It’s calm here in NYC, in this upper west side Starbucks, five days after the fury of Hurricane Sandy hit our metropolis. I am still trying to make sense of my feelings and the significance of the experience to me, to my family and friends, to the city and region as a whole, and of course, to our world.
I was not severely affected. My home lost power for a couple of days, but my son and I had a warm and loving place to spend the blackout days and nights. Aside from the inconvenience of having to relocate ourselves, some bags of food and basic supplies to another location, we were not significantly impacted. We did not lose our lives, get injured in any way, or incur damage to any of our property.
I have friends who are still without power. Again, none of them are in shelters, and none are in any life threatening positions of which I am aware. SO DAMN LUCKY!!! One friend’s mother lost just about everything she owned out of her home in Long Island that was completely flooded with about three feet of water. Despite the fact that her childhood home was ruined and her mother will no doubt be living with her and her family for at least the next six months, she is now in Ohio working to get out the vote for President Obama. I love her more fiercely than I can say for her commitment to our future, despite the shambles of her past and present.
On Wednesday night, I went trick or treating with my son and some of our friends around our mostly dark neighborhood, gathering what candy there was to be had from the sporadically electrified or otherwise determined to celebrate homes (our neighborhood always incurs random outages from block to block). It was an act of optimism. We didn’t mind letting the children get sugared up and run crazy for a couple of hours. On the flip side, it was a bit desolate and creepy, and we parents had to work to keep the atmosphere festive. Also, I ate too many bite sized candy bars, and now have two massive pimples on my way-too-old-to-be-going-through-second-puberty face.
I have another friend who recently went through a period of renting out a room in her apartment on airbnb. After a half a year of that, she maxed out on having strangers living with her and swore she would never do it again. This week, after being offered large sums of money from individuals through that online platform, she’s been giving people access to her bathroom to take showers. She’s only accepted a fraction of the dollars they offered, and has used a portion of it to buy diapers for needy storm victims in nearby housing projects, who are still without basic resources. Unable to travel to her usual place of employment, her volunteer service has become her job for the week.
Today my next door neighbor and I donated some clothes, water, juice boxes and tampons to a local temple collecting supplies for people still in need of basic supplies. I had a bag of baby blankets from my son that I was saving for my cousins who are expecting their first child. After taking out one special piece, I donated the rest of those, too. I feel confident that my cousins will understand and support our choice.
My sister, returning to the east coast several days ago from California, spent two nights with us at our house with her cat, because her dark apartment is in what was until last night the dark and largely deserted east village. After emptying my own refrigerator and then bringing things back home again two days later, we did the same from her apartment to my place, and then back again this morning.
And so, this week has felt like one big disjointed moving sleepover party. Warm and loving, yet tinged with the pressing knowledge of the desolation and suffering happening in other places. I do not know how to make sense of this, only to report random details of the experiences. I feel grateful and sad, exhilarated and drained at the same time.
Workwise, it has been a lost week. Internet service for me was gone for several days, and even after I got it back, key people with whom I work have been unreachable. But mostly, I have been unable to focus on anything significant for any length of time. Transporting my and my sister’s bags of food and toiletries all over town has been a welcome distraction – tasks with a distinct beginning, middle and end.
Today I took my son to a friend’s birthday party at Dave and Busters. I stuffed my face with pizza, chicken, french fries and tortilla chips. I talked to the waitresses. They told me that people who have lost their homes and are staying in various Times Square hotels have been coming in for their breakfast buffet, spending time there distracting themselves while they wait for their government disaster assistance.
Come Monday, some NYC public school students will be sharing their buildings with shelter residents still living at their schools. The subways may be almost completely up and running again. Some people are still trying to put their lives back together again. Some of us who have already known hard times in our lives are putting our hard-earned muscles to use dealing with this latest manifestation of the spooky and random great unknown breaking up our familiar reality. Some of us, not quite as adept at handling major obstacles, have been forever scarred by the trauma of this new and frightening intrusion into our sense of safety. The latter group is learning that they will have to get in shape, sooner than they’d like…
My heart is fluttering. I am aware that everything is changing. I knew that things would be different after Wednesday, but I didn’t know that it would feel so diffuse, so raw and random and unfocused and paralyzing. My emotions are so close to the surface, but any sense of logic I could impose on this is absent. I am not sure. Of anything.
Honestly, did you think I was going to try and wrap this up in a neat ball and deliver it to you? Shit. It doesn’t work that way.