Advance apologies if this post is a bit all over the place, but that’s kind of how my mind has been lately. I tried to corral the thoughts as best as I could.
When Hurricane Irene struck last year, we had less time to prepare. And didn’t know exactly how bad it was going to be.
This time, with Hurricane Sandy, we knew differently. We knew it was coming, exactly when it would hit and where, and that it was going to be bad. Really bad.
We had a solid four days to prepare. Really prepare. The days leading up to it were eerie. People going through the motions of collecting necessary supplies. Schools closing before the hurricane even started. We were sitting ducks in the worst possible way.
Knowing it was coming, and just waiting.
There was no ambivalence. It wasn’t a case of weather forecasters downplaying its significance. They weren’t disagreeing. Saying all different things. They were united in one message.
Prepare for it.
The hurricane couldn’t have been tracked more precisely. It was said to hit New Jersey land at 6 pm. At 6:01 pm, it struck. We heard the wind start to howl outside. Trees shake. Rain. At 7 pm, we lost our power.
I had prayed we could just make it to bedtime with power, sleep through it, and begin the steps to restore the next day.
We were prepared but we weren’t ready for all that was to unfold.
As I laid down with my kids that Monday night, in the center of our living room (the safest place in the house, away from trees that might fall on it), I tried to sleep.
Hell, I’ve been trying to sleep ever since. I haven’t slept since last Sunday. I don’t think I’m even running on fumes any more.
As I tried to reassure the kids that night, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. They said the worst of the storm would last for six hours. I watched the clock resolutely, counting down. Five more hours to go. Four more hours to go. Three… They were scared. I tried to be strong for them. I do believe that was the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through. At the very least as a mom.
Or at least in the top three for sure.
The next morning, we peeked outside. Luckily, this time, we were spared flooding. Oh how we prepared for flooding, especially after Hurricane Irene.
Thank God we received far less rain this time.
But the damage?
Traffic lights out (and still out). The air outside thick with silence. Heavy. As we were told to stay indoors. Stay off the roads.
Down wires and trees everywhere. Roads impassable. You (still) need to know sixteen different ways to get to where you’re going because there are so many roads closed. I still can’t make a left to go out of our town, seven days later.
We ventured out to meet up with friends at a diner for a warm meal. An hour wait. But friends that got there before us, and waited in line.
We sat glued to the news station that was on in the background. (The diner two towns over was one of only a handful of establishments that hadn’t lost power)
The next day we were at the mall, where rumor quickly spread that they had power.
Lunch at Red Robin. Where out of the entire staff, only one employee had power. They had called in all their resources to handle the overflowing crowd. Apologized for the 90 minute wait.
We didn’t care. Heat and warm food awaited us. I told them I would work for them.
Some towns have been hit harder than others. A town neighboring to us held onto most of their power, losing only 20%. Our town? Was 93% down. The downtown is a ghost town. Literally ground to a standstill. Tonight is Day Seven of no power.
Even though we lost all our food in the refrigerator and freezer. And have no heat.
We are lucky. I know this. To see the pictures of our beloved Jersey Shore? Where homes have literally washed away. People have lost their lives. Piers have collapsed. Flooding that you can’t even imagine.
Words fail me.
Just google before and after pictures of Seaside Heights. Or read about the dozen or so homes on Fire Island that washed out to sea.
Because so many of the gas stations don’t have power back yet, the gas lines have been insane. Thursday night, down to my last 24 miles of gas before empty, the kids and I waited in line for three hours and four minutes to get gas.
To get gas.
Three hours and four minutes. Numbers that will be etched in Nick’s mind forever and a day.
Gas rationing has started, and depending on your license plate, you can get gas on an even or odd day. Which had helped immensely. And is a small relief against our already overloaded plates.
A co-workers’ two kids were in the hospital last week with respiratory infections because of a week with no heat. My nieces have all been sick.
It’s not just one problem we’re dealing with. It’s compounded by many others. No power compounded by gas shortage and food shortage and short tempers and patience lost.
Tackling everything at once seems insurmountable.
I have only broken down twice. Once the morning after. When The Ex called. And told us that a tree had fallen on their house. And the ceiling where the kids sleep when they are there with him had collapsed. Thank God they weren’t staying with him that night. Because I don’t know how I could get through something like that.
Greetings of “Hi, how are you?” are quickly replaced with “Do you have power?” which is how a grocery store cashier greeted the kids and I last night. You can instantly tell by the customers’ purchases who had power and who didn’t. The guy behind me with Bisquick and bacon? Had power.
People are walking around looking like zombies, with little to no sleep, no heat, scraping by as best as they can until things improve.
Through all the devastation and inconveniences, there has been so much good. And the fact that we still don’t have power a week later is just that. An inconvenience. For people have lost much more.
Friends that have had power. Or gas stoves. Or anything to give. Have given. It is something like this that really tells you who is in your village and who is not. Who will be there for you when you need it.
We have the very best friends and family we could ever have. A friend who lost power but has a gas stove cooked us dinner two nights last week, and gave us the leftovers, which were perfect for lunch the next day. Another friend who didn’t lose power fed us the second night, and gave us a warm place to hang out for a bit and recharge our cell phones and lap tops. Other friends loaned us an air mattress and pumped it up when they found out we were sleeping on my office floor (because my office regained power on Thursday). Another friend who got power back on Thursday took the kids for a few hours on Friday to give them a change of scenery, fed us tonight, and they are taking Nick to the movies tomorrow. Friends have dropped off non-perishable groceries. The Ex has been awesome, coming a few days before the storm to bring in all our deck items that were outside, and coming the morning after the storm to clear our steps and walkways. Today he dropped off an extra gas can with extra gas. My mom went to bat for me with a gas station and police officer when I went from being third in line for gas to a three hour wait.
My phone, Nick’s phone, and my e-mail inbox quickly filled up with text messages and e-mail messages with offers of help, everyone checking in on each other, seeing how we fared in the storm, who needed what, making sure we were ok. And they still are. Daily check-ins and offers of help.
And that, that is everything.
Because we are not alone in this. We’re all in it together.
And just like I mentioned in the bully post last week… good begets good. You put out good, you’ll get it back. We don’t put out good, though, to get it back. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Mark DiIonno said in The Star-Ledger, “we took Mother Nature’s best shot, and we’re still standing.” New Jerseyans get a bad rap sometimes with shows like the Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey. But if you’ve learned nothing else, know this. Jerseyans are strong, proud, and will rebuild.
“In Newark, where the state’s largest city stared down its greatest emergency since 1967. In Hoboken and Jersey City, where urbanites stepped over the river running through their streets. In the suburbs, where hardwood trees and utility poles snapped and fell together in a tangle of wires, we’re still standing. In the Raritan Bay area, where typhoon winds pushed high tide to record heights and sent ocean-like waved crashing over seawalls and bulkheads. In our dark, cold homes and our gas lines and long waits at whatever food store or restaurant has power, we’re still standing. Maybe (Governor Chris) Christie said it best. ‘This is the kind of thing New Jerseyans are built for – we’re plenty tough and now we have a little more reason to be angry after this.’ And so the fight has begun. It started as soon as the sun came up Tuesday morning.”
At the benefit concert that aired on Friday to aid Hurricane Sandy victims, Bruce Springsteen said, “We wish you a happy Halloween, but we are a rock ‘n roll band from the Jersey Shore and tonight, we carry a lot of sadness in our hearts.”
It will take a long time to get there. In our town. And everywhere else. We now have nearly 4000 homes in our town still without power, our own included. But there are towns that are still 90% without power and they don’t expect to have it before Thanksgiving.
But it will be ok.
In the meantime, whether you were affected by Hurricane Sandy or not, I urge you to do for others. To show compassion in every instance possible. And in all choices, to choose joy. Both for yourself, and to bring it to others whenever possible.
As a friend and I chatted tonight over homemade chili (after another open house invitation for a home-cooked meal), this past week was an important reminder to focus on what matters. What really matters.