I've never prepped much for hurricanes. I'm not saying I'd be the person that ignores evacuation orders but, I'm also not the person that's going to stock up on propane, generators, batteries and powdered milk. This time around though, the warnings seemed so ominous and the sky was so dark that I ventured out and bought 2 jars of nutella, lots of fruit, crackers, pickles and canned beans. And then, what can only be described as act of sheer hurricane lunacy, I spent $90 on candles, half of which were scented. I considered myself prepped. I had flashlights after all. And a big part of me just hoped that I wouldn't need anything.
Well, as it turns out, we needed everything and then some. When the lights went out while we were having dinner, Bean looked at me with terror in her eyes. I then swiftly found our candles, candlesticks and lit them. The whole effect was rather charming. I explained to Bean that we were being fancy like Cinderella at the Ball. Thank you Disney! That seemed to tickle her immensely and we pretended to be fancy princes and princesses eating our dinner. My husband got out his guitar and started playing The Ramones and Bean bopped her head along smiling. What hurricane? We were just having fun.
The next morning, we saw the devastation in our town. Majestic trees that stood towering for a hundred years or more were plucked from the ground and tossed aside. Some streets looked like a tornado barrelled through. No traffic lights were working and the sky was so grey with lingering clouds that you couldn't help but feel the enormity of the situation. We were still in the dark in terms of news so we were spared the actual knowledge of how bad it was everywhere else. Looking at our house, with the branches down and leaves strewn about, we felt genuinely lucky. We had each other. We had ourthome. We were fine.
My dad's house was a different story. The giant Oak tree that stood on our front lawn had fallen smack into my old room. That oak tree had been a meeting place for neighborhood kids. I used to try to wrap my around its hulking trunk and I somehow never managed to get my hands to touch each other. We took communion, confirmation and graduation pictures in front of that tree. I practiced my Dirty Dancing routines around that tree (don't ask) and I collected caterpillars from that tree and kept them as pets. The tree that I always thought was too big to fall, fell. Thankfully, my dad was okay and really that's what matters.
On our second night without power, J made dinner by candlelight and Bean asked "Are we fancy again?" Yes, we are very, very fancy. Later J made a fire in our fireplace and we sat around watching Bean play. Bean remained unfazed by everything going on. She just kept playing with her trains or playing a very exciting game of stacking and re-stacking books. Without electricity to distract us, we were wholly present with each other. I wasn't checking Facebook. My husband wasn't checking tweets, baseball stats or work e-mail. We were both mentally checked in 100% to each other and our family and I made a mental note to force more "unplugs" in the future.
By day three, our house was getting cold so I made a quick escape to Gramma's house in Westchester which miraculously had power. I packed up our perishables and headed out the door. J went to work because his company had power. When I got to Gramma's house, I immediately turned on the news and there I sat for three hours transfixed by the images. I may be a New Jersey girl now, but Long Island will always be my home and seeing the beach communities of Long Beach, the Rockaways and Breezy Point made me teary. And it got worse with each passing hour. No electricity seemed like a slight inconvenience compared to friends marooned in NYC or the families on Staten Island that lost loved ones.
By this time, I had decided not to return to our home. I didn't want drive home in the dark with few traffic lights to guide me and my need to be in my own space seemed silly with Bean in tow. J's office generator had lost power by now so he was on his way home. I texted him because the phones still weren't working properly and asked him to pack our things and he agreed that staying with Gramma until power was restored made the most sense. Gramma opened up her home to us, and we were so lucky and blessed to have heat, roof over our heads and electricity. Again, Bean didn't notice anything was amiss. I think she just thought we on vacation at Gramma's. It's juts like the Maine house, only smaller without the beach or lobster to amuse us.
As much devastation as I saw around town and on TV, I also saw great acts of love and kindness.
Love is my husband not telling me that in our two days in the dark, I managed to grow a Magnum P.I. mustache and a uni brow.
Love is that my mother-in-law opened up her home to us, giving us her bed so that our family of three could sleep well.
Love is in the woman at the gas station that paid for my brother's gas when he had no cash and refused to give him her address to be paid back.
Love is my sister and her husband who checked on my dad daily and finally convinced him to move in with them temporarily.
Love is the franks and spaghetti and that my sister made to coax a smile out my dad when his house was crumbling.
Love is my brother sharing his home with my aunt and cousins so that they could have heat and hot food.
Love is my schizophrenic uncle who called me before the storm to check to see if we were prepared and to offer prayers.
Love is at the My Gym play space that let Bean play for free because we were displaced from the storm.
Love is in the massive relief efforts from first responders and regular people collecting food, clothing and supplies.
Love is in all the texts/e-mails/phone calls from friends and family to make sure we were okay.
Love got us through this storm and it will get us through any other storm. Although, at this point, I'd prefer a mild winter without anymore Nor'easters. New York and New Jersey could use the break.