Radio Silence and Some Thoughts on the Last Four Weeks
It’s been way too long since I’ve written in this space.
I miss being here.
So much has occurred that I’ve got a bit of mental Flotsam & Jetsam–different bits and pieces of things I want to share with you. So, what follows is a jumbled update:
The 60 – 80 MPH winds came at night. The sound of cracking trees and rattling, whistling windows scared even me. We sat in the dark, wondering where those cracking trees may fall. We saw many bursts of bright light punctuating the dark sky and initially thought we were experiencing lightning. We later learned that those were the power transformers blowing. We lost power and heat but fortunately never lost water. We sustained no damage to our home.
I recognize how fortunate we are.
School was cancelled for a week and then on a truncated schedule the following week; Kindergartners were out of school for NINE days.
My brother and sister-in-law left the city prior to the storm (they were in an evacuation zone) and sought refuge with us. Despite the obvious stress of not having power, we enjoyed grilling our food and long nights in front of the fire. We each wore flashlights clipped to our bodies. It was kinda like we were in Bond Movie, only instead, we were stumbling around in the dark in New Jersey. (But that stumbling may have been amplified by the multiple adult beverages consumed during our four-day Hurricane Party. Just a hunch.)
Somewhere in there Halloween came and went. The state postponed the holiday because it was too dangerous to be out trick-or-treating with the falling trees and downed power cords. Somewhere in there Abby got strep throat for the second time this fall.
Despite our inconveniences and cold toes, we were safe. One night, after leaving the warmth of our crackling fire, I used my flashlight to navigate my way up the stairs. The round, bright beam bounced along with me, only providing light exactly where I was. Just enough. When I arrived in my bathroom, I lit a pine tree candle for light. Yes, I had my trusty flashlight but I craved the small, flickering light of candle.
I struck the match and inhaled its distinct scent. I listened to the faint crackle of the match as I joined it to the candle’s wick. I watched as the flame grew and danced orange and red. I stared at my candle’s flame for a good five minutes. As I warmed my cold hands around it, I poured so much gratitude into that small flame. It was a tiny talisman of hope, of light, of warmth–all of which I knew would return to us soon.
Our hearts felt simultaneously heavy and full, filled with gratitude for the relative small inconvenience we endured while families and people just 60 miles away lost homes. Photos. Cars. Loved ones.Security. Trees. Hand-made mugs and love notes. Lost. It. All.
Most of the time, my cushy daily life ambles along and as I amble, I take my life for granted. The tragedy and crushing disaster of Hurricane Sandy forced me to remember–stare in the face, actually–just how fragile it all is. Power grids, infrastructure and fuel sources. Our time here.
After our power returned, I finally realized that I suffered from a huge case of survivor’s guilt. I felt heart-sick for those whose damages I could not comprehend. With tears brimming, I finally saw the images of the Sandy’s destruction and read the accounts, but I knew no words could encapsulate the extent and depth of the suffering.
One week later: Nor’easter & Snow.
We lost power and heat again BUT the radiant, silver lining of this second power outage was that we got a Generator.
(Please join me in a quiet moment of reverence for The Generator.)
Important side note: Holy Shit are generators awesome. I am eternally grateful for The Generator and for my husband who expertly hooked it into the panel (see how effortlessly I throw around phrases like “hooked it into the panel”? That’s because I’m awesome.)
The second silver lining of this second storm (yes, this is a double-silver lining situation): No Gas Shortage.
You see, during Sandy, gas stations either:
1. Had gas but no power (so therefore could not pump gas) OR
2. Had both but ran out of fuel because everyone was in desperate search for gas for their generators and cars. Gas lines stretched for miles. We waited in one such line for an hour and then, when we were about 10 minutes away from our turn, they notified us that the gas supply was depleted. (This was after we waited in a 30 minute line for hot coffee. Priorities, people.)
The inability to get gas is what finally broke me. Not being to drive my family to the safe harbor of the Midwest made me itchy and panicky. So, with fuel in mind and wool hats on our heads, we left New Jersey and drove to Pennsylvania for gas. We found a gas station with gas, power and NO LINE in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (I mean COME ON–four cold family members drive two hours in search of gas and find it in Bethlehem?!?! I kept looking for Three Wise Guys and some myrrh.)
Four days after the nor-easter stole our power, it was restored. For roughly a week after we regained power, I breathed deeply multiple times a day and tried to bring light into the still-dark, still-tense parts of my body. My head (achey). My shoulders (knotted and hanging out by my ears). We returned to a haphazard sort-of normal and then…
Abby got an ear infection (a doozy, complete with a ear-drum ripping rupture.)
Her pain gripped her for three days. I sat on the couch with her for three days. Although I obviously wish she hadn’t been so sick, those days with her were golden. I soaked up those moments with her. Lying with her head nestled in my lap, she could actually find comfort. We watched movies (lots). I read aloud many chapters of our current Benedict Society book. We snuggled under warm, floppy blankets.
I just was.
We just were.
We had power, heat, food, health insurance, an unlimited supply of ibuprofen and Tylenol, and each other. I was able to comfort my daughter. The amount of comfort this provided me is immeasurable. I though of the candle’s tender yet tenacious flame and its ability to suspend all of my angst about the What Ifs and How Abouts during the Hurricane. Those days with Abby delivered the same meditative trance.
The last four weeks blur together like a smudged, charcoal sketch of life. As always, filled with Ups and Downs. Mistakes (yelling at my children when I’d lost my reserves of patience). Triumphs (the lasting salve of a hug and whispered I’m-Sorrys). Small, glimmering traces of hope. That smudgy month then gave way to Thanksgiving.
Oh, the list of things for which I gave thanks–
Family. Heat. Generosity of neighbors (and extension cords)*. Food. Friends. Chain saws. Hot Coffee. Lights. No gas lines. Home. Family (twice). Health.
Time to continue living.
I learned some amazingly mundane things during this month:
1. Most people covet the big, unbroken potato chip, usually found at the top of the potato chip bag.
2. *An extension cord snaked through the yards between my neighbor’s generator and our home can provide high levels of sanity (ie: coffee one morning and charged phones and computers).
3. When your son is wearing his Spiderman costume and walking down your street, do not walk behind him as he approaches a fire hydrant. Especially on a frigid day.
4. Explanation to Number 3: Our fire hydrants all proudly display 6′ snow poles which, during snow storms, allow Fire Fighters to locate buried fire hydrants. A large, coiled spring makes the pole movable. One of Henry’s favorite walking-by-fire-hydrant pasttimes is pulling the snow pole and watching it Sproooooing back into place. On this particular day, the temperature was 32 degrees F and Henry, predictably, pulled the snow pole back. I was not paying attention and caught the snow pole smack in the face.
The pain was intense but quickly abated. My reaction was fierce (and somewhat embarrassing). Thank goodness for hugs and I’m-Sorrys.