Getting storm ready.
The ocean isn’t only a respite, an ionic tonic for breath. Today, her waves are pounding, ferocious, slamming the sand. Today, she is loud, insistent and maybe even angry. She commands my attention. I stop on the cement stairs and sit.
It is two days after Hurricane Sandy.
I sit rather than walk on the sand. I think about my own waves, and how I want them all to be soft and soothing. Emotional tides I want never to be high or stormy. No one can arm wrestle with the moon and win. Yet, I do, and I’m surprised by my exhaustion.
In December of 2009, my not-in-the-flood zone home flooded. I lost my car, heating system, water heater, washer, dryer, air conditioner and the contents of my basement to the uninsured cost of almost $15,000.00. It was winter. It was cold. I was alone at two a.m., while my daughter was with her father for the first holiday following our divorce.
As the water surrounded my house and entered my basement, I thought, “This isn’t what I signed up for.” By this, I meant marriage, home ownership and life.
Floods are messy, and the aftermath is awful. Normally, I’m a have-a-list and get-shit-done girl, but I was paralyzed. The entire prior year had kicked my ass. I waded through my basement in a neighbor’s thigh high boots watching baby pictures and affirmation cards float by. I was unable to focus. I was giving the finger to the soppy square blue cards that said, “Take time to smell the roses.” My dear friend Beth called me every hour and gave me instructions on who to call and what to do.
I was overwhelmed by the flood, because I was still recovering from my divorce and the fact that my life was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. I’d worked so hard and hadn’t managed to predict or side step trauma or loss. Worse, as a mother, I’d failed to prevent pain for my daughter.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t believe in divorce, and “knew” I wouldn’t be on the “wrong” side of that 50 percent statistic. It didn’t matter that I’d been in a relationship with my best friend of almost twenty years. When my marriage failed, it shook me to my core.
I was an aware person who had done therapy. This stuff wasn’t supposed to happen to people like me. Everyone envied my marriage. I was fully committed. If I was wrong about my own partnership and home life, what did I really know about anything?
So, when forecasters predicted coastal flooding with Hurricane Sandy, my loved ones, remembering my first flood and the tender state I was in after it, offered shelter. I felt their love and concern like an electric blanket. I tasted their gestures as though they were ripe fruit picked just for my mouth. It was sweet. The outpouring was moving, and I let it touch my heart. The sheer numbers of offers for places to sleep was humbling. I was fortified.
But, I stayed in my home for the storm. After all, I just bought my ex out of it months ago.
The truth is I like living near the ocean, and I love my home. Only a few months ago, I bought my ex out of his portion of the house. It is 100 percent mine, and I didn’t want to leave it, my neighbors, our cats or the guinea pig. Even if the house floods, which I now have insurance for, it is my house and home. And, I want to be here to deal with it as quickly as possible.What I do not want is my daughter to be afraid. I had resisted stalking the storm for the several days before it was going to hit, but I felt a pit in my stomach on Sunday morning—the last day I had to get ready. I didn’t want my daughter to pick up on my fear.
“How can I keep her from being afraid?” I asked my boyfriend.
“Tell her it’s an exciting adventure,” he said.
We bought flashlights, water and dry food supplies. I accepted the help of both my ex-husband and my boyfriend, who helped clear the deck and the basement. I watched the news. I asked the neighbors, who have lived here for decades, what to look for at high tide.
They told me the secret formula for flooding in our neighborhood always consists of astronomical high tides, a full moon and high winds. They told me if I watched the water two hours before high tide I would know if the street was going to flood, if I should turn off my basement heating system and if I should park my car down the street.
I got storm ready, but that’s not all.
I showed my daughter where the candles and flashlights were. We got out the books and the crafts, powered up the cell phone and electronics. I even admitted that the entire neighborhood feels a charge of adrenalin when a storm is coming, because it’s exciting. I remembered that my daughter got a waterproof camera from her grandparents earlier in the month for her birthday.So, on Monday, when it was just she and I hunkered down, we went down to take a look at the ocean. We ran down the street. She had on pajamas under her winter coat. She wore a scarf and hat, and brought her stuffed animal, Sandy, named for the storm.
We got soaking wet. Sea water sprayed in her mouth. We got near the sea wall and captured footage of the storm.
When we got home we put our wet clothes in the dryer. We put her video on Facebook for family and friends. We kept our fingers crossed when the power flickered. We had tea with a neighbor. I let her sleep in my bed at night. She wasn’t afraid. In fact, she didn’t even want to go back to school because she’d had so much fun at home.
So, not quite three years later, I’m happy to say my daughter and I were able to marvel at the waves, to watch them rise over the sea wall and to feel, even in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, safe.
And today, two days after the storm, after the waves were pounding the shore, they are now softly licking it. A seagull is soaring into the sky. The water is almost inaudible. It is calm and soothing.
I’m learning to be as receptive as the sand to both high tide and low tide. I’m practicing being fluid with my own internal states. I’m taking the lessons as much as the sea glass does that each storm churns up and deposits on the shore.
Editor: Sara McKeown