There are some anniversary’s or dates that only vaguely stay with us. Graduations, meaningless relationships, or when they closed the bowling alley near your home. Those are the kind of dates that are referred to as “I think it was June, about 4 years ago. Maybe 5 or 6.” Then there are days that stick with you for life, so that even when you forget so many things you remember clearly that date and it’s significance. Sometimes these are happy moments – your wedding anniversary or your birthday. Other times events are stuck in our memories because of how terrible they were. Today is one of those day. I will never in my life forget the significance of October 29. For the better part of my life, this date meant nothing. The day before my brother’s birthday. Two days before Halloween. The tail end of comfortable fall days before the bitter cold begins to settle in in the North East. Today and forever more, though, it marks another year between me and Sandy – affectionately referred to as the bitch who destroyed my home and turned my life upside down. “Bitch” is putting it mildly, but we’ll let it rock.
There are movies like the Perfect Storm or Storm of the Century, but they have nothing on their real life counterpart. Hurricane Sandy was unprecedented and followed none of the rules we have come to expect from hurricane behavior. She periodically hit land, battering the east coast, before returning out to sea and GAINING strength. Instead of slowing down and burning out, Sandy would slow down and then speed up, as if she was determined to hit the Tri- State area before dying out. When she hit us, she was only a Category 1 storm, and a minor one at that. Alone she wouldn’t have been much more than Irene was the year before. It was the changes in Sandy’s make up that caused her to behave unusually and inflict maximum damage. She turned from Tropical Hurricane Storm fore to Extra Tropical Storm. Upon arriving in the North Eastern area, she snatched up a minor Nor’easter (we get those all the time, like a mini winter hurricane) which helped to fuel her already erratic behavior. To make matter worse, when she hit New York with full force it was 5 minutes before high tide on the night of a Full Harvest Moon. Super awesome. This trifecta of weather maladies led to the most devastating storm to hit the area in living memory.
For a long time after the hurricane I referred to October 28, 2012 as the last “real” day of my life. I felt this way simply because everything after felt blurred and surreal, days ran into each other and keeping track of time, date and place became impossible. On Sunday October 28, I had to work. I followed a routine I was accustomed to, waking up early, watching the news with my coffee and heading out to work. The news looked bleak in regards to an upcoming storm but bills still had to be paid, so I pulled on my boots and headed out. It was busy season, since I was a Visual Design Project Manager and Christmas was just around the corner. I was working diligently at the designs for Swavorski and Macy’s, which were obviously important accounts, and I paid little attention to anything but my work. Around 11 was my first 15 minute break and I grabbed my purse and went out for a cigarette. I pulled my phone out to check it and saw that it was flashing with multiple missed calls and text messages. I began to scroll through and saw that I would not be finishing this day at work. Nick had ceaselessly been trying to reach me, along with a few other people to tell me that the mayor had issued a mandatory evacuation order for all low lying “Zone A” areas. That was me. They said the trains were to stop running around 6 and the busses at 8. I decided it best that I go home and prepare for what all of a sudden felt like the apocalypse. I could feel something different hanging in the air. It felt like the whole city had inhaled heavily and was holding its breath. I spoke to a few people, went home to gather my belongings and went to my parents to help them bunker down and prep. 15 of us would be waiting out the storm in my father’s house.
I’ve decided that, at this time, I don’t want to delve into every intricate detail of the storm since today has been harder, emotionally, than I anticipated. I will, however, say this – – I thought I was not going to live through the night on 10/29/12. I got stuck in my mother’s house because of the speed of the rising tide. I never made it back to the Fire House, where I felt I’d have been a much more valuable asset. I am not the only person who ran into this problem, and I know it tore the others apart the same way it did to me. I worried about my friends, who have become family after our years together, as they braved the cold waters helping people in need. I watched as a 30 ‘ Cabin Cruiser came flying down my block, smashing into various homes, before coming to a rest against one. I stood horrified watching homes crumble into the water and flames dance in the distance. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. Water rose with alarming speed and seemed like it would never stop. I was forced to rely on spotty communications from anywhere I could get them. Our Fire Engine had shorted out while on a rescue mission and caught fire. The crew was missing. There was a house fire with children trapped (This bane of our existence turned out to be a false alarm and rescue attempts resulted in a later hospitalized fireman. A reminder of why false alarms are so dangerous.) The worst part of it all was in the eerie quiet of night, as the whole house slept, my dad and I kept fire watch. We had an evac plan, though it was hopeless in the 12ft tides. We sat in the painful quiet and listened as cars were shorting out all over the island. We looked down into the water and saw just how hopeless our evacuation attempts would be if a fire did break out near us. The water sloshing around below us (not nearly far enough below, I might add) looked like an oil slick. The island has no natural gas pipes and all the homes are heated with Deisel. So much water had come in that oil tanks had tipped everywhere. Had a fire started the water itself would have been flammable. Panic snatched a hold of my throat and for the first time I lost my level head. I sank to the floor in tears, cursing God for this hopeless situation. That was the only time that happened. After 2 glasses of water, a cigarette and a shot I was back to being calm. I’ve been through a million emergency situations and I had to treat this one no differently. I knew that my family was relying on me to remain level headed and rational so I did.
Eventually the waters receded, leaving devastation and destruction in their wake. The true amount of damage was untold for days… As hard as the storm has been, the aftermath was what hurt the most. Sandy, for us was not just a storm. It is a word that has become synonymous with months of recovery following the actual storm. Months of barely holding it together; feeding an entire neighborhood with a camping stove and charcoal grill; begging visitors to bring clean, dry socks and cigarettes; yearning for hot running water; tearing out walls, and throwing away our lives. There are things in life I never though I was taking for granted, but I will never, ever do it again.
There is so much more, enough to fill a book but for now, you get the point. This day lives inside of me. causing an ache in my heart like nothing else ever could. I think if I didn’t live in such a tight community things would have gone very differently, but we held each other up and fought our way forward. Strength and resilience have kept us going and will keep us moving forward on even the darkest of days.