“You know that tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag
I got on it last night and my shirt got caught
And they kept me spinning, babe, didn’t think I’d ever get off”
—Bruce Springsteen, Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
The lights went out at 9:20 on Monday night, two nights before Halloween. That much I remember. Then things start to blur. Darkness does that.
By now you’ve heard the reports of Hurricane Sandy. You’ve seen the unimaginable devastation in places like Staten Island, the Rockaways, and Seaside Heights. You’ve clicked on pictures of the surge, the flooding. Maybe you lived through it and just got your power back. We didn’t get the worst of it, thankfully, but I realized two things: 1) I have absolutely no desire to go through a disaster—natural or otherwise—again, and 2) I’m completely unprepared for the Zombie Apocalypse.
For two weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I’d write this post. Would I talk about carving Jack-o-Lanterns with my little neighbor to keep from going stir crazy while waiting out the storm? Would I mention that I was watching a Star Trek: TNG episode on Netflix, in which resident empath Deanna Troi ironically loses her power just as I lost mine? Would I mention the hundreds of text messages and phone calls sent back and forth to my family and friends? Would I share the terrible night when a neighbor two doors down was attacked by thugs looking to take advantage of the blackout, and how we all ran out with flashlights to help? Would I admit to being so angry and irrational by events that I begged my mother—who honored my wishes—to not use unnecessary punctuation in her concerned emails to me? Would I reveal how I assumed the “gumption” of Scarlett O’Hara to get through another day? Would I write a chronology of events, if I could even remember them? Would I include a list of hurricane essentials like flashlights, batteries, white candles, my Zune (yes, I do have one), car chargers, and a BFF in Cali who checks on you five times a day? In my head, my words flowed eloquently. Now, not so much.
The day after the storm, we learned that my stepson’s home, which isn’t that far from the sunken roller coaster that has now become emblematic of the coastal destruction, flooded. Water rose in the first floor of the townhouse the Kid shares with his mother and older half-sister to almost two feet. The image is terrifying to anyone, let alone a sixteen-year-old. That’ll stick with him for awhile, maybe the rest of his life.
Miraculously, two days after the storm, the Hubs got gas in record time (read=45 minutes) and brought the Kid and his sister to stay with us while their mom wanted to stay behind to deal with the aftermath. Unfortunately, the flood damage had made their house unlivable for at least a year. It was another blow. I wanted to make everything better for them, but all I could seem to do for the next week was make sit-down dinners and play family games to get their minds off their troubles. They did all the hard work. “It will get better,” I kept telling them. “Little by little.”
And it has. Every day brings good news: the power came back on at our house within a day of the Kid’s arrival and they immediately filled out online FEMA forms, insurance checks were cut for their water-logged cars, and friends helped their mom store the salvageable stuff. Each day, they are one step closer to finding a new home, my sense of humor is slowly returning, and all of us are getting back to something that looks like normal.
So, what did I learn? I learned that people who were assholes before the storm were assholes after it. The good folks stayed good. I learned that everyone is equal when the lights go out. I learned that helping others pulls you out of your bad mood really quick—everyone with power was stumbling over each other to lend a helping hand. I learned two Nor’easters in the span of a week is a little much—and I’m starting to wonder if the Mayan knew something we don’t. And I was reminded to be grateful. Seriously, just making it into work via ferry in under an hour made me feel so lucky, I should go buy a lottery ticket right now. [Even if you didn’t win the lottery, but still want to help out those affected by Hurricane Sandy, contact the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org.]
Side note: The second Nor’easter dumped several inches of snow on the region. It cut the power out again for many who’d just gotten it, and it made the nights even colder for those still waiting for heat. So, in no way, do I think it was a good thing. But seven months ago, when the Beast was diagnosed with his heart ailment, I cried when I thought he would never again play in the snow—his very favorite thing to do. I found myself crying again last Wednesday night when I realized he’d been given another chance.