On Friday, October 26, I was 14 weeks pregnant. Sadly, I was also scheduled to have a D&E after conclusive test results confirmed that my pregnancy was not viable. In total, we'd have less than 24 hours to grieve before we needed to turn our attention to prepare for Hurricane Sandy.
I could never have imagined how this hurricane would affect my life, to say nothing about its timing to my surgery. My doctors told me that I could return to normal activity on Monday. Sandy redefined my new normal.
Just as the meteorologists predicted, our power went out almost the moment of the surge. I had finished up my last Skype session on Monday a few minutes after 8 and moments later the lights went out. Neighbors began knocking on our door to ask if they could look out our window which faces East 20th Street. Together we gathered at my bedroom window, struck with horror as we watched the East River breach the pier at the end of our street and begin enveloping 20th Street. Within moments car alarms began going off as the river covered first one car roof and soon the entire block of cars. Before the river would recede, my entire city block would be covered in more than 3 feet of water. I made a video but unfortunately the water isn’t very visible…Still, the sound of the car alarms going off may give you a glimpse into that night and so I’ll link to it here.
My wife Steph and I didn’t know whether our entire property would be covered in water and so we made the decision to take the dogs out one last time thinking that perhaps there’d be no ground floor for days after the storm. And in order to make that trip, we’d have to walk in absolute darkness down 13 flights of stairs with our 2 dogs, one of whom (Grizzly) is 12 years old and has never navigated stairs well. Somehow we managed and thankfully there was no water in the back of our building where I’m guessing the topography is more elevated than in the front at street level. Going upstairs would pose a challenge to the 2 elders (Grizzly and myself). Steph would carry Grizzly (who weighs 50 pounds) and I would take the flights 2 at a time, resting in between as I’d been on and off bed rest for most of the preceding month and had barely exercised since getting pregnant. We managed. And it would become the new normal.
When we got upstairs, we knocked on our neighbors’ doors, most of whom are elderly, letting them know that we were there if they needed anything. I called my sister from my land line to tell her that I was OK and that I’d call her as soon as the power came back on. That would be my last phone call for almost a week.
When I woke up the next day our water was out. Thankfully I had filled my bathtub with water the day before so that we’d be able to flush the toilet. I walked over to our land line to call my mother and learned that because we have Fios, it too was out. No problem, I reasoned, as we’d charged our cell phones fully the day before. Unfortunately, there would be no cell service in our neighborhood until Saturday. It was Tuesday.
That night I cooked for most of our floor. I tried to use up what was left in my refrigerator because obviously it wouldn’t keep for long. We’d already boiled all of our eggs which we rationed each morning for breakfast. And so we had a candlelight dinner that first night, made more lively with discussions about politics. We were determined to keep our spirits up.
On Day 3 I sent Steph out to restock our supplies. Batteries were draining, I needed an onion for dinner and God knows we needed wine. She came home feeling pretty annoyed with me after having walked 3 hours to find said wine and onion. While she was out, I’d found a way to bathe, crazy Virgo that I am. What a difference a shower made, particularly on the heels of my surgery.
By Day 4 the National Guard came into our community to provide us with security. We live in a community which consists of 110 buildings, none of which had locked front doors (due to lack of power) and most of which house elderly residents. I’m not sure if the presence of the National Guard gave me peace of mind or took it away, but I had a sudden need to find a neighborhood that had power. We walked to Koreatown and found an outlet on a street corner (pictured below) where we charged our phones and I sent out some emails to clients.
On Day 5 we were getting tired. I was still feeding neighbors every night, we were still hiking up and down 13 flights of stairs 4 times a day, 3 of those times with the dogs, and my bath was feeling like a distant memory. That night, we watched with great excitement as our neighborhood began to light up with power. Ours would come on by morning, we told each other.
We woke up on Day 6 really, really cold and discovered that we still had no power. Eager to warm ourselves, we set about taking the dogs out, knowing that the trek down and up those stairs would give us some needed heat. When we opened our front door we were hit with the smell of gas coming from our hallway. As we made it down those stairs, the smell continued, so I called 911 when we were outside.
“I need to report a profound smell of gas in my building. I’m worried that the older people in my building are trying to warm themselves by lighting the stoves.”
I sat with the dogs in the lobby of a neighboring building while Steph ran upstairs to bag up the cats and bring them down to safety. I felt so displaced ~ so deeply demoralized. It’s time to go, I thought. I called a friend and asked her to find us a pet friendly hotel. I called another friend to ask him to find us a rental car. Both came through. When the fire department confirmed that the smell of gas was due to the fumes of the pumps that were still pumping the 8 ½ feet of water out of our basement and that the building was safe to reenter, we walked back upstairs, packed lightly, and cleaned the apartment in preparation to leave.
Then, out of nowhere, Steph randomly asked me to confirm our rental car reservation because she had a funny feeling that something might be wrong. I called, grateful for the cell service which had just returned that morning and for the 50% battery I still had on my cell phone. Zipcar confirmed Steph’s fears: There was no gas in any of their cars in Manhattan. Our reservation had been cancelled. OK. No problem. I’ll call Amex. I have concierge service through them. They’ll fly us out on a fucking chopper if need be, I reasoned. Except they couldn’t. Even American Express couldn’t find transportation for us. I was becoming hysterical by now, I’m not going to lie. I don’t know how much was attributable to having lived 6 days like I was a contestant on Survivor, or if it was due to my rapidly changing hormones, but I was unhinging, there was no doubt. So in an act of desperation I posted a plea on Facebook asking anyone for help to get us to our hotel. And within a few minutes my phone rang. One of Steph’s hockey teammates who lived in New Jersey was on his way to our apartment to relocate us to our hotel.
So now we’re living in Chelsea in a small hotel room with our 4 animals. We are grateful for running water, for heat, for the ability to reconnect with friends and for take out food. The power in our building will be out for the foreseeable future. The seawater destroyed the mechanics in our building and there is no telling when that will be repaired. But our apartment itself sustained no damage, other than us having to throw out everything in the refrigerator and freezer. So we lost some food, I lost some weight and we each lost earnings because we weren’t able to ‘work’ for the past week. The Hurricane, like the loss that preceded her, served to bring Steph and me closer. And it served to underscore the importance of our friends, without whom we’d be lost. So thank you, Amy, Adrian, Jordan, Sasha & Miro. You are our family.