There are few experiences that would send me into a state of hypochondria more than getting splashed in the eye with raw-sewage-tainted flood water. But that’s not the worst of it.
This is not a sob-fest or a pity party. It is, though, one heck of a story.
Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island, as we all know. Our home is part of the beach community called Long Beach. It’s a town forever changed. Die-hards who have lived there for eons, who swore they’d stay through any storm, got the shock of their lives when a tidal surge flooded most of the town with several feet of sea water. Hundreds of homes were lost, some even to fires that began during the storm, impossible to extinguish due to unruly winds. One of my neighbors found safety in his attic as the water rose, holding on to his cat.
The reason that I can’t take my eyes off the silver lining of this experience is very simple.
Because of my family and my husband’s, we made it through what has been for others a horrific ordeal. We evacuated our home the night before the storm and bunked at my in-laws’ house. The kids thought it was great that we were having “a sleepover party”. For a while it felt like we had overreacted and we were waiting for something to happen. Then we lost power.
As if realizing how coddled we are by modern conveniences that rely on electricity wasn’t frustrating enough, we also had no hot water. But wait, there’s more.
We learned the next day that the sewage treatment plant, in a neighboring town that services about 550,000 people, had an explosion and could not function at normal capacity. Was the water safe to drink or wash with? We didn’t know.
I can deal with the darkness and the cold water, but no water? That’s a problem.
We have been back to our house several times over this week to salvage what we can. Today I was busily packing up wet things that would survive once they’d dried, when I splashed myself with the murky water. Conjunctivitis! I immediately thought, and flushed out my eye over the sink. With bottled water.
Fortunately, my family has an apartment we can rent (which used to be my grandmother’s home) until we’re able to repair our home. My family spent their weekend helping us clean and organize everything we salvaged so that the kids would have a cozy place to call home. My cousin (Aunt Lauren) took 8 loads of my sea-soaked laundry to one of the only laundromats with electricity, so I could take my kids to the doctor – since they’re sick with terrible coughs and boogers. Lauren had already worked extra shifts in the E.R. (she’s a nurse) but summoned the energy to brave the throngs of grouchy people who also wanted to wash their clothes. Some of them thought line cutting would go unnoticed. Lauren had to put a little old lady in her place for her lack of manners.
My sister brought an armful of new children’s books to replace the ones that had gone for a swim. My cousin Hillary was the nanny for the kids so I could run errands and make trips to our house (we could not risk bringing the kids along to see their mangled toys and bedroom). When I returned, she had unpacked all the clothes and organized all the drawers.
There is so much to mention – is this my speech at the Oscars? – my father, Uncle Bruce, my mom, Aunt M. They all did so much to assist us in putting our life back together so we can begin to feel normal again.
Here’s the good part, the happy part.
I realized that I could handle this catastrophe because I had prepared. I had packed all the kids’ clothing and shoes and several of their toys. Knowing I had their treasured comforts to bring along made it so much easier, seeing their relief at the sight of their blankies, Luke’s trains, Madeleine’s FurReal kitty cat. For children it’s simple – give them familiarity.
For me, just knowing we were all safe and sound was the best outcome imaginable. Losing belongings is but an inconvenience. We had packed our many photos over these past 12 years of our life together, Michael and me, so I knew I could part with the other things if I had to.
Not having access to fresh vegetables is a huge bummer, but I hope in the coming week the stores will begin to restock.
My husband is, as usual, my hero. He’s been working long, grueling hours to take trees off houses, since tree work is his profession, and hurricanes have a way of blowing down massive trees like they’re toothpicks. He’s been making quick trips after work to gather more things from our house and then waiting in line for gas, as I’m sure you’ve heard about the gas shortage on Long Island.
One of the highlights was when my mom insisted numerous times that I find my bedding amongst all the garbage we bagged after the flood – which is a delicate, white, cotton voile -so she could wash it.
“It’s soaked in black grit,” I explained, “and smells like dead fish.”
“I’ll bleach it,” she argued.
Yes, this has been quite the…what’s the metaphor? Roller coaster? Log flume? Pirates of the Caribbean?
But I’m not complaining. As I sit in the darkness of this tiny apartment I can almost hear my grandma whispering in her kind, gentle voice This too shall pass.