So, two weeks ago, we had a little weather event here on the East Coast. Maybe you’ve heard of it – Hurricane /Superstorm/ Frankenstorm Sandy? This beast pretty much took over my life, stole my attention span and routinely woke me up in the middle of the night.
My family’s dear, little lagoon-side (and only) home was battened down and evacuated to ride out the worst storm it’s ever faced alone. The day before the mandatory barrier island evac order, Mark taped up the windows, put a few valuables on top of beds and off the floor, and put some towels in the doorways. Last summer, Irene coaxed the rising bay water just two feet from our back door and no one thought we’d be as lucky this time.
But I never thought it would be as bad as it was. Our little house took on more than three feet of water, most likely courtesy of a storm surge rising from the end of the lagoon that normally brings us mallards to feed.
I only know the extent of the damage because last Friday, 12 whole days after Sandy absolutely ravaged the Jersey Shore, my mom and AJ were bused over to our island from the mainland and given an hour to collect our most important belongings. This trip only included primary residents of the island, i.e. people with no other home to speak of. (Most dwellings on this strip of sand are summer homes and it’s pretty lonely in the off-season. I don’t know how I survived three long winters, but sometimes, when the clatter outside my Boston apartment get so loud I can hear conversations and car horns from three blocks away, I really miss it.)
For the most part, I’ve been following the storm and destruction from Boston and keeping tabs on our neighborhood Facebook group. This has been weird and challenging for several reasons, but the bitching that went on in this group was unbelievable. When the plan to let primary residents (you know, basically the homeless) over was announced, people started acting as if the governor announced all year-round Shore residents were having their houses demolished, rebuilt into mansions and given ponies for free.
I’d planned on using a few of the comments in this post, but it seems people have taken them down – hopefully because they realized they sounded like petulant children. When it was suggested that primary residents can go back later this week when seasonal residents go for the first time, one charming neighbor (who I don’t know) had the following reaction:
“You men to tell me permanent residence get to go back? I really think this is not fair. I have not even been able to register because toms river didn’t recognize the address so I called and they told me to keep checking the website and permanent residence get o go again?”
…all mistakes hers. I’m hoping it’s just that these people aren’t realizing what it means to be a primary resident. Everything you own is in one place. And right now, that place has just been inundated with floodwater. Everything you own is wet, mucky and growing mold. Again, everything you own. With just an hour to check out the damage, AJ and Lynner grabbed a couple items from our soggy home, but couldn’t fit most stuff in their allotted one suitcase each. That’s right, on this bus ride, that I can only imagine some of these whiners are perceiving to be a luxury tour through a popular summer resort, we were only allowed to bring out a lap-size bag filled with our most important and precious belongings. But, you know, it’s not fair that we may be able to go back to get more next week, because some people need to check on their hot tubs and flip flop collections. (Yes, I know. This is mean of me, but let’s be honest here.)
Probably the most symbolic item of what my family’s been through is my pair of diamond earrings – on the short list of things my mom wanted to get from my dresser in Lavallette. Before you assume this is a #whitegirlproblems kind of story, hear me out. When my grandmother was in the final throes of her unsuccessful battle with lung cancer in 2000, she wanted to give me her diamond earrings while she still could. I, being 15 and a moron incapable of processing the situation, didn’t really think that she wouldn’t be here in the future to hand them down so I’m pretty sure I skirted her request to present them to me in any meaningful way. Don’t ask. I’m an idiot. Anyway, the earrings became mine after she passed that fall and my mom held onto them for safekeeping, letting me wear them for special occasions like my super awkward Sweet 16 and the prom. This arrangement worked well for me, as I tend to lose nice things. Then, in July 2009, some d-bag broke into our house in West Orange and stole all the jewelry in my mom’s room. The earrings that my grandfather bought for my grandmother decades ago were gone, along with her engraved wedding band that she passed down to me. I felt as though I had personally brought about the end of what would have been some lovely family heirlooms. (Ridiculous, since it’s never really your fault that your home gets broken into.) So, that fall, my parents bought me a pair of diamond earrings to replace them as my 25th birthday gift. As we all know too well, my father would never give me this present because he was killed just a few weeks before. Suffice it to say, I really like these earrings.
The replacement earrings are likely in a drawer in my dresser that Sandy left at a 45-degree tilt as the surge raced out of our house. The wood swelled up with so much bay water that AJ couldn’t get the drawer open.
It’s not like these hour-long primary resident island visits are giving us enough time to fix our homes, rip out rotting drywall or tear up soaked carpets. We haven’t been given a leg up on seasonal residents. We’ve only mercifully received a short window of time in which to collect clothing, paperwork and important items.
A few other things that we got out of the house: framed pictures of us and Dad, a couple sundresses and beach cover ups for our trip to visit AJ in Puerto Rico next week and Mark’s suit. And that’s it. So, neighbors, please pipe down. You’ll get to go soon. Just be thankful you’re not in our situation. AJ, by virtue of spending the fall in PR (enviable), had almost all of his winter clothes and shoes in his room and they’re now completely waterlogged and ruined (not enviable).
Being in Massachusetts, where Sandy knocked down a few trees and not much more, for much of this has been weird. I think I’m suffering from some sort of survivors’ guilt. In the immediate days after the storm nearly obliterated whole towns in my home state, people in my adopted state seemed smug at missing the hit. One poor coworker chirpily asked me the next morning how I made it through. She probably never expected the snarly growl she got. (It’s worth noting we haven’t spoken since.) If one more person complained about losing power for five minutes up here, I was probably close to losing it on them. I am not a fun person under stress and the first week I was a monster. However, I couldn’t have been the only Boston dweller not feeling the snark, because a Patch columnist wrote a piece reminding everyone not to gloat. That memo didn’t get to everyone though.
One post-Sandy morning when I was feeling particularly surly, I spotted a Twitter conversation between a marketing organization and a grad school classmate. The organization was apologizing for their site being slow because their servers had been affected. I don’t remember exactly what they said and they deleted the tweet after I called both parties out on being a little too cute about a major disaster. The classmate’s response was what really got my goat.
You’re so right! We so totally should be able to get away with “blame #Sandy” for a month!! It truly is a great #excuse 😉
My little brother has no shoes – blame #Sandy!
My mother lost about half her wardrobe – blame #Sandy!
Our home is growing dangerous black mold – blame #Sandy!
Our furniture will all have to be thrown away – blame #Sandy!
The house that my grandfather and his brother built themselves will likely need to be knocked down – blame #Sandy!
A whole island that has given millions of people lifetimes of happy memories is decimated – blame #Sandy!
I guess I didn’t realize exactly how handy this #excuse really is 😉
You can’t blame the classmate. She absolved herself of all culpability with the following tweet:
“@classmate: The post was not meant in any way to be offensive. I’m sorry if you took it as such.”
Ah, the old non-apology apology. I feel a lot better now.
Seriously though, it’s a weird time for everyone and we’ll all have to get through it together. For most of my neighbors, fellow Jerseyans and New Yorkers next door, this will be the hardest thing they’ll ever handle. Venting is healthy. Humor will help. Whining gets you nowhere. We’ll get down to work and our Shore will be better than ever.