It’s taken months for me to process her. And truth be told I’m still feeling her remnants daily, albeit subconsciously. When news reports told of her forthcoming rage we mocked them. We had survived poverty, an earthquake, and a neighborhood that was reminiscent of a war torn country. Surely this single insignificant occurrence wouldn’t be the cause of our demise. We were to find that fated October evening that we were wrong.
Hurricane Sandy tore through New York and fucked us up. Honestly, there is no better way to put it. I cannot and will not try to state it with more class or with any semblance of sophistication. She fucked us up. For 14 days we endured cold, dark and putrid conditions. Residents of Red Hook Brooklyn and numerous other neighborhoods were left to fend for themselves. We were without basic necessities such as water, heat and electricity.
I couldn’t understand how the greatest city in the world could be virtually crippled by a storm. Yet, just that line alone shows how undeniably delusional I am to think that we are exempt from natural disaster. Let me rephrase that. I am not surprised that the greatest city in the world could be crippled moreover I’m surprised that it could stay crippled for so long. My family and I would awaken each day hoping that the electricity, heat or hot water services would return. And each night as we huddled under multiple blankets we would feel the dejection of our hopes being dashed. We spoke fondly of hot showers, being able to charge our phones, and watching television. The things I missed most were the simple gifts of flushing the toilet and preparing a meal.
Even in the darkness there were slivers of light. Countless volunteers had heard of our plight and came to our aid each day, bringing us water, blankets, and most importantly their service. Red Cross prepared and delivered three hot meals a day as did food trucks from all around the city. FEMA set up information stations. AT&T and Ikea provided charging stations in which we could charge our electronics. And though I had little contact with friends my immediate family ( who shared in this time with me) provided companionship, a shoulder to cry on, dance parties, and even laughs.
Though Sandy was an honorable opponent who left me bruised and a bit battered she also was a great teacher. Her unfortunate arrival brought with it a number of lessons I so desperately and unknowingly needed to learn. For instance, during this time I dealt with a number of emotions. However, the one that was the strongest was this feeling of isolation. At no point during this ordeal was I alone yet, the sense of being alone was overwhelming. How could I, the girl who could fill up a banquet hall with loved ones be in this situation? Why hadn’t I received dozens upon dozens of calls, emails, facebook messages from these people inquiring as to how they could help me? How could I spend 14 days in the dark when I had so many people that cared about me? Wouldn’t they want to help? As you can see I had a lot of questions and my feeling of isolation quickly turned to anger at my so called loved ones. I was angry that no one came to my rescue.
After months of processing these emotional responses I’ve learned that we are in fact alone. In trials such as these it is absolutely ludicrous to expect anyone to understand what you are going through (unless they themselves have been through it or are simultaneously experiencing it). You can attempt to explain it, share pictures/video, but it will be to no avail. To truly understand and be empathetic to tragedy you have to live through it. People get up each day and take for granted their ability to brush their teeth, make breakfast, or watch the news. During that two week period I expected people to understand and empathize with my plight but the truth is they couldn’t or didn’t care to. Thankfully, some could sympathize. Life hands you moments that will either defeat you or make you stronger. In my isolation and in the fact that no one came to my rescue I was made stronger. (Just to be clear there were a few honorable loved ones who checked on me constantly and I am eternally grateful for them.)
Sandy’s fierce and overwhelming devastation also taught me a lesson about being self sufficient. As I stated previously I was in Red Hook Brooklyn when Sandy hit. Before Red Hook was the hipster infested scene it is today, it was an isolated area know for crime and it’s public housing complex. I happened to be staying in this public housing complex (Red Hook Houses or Projects) with my parents and brother. This is the place I had called home for 18 years and was now using as a temporary respite before moving on once again. The projects are owned and operated by the city of New York who have consistently throughout the years provided substandard service. It is no unusual occurrence to wake up on a cold winter’s morning to find that you are without heat or hot water.
So it came as no surprise that after Sandy the same apathetic attitude towards residents ensued. Now I don’t believe they could have prevented the after effects of the flooding however their response was lackadaisical at best. For days we contacted our management officials simply looking for updates as to when utilities would be restored. Yet, we were given absolutely no information. After the first week we began to receive reports via radio and internet (when we had access) about the progress being made. I was outraged that NYCHA (NYC Housing Authority) could issue statements to the press to save face but would not offer the same courtesy to rent paying residents. The bottom line is they don’t care about us. Projects are filled with poor folk and as we all know the poor are seldom a priority.
Shortly thereafter I learned of other non poor areas being neglected as well. Of course, this wasn’t the case for Manhattan. This money making Mecca was up and running well before any other borough. It was at this point that it dawned on me. We must me as self sufficient as possible. I cannot live at the mercy of landlords like the New York City Housing Authority. I would be better served in my own home with a cash of generators , food and water for times such as these.
I take no basic comfort for granted. Ever since Sandy every opportunity to bathe, cook, and enjoy warmth have felt like a blessing. Being able to type this very line is a gift. One morning post Sandy I found myself in the Ikea washroom giving myself a bird bath and brushing my teeth. I looked in the mirror and was utterly amused by the moment. Just a few weeks prior to that I was vacationing on South Beach with friends. I had stayed in a fabulous apartment style hotel room, spent days on the beach and nights partying. Additionally, as I stared at my reflection I remembered the Master’s degree I had earned just a short time ago. I laughed. How could this be my existence? Life can be tragically amusing but I digress. Due to Sandy I will no longer be unappreciative of simple things such as being able to turn on a light to pierce the dark.
Before Sandy I was considering relocating to South Florida. I love the sun and thought Florida would be the right place to get my fill. One day I was discussing this idea with a friend and made this offhand remark. “I really should experience a hurricane before living in an area that has hurricane seasons”. We laughed heartily at the remark and it was soon forgotten. I was absolutely sick of NYC pre storm. I complained that there were too many people living here and of how rude they are. I still have these complaints yet these things don’t bother me as much now. I was also adamant about living in areas that are aesthetically pleasing. Yet, I find myself residing in a place that is surrounded by concrete and trash and devoid of trees. Before I would’ve been bothered by this, now not so much. Sandy has taught me to accept where I am at any given moment especially if I’m lucky enough to have food, power, heat and water.
Sandy was a merciless atrocity that left devastation in her wake. Sandy has also been one of my greatest teachers. She was vile and ferocious. At the same time she was the not so gentle guide that came in to give me the lessons needed. Her tough love will have long lasting effects on my character. In all her madness I became more aware of my spirit, of its strength and indelible resilience. Thank You Sandy…
This is dedicated to all who survived and are still surviving Sandy and to the 3 who soldiered with me.