Monday, October 28, 2013

Sandy, One Year Later

One year ago, Hurricane Sandy blew into my life, flooded my apartment and uprooted my comfort and security.

Time heals all wounds, yet the pain of Sandy still lingers. Over a foot of water sloshed around my apartment, soaking my books and furniture, drenching and invading my personal space.

Private living space should be a sanctuary, a respite from the outside. Sandy barged right in, flooding the neighboring streets and seeping under the door cracks, rolling over the carpeting and creeping into low-lying cupboards and drawers.

Waterlogged mattresses, sofa cushions and bookcases. Sandy spared nothing, leaving me with a grim task of sorting through my possessions. A hurricane rendered me homeless, made me a victim.

I hate Hurricane Sandy.

Hate the fact I had to call a shoddy moving company to move my few remaining boxed personal effects one cold November night. Fat men with clumsy hands and dinosaur feet clomping through the dark rooms because the electricity was cut off. Flashlights stabbing the blackness, breaths foggy as the chill crept in.

Hate the idiotic moniker "Superstorm", as if it was forged from Olympus and charged with superhuman atomic thunderbolts.

Hate living without 80 percent of my possessions for a year. Boxes piled in a monstrous heap inside a metal storage facility. Paying over $100 to shelter my belongings while I stay in temporary lodgings where I’ve clearly overstayed my welcome.

Feeling helpless and immobile.

Seeing the town slowly rebuild, watching homes jacked up higher. Constructing taller than base flood elevation because the Federal Emergency Management Agency decrees it. It’s all about flood insurance, about reimbursements, grants and cash making people whole again.

Soup eaten in restaurants, eking out meager sustenance while the downtown digs out, scraping mud from floors, steam-cleaning carpets saturated with briny stench, noticing a sheen of scum where the high water mark receded.

How do you survive something like this?

The loss.

The new reality, where you’re a victim.

Landlord can’t rebuild the apartment. Walls removed, down to bare studs. Fans dry everything, preventing mold and mildew from creeping back. No renter’s insurance means nothing you have is covered.

Everything’s gone.

A FEMA worker from Tennessee apologizes as he records your information. Uncle Sam cuts you a check for your troubles, for another month’s rent in another apartment which you don’t see because you’re too proud to look.

Too proud to admit anything is wrong.

Fixated on fleeing far from this island, this resort town which brims in the summer, choking with tourists frolicking on the Boardwalk.

Yet the Boardwalk is deserted. Badly eroded beach, bereft of sand, which spilled onto the neighboring roads.

Front end loaders, dump trucks, debris. Downed power lines, furniture piled in gargantuan mountains on curbsides.

Gov. Chris Christie in his blue fleece, hugs teary residents, tours the coast. The state uses federal funds to tout how resilient the Jersey shore is, a phoenix rising defiantly from the ashes.

“Stronger Than The Storm.”

We weren’t stronger than the storm. If we were, the storm wouldn’t have gutted our homes, turned us into bitter wanderers, crippled our sense of security and purpose.

A year after Sandy, we’re still putting our lives back together. We’re still frantically searching for new homes and grieving for our old ones. FEMA’s red tape strangles us all, and those who can’t rebuild, sold their homes and moved on. Developers gobbled up crumbling houses, razed them and rebuilt condos and duplexes.  

Sandy was kind to the development community and construction trade.

Champagne corks popping round the clock for them.

How’s my life been this past year?

I still feel like I’m anxiously waiting for something to arrive. Mingled depression and frustration at my inaction. Sandy left me in limbo, in a place where things run molasses slow. I’ve largely had to do without what I escaped with. When you suddenly lose most of your stuff, the books and music and objects which give your life comfort and meaning, you realize how banal and trite materialism is.

On a personal level, I’m making do with less, streamlining existence. Spartan living with a few books, movies and creature comforts. In this stark absence there’s simplicity and less clutter. Nothing is burdensome, tempest-tossed bookshelves, brimming with volumes and CDs.

Life is very Zen right now. Less is more. Minimalist in the extreme.

I still have my girlfriend, and her love and support have weathered Sandy and every troubling storm since. We’re living together, far from our former lodgings. It might not be closer, with the same conveniences, but it’s become our sanctuary.

She wonders when we’re going to move. She wants new furniture, a new place.

I’m not ready to look just yet. I’m trying to save money to upgrade my apartment. I worry about the neighborhood, about crime, about our future.

Everything drowned in Sandy’s icy waters last October. Part of me sunk, pulled down never to emerge.

Political hyperbole and axioms do little to quell the pain or stave the losses.

Resentment, sorrow, bemoaning our malaise. We’re uprooted, torn asunder, flung to the wolves. Traumatized and angry, blaming FEMA, the state, our own ineptitude to plan better.

We were caught up in a historical storm which tore a rollercoaster from an amusement pier, pushed sand into beachfront homes and turned quiet neighborhoods into canals. We saw nature’s wrath and fury up close, witnessed widespread devastation and began the slow task of rebuilding. Amid the chaos and anger, we saw strangers helping strangers. Whether assisting an elderly neighbor, cooking hot meals or helping someone move, the best of humanity revealed itself following Sandy.

Though Sandy destroyed our homes and property, it didn’t damage true goodness. Selfless acts of kindness came through, amid all this suffering.

We huddle for warmth and give thanks. 

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