Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Five-Alarm Life: Home

By Aabye-Gayle D. Francis-Favilla

Home—there’s no place like it. But after the fire in our apartment building left us displaced for almost a year, “home” became a moving target. In its stead, we had to find temporary accommodations. For ten months we relied on the generous hospitality of family and friends, wondering all the while when we’d be able to move back into our home again.

We gained a lot through our loss. We learned how to live with just what would fit in my car—how little we really needed to be content and comfortable. We had new and interesting experiences: My husband and I were interviewed for various videos—we even made it on the news. I shared our story at the Red Cross Gala and was completely outfitted for the event by Lord & Taylor. We were inundated with love—the generosity of those around us (friends, family, and even a few strangers) blew us away. My husband and I learned more about each other and ourselves: our limits, our strengths, our hopes. But mostly we learned how to move a lot—and frequently—and often.

We were urban nomads. We made six moves in ten months. There was an oasis of time where we got to stay put for a few months, but mostly we just kept moving. First we moved to my brother-in-law’s. Then two friends took us in for a month. Then we got a moving break when we signed a six-month lease for a temporary apartment. Hoping our home would be ready soon, we returned to our friends’ apartment for another month. Thinking we’d be able to move back “any day now,” we spent our final six weeks of waiting living with my in-laws.

Each of our moves had its blessings and challenges. And I like to think of them in different ways. For example, geographically: Maspeth, Union Square, Long Island City, Union Square, Hollis, Elmhurst (home) or Queens, Manhattan, Queens, Manhattan, Queens, home. There is our relationship to our hosts: family, friends, just us, friends, family, home. And finally, there is where we slept: living room futon, private bedroom, own apartment, private bedroom, twin bed, home.

That’s right, for the last six weeks of our displacement, my husband and I shared a twin bed. And as much as we love each other, that was definitely a challenge. Neither one of is very tall or otherwise large. We’re both fairly average in size. But we’re also both sprawl-style sleepers. While dreaming, we each like to spread out. We manage to get in each other’s way on a queen mattress, so sharing a twin bed gracefully was close to impossible. We tried multiple sleeping configurations and orientations. We tried to sleep while remaining absolutely still. Eventually we gave up, put a sleeping bag on the floor, and took turns.

So when we finally moved back into our renewed apartment, it was a very happy homecoming for us. After ten months of waiting, we had our own space again—space to spread out—space that was ours. We weren’t visitors, guests, temporary residents, or passers through anymore. We were home.

Oddly enough, home took some getting used to. It was familiar and different. The apartment was completely renovated. It was gutted down to the foundations and built up again. The general layout is the same as it was before, but there are some minor differences I had to adjust to. On a daily basis I would reach for light-switches that weren’t where they used to be, but a few inches to the right or left. And even though we’ve been home for months now, there are still some switches I can’t find instinctively in the dark.

There were some other mild inconveniences. Everything wasn’t perfect when we moved in. Our newfangled intercom system was a comedy of errors for many months before it finally worked. Our bedroom furniture couldn’t be delivered right away, so we spent our first few weeks home living out of suitcases and sleeping on an air mattress. Our elevator was out of commission for a month after we moved in. This made buying groceries or doing laundry a form of exercise (or a punishment). And even though our super has “fixed” it countless times, our kitchen sink still leaks. But that’s okay. I don’t care. I’m home.


  1. Glad you are home Frank & Aabye

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  3. Getting your home burned in fire is such a devastating and life-changing experience. We really cannot tell what will happen when a fire breaks out, even if your home has a fire alarm, or not. Your house can turn into ash in just a matter of an hour or two. What’s important here is you were able to survive, even if your valuable things got burned. Life is priceless, and you must be thankful that you’re alive despite what happened. You’ll just have to be strong to start another chapter in your life. I’m happy that there are generous people helping out. You’re still lucky to have those people around you. ->Odessa Hanton


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