I can’t recall the darkness

When I stare out my bedroom window
in the haze of insomnia

I expect a smooth and ever
twinkling oblivion,

as if Jackson Pollock had
painted with light upon the sky.

But I am met with a dusty dissipation.
Sulfurous synthetic light.

Part of my heart wonders if
darkness still exists.

If somewhere on this glowing Earth
exists a dome of black speckled with

twinkling corpses of long dead
stars and a band of translucent

milky space matter. I hope when my eyes
close for the final time, we are reunited,

as the dark wraps its cold
and glittering arms around me 

like a mother holding her
long lost child. 

11:22 pm

Today I saw a fly.
A poor little housefly
writhing in utter agony
on my kitchen counter. 

Blended into the black stone,
knock off onyx,
invisible but for an incessant
and futile buzzing. 

I stood there and
watched it struggle.
Its enormous eyes crying
tiny housefly tears. 

I felt like a farmhand
preparing to put down a
prized steed, simply because it
had outlived its usefulness. 

A solemn little creature
screaming into a void
deprived of hope
deprived of dignity. 

I whispered a prayer while
crushing it under my bare
thumb. I could have sworn that
as it left for heaven, it whispered back.

At The End

Inside my withered and
brittle bones, there stands
a man. 

A lonely man atop a hill,
watching quietly as the
world ends.

Fire turns the twilight sky
a deep shade of ashy crimson.
Oceans drown monuments of
stone and steel.

The sounds of death and decay,
flooding the man’s ears.
The sights of tragedy and torment
burning his retinas.

Across his face, his
lips curl into a
peaceful smile.

He knows that very soon,
all will finally be
quiet. 

It will be so quiet, and
the silence will be so beautiful.

Long Island’s Rising Cost of Livings Leads to Residents Losing Homes

(This piece was done as a capstone project in my senior year of college.)

In a sequestered area of Medford, New York, a neighborhood is riddled with “For Sale” signs. Dilapidated homes with vinyl siding peeling away, door handles hanging off their frames, and house numbers spray-painted on the front of the houses. From the street you can hear the sounds of children inside, some laughing and some crying. The driveway is overflowing with cars, despite the home being no more than three bedrooms, and it being 2:15pm on a Tuesday. This home is in foreclosure, and at some point in the future the family inside will likely be evicted. Dozens of homes within five miles will be in foreclosure in the coming months. 

These scenes have played out all across New York in the last year, particularly in Suffolk County. The state and county have been outliers in the national trend of plummeting foreclosure rates. The rate of foreclosure and delinquency in the United States are at their lowest in levels in 10 years, according to real estate news publication Think Realty. While that trend holds true nationwide, six states have seen an increase in the number of foreclosures between 2016 and 2018. New York had the third highest increase in foreclosures during this period with a rate of 9%, being beaten only by Vermont with 27% and West Virginia with 33%, according to Attom Data Solutions. 

“There’s no way they (foreclosure rates) can’t go up. People can’t hold on anymore,” said foreclosure attorney Catherine Laviano when asked about the excessive business she’s seen in people trying desperately to avoid foreclosure. 

Homeowners come to attorneys like Mrs. Laviano when they’ve been served foreclosure notices by their mortgage lender, usually a bank, for failing to make their mortgage payments. They will typically request a mortgage modification, which functions as a “re-negotiation” of their mortgage contract, allowing them to set up a period of very low interest for several years, with interest increasing on a yearly basis. It allows people to try and catch up with their payments and prevent the banks from proceeding with the foreclosure process. Laviano has several clients that have defaulted several times and come to her for a second or even third mortgage modification. 

When most of us think about foreclosure, we imagine after not making mortgage payments, the banks go up to a delinquent homeowner and kick them out of the house right then and there. They put signs on the windows and board up the doors and that’s that. This does happen in some states, but New York is what’s referred to as a “judicial state.” In a judicial state, the homeowner has a legal right to fight the foreclosure process and attempt to keep their home. Often they will go through mortgage modifications. A mortgage modification is essentially a re-negotiation of a mortgage contract to a lower interest rate for a period of time with the intent of making the loan more affordable. Sometimes they’ll declare bankruptcy. Often they will do both. 

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Laviano and dozens of other attorneys provide a necessary service to those struggling with keeping their homes. Often they’ll reach out for those services after their third missed payment. After the third missed payment, most mortgage lenders won’t allow the homeowner to pay any partial debt, it becomes all or nothing. If a homeowner owes $10,000 and they have $9,500 in their account, it doesn’t matter. The bank moves forward with foreclosure. 

When the bank decides to move forward with foreclosure, they sue the homeowner, and the case goes to court. This begins an often lengthy process of dragging out the trial for as long as possible. Often, that involves the homeowner declaring bankruptcy. If the home is owned by a couple, one will declare bankruptcy to delay the trial and then the other will follow suit. In these cases homes can stay in the foreclosure anywhere from 3-7 years. 

During this time the residents can live in the home, and no mortgage is paid until the case is settled or the homeowners are evicted. Some homeowners will rent out the the house in a last desperate attempt to save their home. Andrew Owad was one of the tenants that lived in a home that was being rented out in an attempt to save it. 

“I think it started with a nasty divorce,” Mr. Owad said. “That was enough for them to nearly lose their home.”

POTENTIAL FOR PROFIT

While the rise in foreclosures has been a nightmare for homeowners and those in poor financial circumstances, house flippers have been swimming in a sea of cheap real estate and potential investments.

Kyle Clark is one of those making use of the lucrative situation. He is 22 years old. A tall and thin young man dressed in slightly baggy jeans a grey hoodie, he doesn’t quite have the look that comes to mind when you think “real estate shark.” He went to college for about a year before dropping out, deciding that school was never for him. His day job is at a printing company, but he started flipping houses for extra money three years ago. He is currently working on a house he bought in Mastic, one of the harder-hit neighborhoods in terms of foreclosure. It was sold at a bank auction for $230,000. It is expected to sell for around $400,000. 

The house he is renovating is in shabby condition, with mold in the kitchen, antiquated windows, plumbing and electrical problems and in need of a cosmetic re-design. The two-floor home is fairly large compared to others in the area, but much of the inside is antiquated and isn’t up to Town of Brookhaven code. Despite the unsightly conditions, Clark says that this house is in the best condition of those he has purchased. 

“I probably need to put around 70 to 80 thousand worth of work into the place, which is a lot but still nets me about 100 thousand in the end,” said Clark. 

In the case of this home, the homeowners left the state several months after beginning to default on their mortgage. They had renters in the home when they left, and when the owner stopped paying their mortgage, the tenants stopped paying their rent. They lived in the house without paying rent for seven years, riding the wave of the foreclosure machine. After finally being evicted, it was repossessed by the bank and sold to Mr. Clark, though it wasn’t a simple purchase. 

“There are usually around 10-15 people bidding on the same houses. Everyone from professional investors or people with extra money are jumping to invest,” Clark said.  

While Clark stands to make a substantial amount of money from his investment, the seven people that lived in that home were forced to find a new place to live, just some of thousands in Suffolk County that will be evicted from their homes in the next several years. 

THE “WHY” OF FORECLOSURE

The most significant cause for this regional rise in foreclosures is the cost of living on Long Island. The average cost for property taxes on a $400,000 home in Medford, NY is $8,876 annually. This is a rate of 2.219% of the home value. The national average is 1.211%. The statewide average for property tax is 1.65%, according to smartasset.com‘s property tax calculator. 

Property taxes don’t seem to be getting any lower in New York. The average property tax has increased for the last three years, according to data taken by ATTOM Data Solutions. 

The Long Island Housing Partnership is one of dozens of non-profit organizations set up in New York to aid in keeping homeowners in their homes as well as helping find affordable housing and providing counseling on first time home buyers. These groups have subsisted off of funding taken from the settlements from lawsuits involving the nations largest banks after the 2008 housing crisis. 

Butterfly

Turning a key
half way,
counter-clockwise.

A slow revolution
of rusty hinges,
screaming me a warning
upon thoughtless ears.

Slow and silent steps
along a cold hardwood floor,
as snow skitters inside.

The wooden chair on the floor,
the rope hanging from the ceiling.

And the tape rewinds.

I drift out with the winds
and meander up the dusted walkway.

I turn the key,
clockwise.

Peering inside I see the chair,
upright by the kitchen table.

In it I sit,
drinking my morning coffee.

Forgiveness Rarely Granted

Outside a cold and foggy window
the rain is pouring upside down.
On the wall sits the shadow of a willow,
like you sliding on your nightgown.
The floor creaks under bare feet,
and fire has become cinders.
Sweat has soaked through the sheet
with dreams  of a former winter.
My heart is full of holes
patched with poorly applied plaster.
My mind is full of lost souls
that can’t remember the sound of laughter.
 
I hope when I reach heaven’s gate
God will forgive me for showing up late.

Overdose

For the second time in my life, I found someone overdosing while I was working. Tonight it was at Barnes & Noble. We had just closed for the evening. It was about five minutes after nine when I began to do my end-of-day tasks, which consisted of making sure there were no customers left in the store. I strolled over to the bathrooms to see if they were clear.

I squatted down to check under the stalls and saw a man about the same age as myself lying on his side on the filthy tile floor, a small pool of urine at the base of the toilet near his sneakers. His face was a pale blue and his eyes had rolled back into their sockets. After pausing for a moment to see if he was breathing I ran over to my coworker while calling 911. I told the operator what had happened and paged for my manager over the headset slouching off of my right ear.  

I returned to the bathroom where the man was making ferocious grunting and snoring sounds. They were the same sounds I heard emanating from the last person I had discovered having a drug overdose. It was the unmistakable howl of his body gasping for air as the drugs stifled his nervous system and lungs. 

My manager and I got the bathroom stall door open and stepped inside. The man at my feet was still heaving and choking. His pants had fallen down to the bottom of his rear and his sweater was wet. I told my manager to go wait for the cops and fire department to come while I waited to make sure he didn’t stop breathing. 

Just a moment after he left, the room mall security arrived. It was the same two gentlemen that had always worked mall security. A hispanic man in his early 30s and a stout, average looking white man several years younger. As they walked into the stout one said, “Shit. It’s this guy again.” 

“I’m guessing you two know each other?” I asked him. 

“Yea he O.D’d in the mall bathroom last week.”

“Fuck,” I sighed. 

They walked past me and began to roll the man onto his back. The hispanic security guard patted his chest a few times and called to him “You alright man?” He started to open his eyes, but only slightly. In the process of rolling him over they revealed two syringes under him. This made three, including the one that fell into the toilet. 

The scene was uncannily similar to the first man I had found overdosing. He had been in a Walgreens bathroom, also heaving near the toilet, with a syringe floating in the water. An oxycontin bottle sat on the tank of the toilet bowl. That gentleman didn’t make it. 

I stood and watched in pitying silence as they began to pull the man up to a sitting position, leaning him against the faded yellow and green striped wallpaper. It was around then that the police and paramedics entered the room. The color had started to slowly return to the man’s face, and his eyes opened progressively wider, yet he could muster no words, only garbled groans and mumbles. 

The paramedics, police and mall security joked and caught up with one another while they tended to the man. The paramedic sat him up against a wall and began to administer Narcan, the medication used for reversing a drug overdose. They began to ask him the basic cognition test questions. What is your date of birth? What is your full name? 

While the paramedics saw to him and checked his vitals, the mall security and police filled me in on their history with the man. They told me he had either been caught using or overdosed several times in the mall before. He was homeless. He had been banned not only from the mall, but also from Barnes & Noble. He had OD’d once before at the store, before I had begun working there. 

My attention shifted back over to the man as he began to recover. The paramedic asked him to remove his soaking sweater so he could check his blood pressure. As he slowly pulled the sweater over his head it took his dirty white t-shirt with it, exposing his chest and arms. There were track marks all along both of his arms, as well as several on his hip and upper thigh. His hands were inflamed from numerous failed at attempts at injections and were stained with dried blood. Likely an infection. Likely one he’d had for a while.

The crew of paramedics had gotten him to his feet and began slowly walking him to the ambulance waiting outside. The police spoke to him with malice and disgust. Their tone wasn’t totally unwarranted for there is something selfish that can be seen about drug use, but for some reason unbeknownst to myself I felt a strong pity for him. He couldn’t have been much older than me. He was someone’s son. He was probably someone’s best friend at some point. Someone probably loved him in the past. Perhaps someone was wondering where he was at that very moment. 

After the ambulance had left I went back to my work as if nothing had happened. As if I hadn’t just found a man on the brink of death. As if I hadn’t just watched a man nearly kill himself for what may have been his dozenth time. My coworkers expressed their frustrations at having to stay later to accommodate him. I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t think about the selfishness of his actions or the inconvenience it placed on everyone in that room that night. I could only think of what could have been for this man, and what a crying shame it was that his life had ended up like this. 

I thought only of my friends and former classmates whose wakes I had gone to. I thought of my best friend crying to me as her sister had stolen $7,000 from her parents to pay for heroin. I thought of the news segments showing the facebook pictures of kids I knew of high school that wouldn’t make it to college. I thought about his family. I wondered if anyone would pick him up from the hospital. I hoped that someone would be there for him. I hoped he would be alive this time tomorrow.