Nov 10, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Part 1, aka Has G-d Had Enough?

The hurricane came on slowly, like a tiger stalking his prey. All I heard was the low wind, but then there's usually wind on the beach block of South Jersey's shoreline, especially in the downtime from fall to spring. The fall was over a third finished, but there it was: Hurricane Sandy.

Sunday, October 28.
My friend's mother died, and we had a graveside service at the shore where she lived for over fifty years. The wind was already blowing, but the gusts slowed down as if the wind wanted to pay its respect to his mother, too.

My friend motioned for me in my wheelchair to walk to the chairs the cemetery had set up for family members, but I sat on the edge of the crowd, not trusting myself on the uneven terrain, common to all cemeteries. (You may not have noticed because you don't walk in my shoes and you may not have had a stroke). The service ended a half hour later, and we all went back to his sister's house in Philadelphia which was sixty miles away for the after-gathering.

While in Philadelphia, a few people said that the bridges to the barrier islands, where we are from in New Jersey, would close down at 4 o'clock, so we left his sister's house at 2:45 in order to make the 4 pm deadline. It started to rain, and he took the Atlantic City Expressway, intending to go from Exit 44 to Exit 2, to make it back in time.

But near Exit 5, the police slowed us down by having one patrol car in each of the three lanes and, at Exit 5, the patrol cars stopped and another officer, who was standing in that wide-legged stance that only policemen and workout guys have, told us to turn around.

''She had a stroke," he said, pointing to me, "and I'm returning to the house to get her pills." It was no lie. I needed my Coumadin.

But the patrolman must have heard that excuse before, so he repeated himself. "You have to turn around."

My friend, who knew the back roads, went onto Exit 5 and kept going beyond where he should have gone. He took a circuitous route which took us close to his home, but we still had to go over the bridge. At 3:59 pm, he took the bridge which closed at 4 o'clock promptly. I know because we were the last car that was allowed to go over. The roads were empty and the town was ghost-like.

When we pulled up to his place, I saw and heard the roaring ocean from his house.

"The ocean looks dangerous," I said, "but the ride was thrilling." I know it sounds crazy, but you weren't there. Those two, diametrically opposed statements were both accurate. We went to bed early, him, because the funeral day was tiring, and me, because I love a storm when I'm safely inside and under the covers. But this storm was different, with strong winds at 75 mph that howled and moaned, and I was afraid the windows would break.

But before I slept, I thought about all the ways we had fucked up this world. Not me, specifically, but "me" as part of the world--wars, pollution, homelessness, hunger, the super PACs? I wondered, was G-d trying to give us a last warning? Was this flood representative of the last one, involving the Bible's Noah and the Ark? Was G-d even so tired of us that He decided to start over? Was this it, the east coast version of the Big One?

With so many questions to myself, asked and answered, I slept for 2 hours that night.

Monday, October 29.
We awakened to a flooded street. According to my friend, the last time the streets were flooded was in 1962 with a nor'easter that blew out the boardwalk. With Sandy, the sea water covered our driveway ramp and started to creep up to the bottom step of the entrance to his home. The storm was encroaching. We lost power, electric and gas, somewhere around 11 am. But we couldn't leave because we were trapped. So we sat in the house that day with nothing to do but stare at the flood or read a book when the light let us.

When I thought that I couldn't stand it any longer, I said, "We could microwave popcorn," I said, but he replied, "No power. Remember?"

A little while later, he said, "You could check your computer for the weather," but I replied, "I have no battery power left."

When it got dark, my friend made us dinner--the leftovers from the funeral food--and, being the ultimate saver, he used a flashlight to find a new headlamp that was a Christmas gift from nine years ago. He put the batteries in and I was a virtual miner, focusing the light on my head at the stairs to the bedroom. He led the way, with the light on the next step, and all the ones after, to guide me. When I reached the top, I moved toward the bed. He helped me into bed and, because I hadn't hardly slept the night before, I slept deeply.