Phil Gilson walked past the now empty lots in his Breezy Point neighborhood, reflecting on how the beach community once was.
“That’s the disturbing thing. You look and you say, ‘Who used to live here?’ Even I don’t know where I am because all of the homes on the perimeter are gone, so all of the landmarks are gone,” he said.
Gilson said he couldn’t revisit the town destroyed by Sandy for months because “it was depressing.”
His own summer home of 43 years was washed away the night of the storm in October, “right off the foundation,” he said. It was torn down completely in April, and he still has no plan to rebuild. Gilson was there the day before it was demolished to collect anything he still needed.
“I was anxious about coming down,” he said.
After that day, he frequently returned throughout the summer to watch the rebuilding progress, though the “outstanding” Breezy Point summer he knew and loved wasn’t there.
“I’d come down over the summer, but I wouldn’t see anybody,” he said. “I would not see towels. I would not see hanging bathing suits.”
Gilson’s summer memories include those of a very close, tight-knit neighborhood, where “if you sneezed, somebody next door would say, ‘God Bless you,’” and “if you needed to go to the store 10 minutes away, it would take you an hour because you kept stopping to talk to people.”
“You can’t replace the camaraderie of the community,” he said.
For his own home, just two blocks past the fire zone where 135 homes were decimated, Gilson said he is waiting to hear if he will receive any city funds from the Build-it-Back program.
“It’s going to be a couple of years before we get back here,” he said.
Still, he enjoys going to his neighborhood, watching more and more houses pop up in vacant spaces.
“It’s very comforting,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Phil Gilson