floors below me. They are one of the only families with children from the whole disaster site. They were eager to move back in when the vacate order was lifted. Stuart came in to clean.

“I found the whole thing overwhelming, disgusting,” he said. “I didn’t know where to start, there is so much dirt and grit everywhere.”

He found a place for Kayoko and Hannah to stay while he cleans and scrubs and readies his nest, while coughing and feeling sick most of the time from the massive gas fire’s fallout. Kayoko is working very hard, often until 8:30 p.m. She often comes back exhausted to wherever they may be staying.

Hannah is a lively and bright 12-year-old who is a topnotch student. She goes to the NEST+m School on E. Houston St. She is still going to karate, practicing her flute and preparing for her Bat Mitzvah in June. Hannah is still missing her cat Ryce and is struggling with this.

“I know that there is something to learn in everything, but this is a very difficult lesson,” she said very philosophically.

As for the view out their home’s window, Stuart simply said, “It is haunting.”

When you walk past No. 125 at night you only see a few lights lit, as most of the residents don’t feel comfortable enough to stay there. Some of us go in for brief periods during the day. Every time I go, I see more things thrown out: piles of stuff or large black garbage bags waiting to be picked up. The building is working double-time to fix everything, and they are doing a good job, but it is a long and arduous process.

Jamil Shafi is one of only a handful of tenants who have already moved back into No. 125. He is spending a lot of his time cleaning, and then cleaning again. He also threw out lots of his clothes, his bedframe and some upholstered furniture.

“I am happy to be back in my home,” he said. “I am slowly getting back to normal and I will be really happy to see all my neighbors return, as this is family.”

Jamil said he is so very thankful to all of the people who have made his return possible, including the F.D.N.Y., Police and Red Cross, as well as Igor, Alex, Mikhail and Roman, our crew at No. 125!

Jamil looked ruefully at the dull, empty brown dirt plot and said, “As a designer, I could help our mayor turn this into a memorial park for us until this land gets developed. It would be great if artists could come and paint pictures of what used to be here.”

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