Today we went to visit our home — to take pictures of the things we lost, and to say goodbye.
Our building sits on a cobblestone street that opens into an embrace of a park — gently sloping into the East River. Cool breezes blow off the water in the summer; the city of Manhattan glints, statuesque, on the other side. It is where the children play; where the street fairs gather; where weddings of all sizes take pictures by the golden light which always shifts and changes by the rocks, by the water.
It is why we live where we live. And why we chose to stay when the news said that Hurricane Sandy was coming.
Hurricane Irene had come last year, and we had cheated Fate — seeing the river’s waters rise only as far as the street corner before seeping back to its bed. Irene had been hyped, and concerns of sandbags and go-bags circulated in the building for days beforehand, so that when the actual storm came — and then passed like an angry rain — we breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.
We expected the same this time around, although some of us expected much worse, and so therefore, at some point, my husband and I turned to each other and asked, “How much shall we do?” We brought upstairs as much as we could carry — electronics; files; favorite toys; photos. My girls brought up their books, but I looked at years of old friends accumulated on the shelves — Homer; Faulkner; Allende; Will (Shakespeare) and I had incomplete conversations with myself: “Which do I choose? I can always download. But not these books. Electronic is easier. But what about THESE books?” And round and round.
“There comes a point of diminishing returns,” I said to my husband at some point in the night.
We had brought upstairs many things, and left behind, with eyes open, many others.
While we somberly ate dinner by the drone of the nightly news, the wind rose with a voice of banshees outside, and we heard the thump and bustle outside of people in the hallway.
I opened our door. “They are bringing things to a higher floor,” I said aloud. After watching nervously, we finally ran outside, and we saw the water rising — creeping stone by stone up the block with dark certainty. More of us spilled outside; we realized we needed to stop it, and we started to throw sandbags in front of it; plastic construction barriers; garbage bags — anything to keep it from coming in.
It rose to our waists. It spilled over the barriers. It rushed into our lobby, past rolled up rugs, plywood barriers, while we yelled to close the elevator doors, stop it from spreading, leaking into everything.
“It’s broken through the windows!” someone shouted. My daughters and I ran — downstairs to seal our doors and put towels in the cracks. Surely we could stop it, I thought, and they came with me to help. We were grabbing linens, stuffing trash bags with filler, and were just about to form a wall when the lights went out and the world was pitch black.
That’s when we heard the roar of water — water rushing into the outside hallway and through the cracks in the door, in the pitch black, toward us.
We ran upstairs, and the girls started to cry. People were screaming while I searched for the flashlights, listening for the water as it came up the stairs.
Rushing the girls to safety.
Finding my husband.
Finding our escape bags.
Finding the cat.
What do we do.
It was all over in an hour, and by 9 PM, we were huddled, all clumps of people — in hallways and apartments, doors gaping open, hoping for high tide to pass and for the water to go far, far away.
Today we came back to the apartment we call home. Upstairs was a mausoleum full of too many things; no hum of electricity to shatter the silence or shed light.
And downstairs? Past strange fibrous debris and standing water, upturned boxes and broken shelves — our downstairs door sagged open, bent back from its steel hinges onto a blasted wall from some unbelievable, aqueous force. Something like Spanish moss — but dirtier — hung from the ceilings and walls. Under foot lay things hard to see and harder to love: a sodden mattress; broken bowls; a huge wardrobe felled. A sofa wrinkled beyond repair. Book spines melted to sludge. I saw forlorn stuffed animals buried under furniture, and a happy photo from 1998 too grey for me to want to touch. It was all so broken and unrecognizable, we took pictures of it all and said aloud, “It’s time to go.”
It was easy to shrug, in that musty, ugly room, because it bore no resemblance to the warm laughter and bright colors we remembered. But coming back, and hours later, we fell silent, thinking about it. And when I finally was forced to say aloud, “Today we went back to our place to say goodbye…” I found myself — for the first time in all these days — fill up with tears, and I realized that it was time to let myself go.
Auntie Dorinda said:
Oh, Inday… I sit here crying for you, the girls, Jose & your beloved kitty. I ache for all of you in a very deep place. It is a horror. In my heart I want to put my arms around you and make the rising water stop; to make it all go away. I want to help you but don’t know how–so I send my sad love to all of you. Call if you can, or want to or need to cry or talk or scream or sit in silence on the phone — just know that you can… For what it’s worth, dear one, I am here
Thank you, Auntie Dorinda. Your love and support so clearly comes through your words, as it always has; thank you.
JoAnna Ursal said:
Thank you for sharing. You have always been a brilliant story teller, pulling me in every time I slept over with humorous and silly stories. This time, I am aching with every word I read, just grateful that you, Jose and the girls are physically safe. Emotionally and spiritually…I can only imagine what letting go must feel like for you the girls and Jose. I wish I could do more than reply to this moving testimonial you have shared…wishing the girls and I could be there to help in anyway. I remember visiting your new house 7 years ago, and thinking to myself, wow…my cousin and Jose are amazing to create a beautiful home in the middle of the largest city in the world. As you gather more strength and take it day by day…know that I am thinking of you and holding you all dear to my heart. It has been years…but if there is anything I can do, please let me know. I am here.
Thank you Maypay. Your reply still brought a smile to my face thinking back to all the fun as kids. Give your beautiful kids a big hug for us, and thank you for your kind wishes.
Bridgitt Haarsgaard said:
Louella, I am so very sorry! My heart is broken for you, Jose and the girls. I was that little girl (just like Joella and Jisella) many years ago watching all of my things was away in the high waters and having to escape my beloved home. This is not going to be an easy road. But, please remember that you have a team of people around you that want to help, even if it’s just to lend an ear and talk. We are praying for you and we will be here for anything that you need. Love to all of you.
Love to you, Bridgitt. We are so thankful to have befriended Lizzie, you, and the whole family. Your calm and supportive presence is an important part of our lives. God bless you.
Louella, my heart is heavy for you, Jose and the girls. I am so so very sad for your loss, but am so very grateful you are all safe. Truly, that is all that matters. Please know we are here for you. Please call if you need anything at all. ANYTHING. Sending you much love…
Thank you, Alice. We are grateful to be whole, and grateful that we have you guys as our extended Chinese family. Love to you all.
Auntie Diantha said:
So glad to hear from you, also, so sad for all of you. We have been thinking of guys, wondering where you are or how you are coping with everything. Wish we could come & help take all the sadness & hurt away. Talked to your parents, they feel so helpless & sad. Keep us posted, Sending big warm hugs & love, Auntie Diantha & Uncle Joe
Auntie Di and Uncle Joe, thank you. You have been so close to our family over the years; your love and support in this time means a lot. We send big hugs back to our big cousins 🙂
Lily Ursal said:
I’ve been thinking of you & family since Sandy made its way towards the northeast. I heard about the devastations & tremendous damage & sadness
it left to people & properties. No one could have given me a more real picture
than you Inday, Your story made me cry feeling the utter helplessness & fear
that could overwhelm anyone in the face of that fury. I felt every word you said about the waters breaking through the windows, & people screaming around your dwelling. And when the world turned pitch black that must be the ultimate agony & helplessness. Like all the rest we can only wish we could be there for you too. I know letting go is not easy but we can thank God that you & Jose & the kids are safe. That is priceless & irreplacable. Keep your faith & strength as
tomorrow holds promise to you & family. Our prayers are with you, don’t you forget that. We will follow up on you from here on.
Tita Lily & Tito Cording
Daghan salamat, Tita Lily and Tito Cording. We are so touched that you have reached out and hope all is well with you also down South. Love to you both.
Lisa W. Rosenberg said:
Louella, I am so sorry for all that you’ve had to say goodbye to, but so glad that you and Jose and the girls and the cat are safe. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been. I heard that screaming wind, and saw the pitch black, but did not hear that roaring water. I wish you hadn’t either. Letting go, letting the tears fall, showed your girls such an important, human kind of strength and love. I wish you all strength and hope as you heal and rebuild. Let me know if there is anything I can do. (We anticipate having power by the end of the week and are staying elsewhere until then). Thinking of you all,
Rorie Russell said:
Oh Inday, I’m so sorry, my heart is heavy for you all. I did not realize that you were affected that badly…I thought the water in your area was just outside your building. Down Under we got only a general view of the devastation caused by the storm Sandy. With detailed account of your experience, my heart is aching…..I’m lost with words, although thankful that you are all safe.
We will continue to pray for you and family and for quick restorations to all lives affected. Be safe and take care. God bless.
Love you heaps. XXX
Thank you both for your kind,kind words. Li, I know you are also without power there. Hope all is returned to normalcy and that we can get together soon. Tita Rorie, thank you for reaching out and sending your love all the way from Down Under. Thankful hugs to you both for your support.
clarissa goopio said:
Inday, I am so sorry that this storm brought so much devastation to your home. Last time I talked to you was that you had just moved all your valuable things from the basement to the 1st floor and all was well then. I pray that you can find a person who can work well with you for all the repairs needed. I am thankful to God that you , Arnold and the girls are safe. God bless and love you always !
Thank you Tita Bebie. We are thankful that we are all safe. Yes, sometimes things take an unexpected turn, but in the grand scheme of things, we were fortunate, and are thankful for the support of family like you. Love to you and Uncle Boloy.
Milagros Plenos Meyer said:
Inday, thanks for sharing….I’m ssooo sorry to know, how you feel losing your home.Thank God that you Arnold & the girls are all ok…..I wish we could help or comfort you in anyway at this time….pls. let us know. I pray that you & family will soon overcome this sad , horrible night as the ” storm sandy “came. Be strong.& keep in mind we love you always !
Hugs & warm regards
Danke Schoen, Tita Millie and Uncle Wolfgang. We are touched how you have followed our lives from so far away, in good times and trying times. Thank you both for your love and support.
Gigi Pajulio said:
Inday, I am so sorry for this sad and difficult experience. I could really feel the pain in your words in writing. You have captured it so well, and written it so beautifully. You, Arnold, Joella and Jisella are so strong. As a family, your love and support for each other with God’s grace can overcome any obstacle. We are sending our love and prayers for you. Gigi
God bless you, Gigi. Your prayers mean a lot.. You have been a model auntie to the girls and supportive friend and cousin to Arnold and I. Sending our love and thanks to you.
alena cabangon said:
i am so sorry for your loss. i am just glad that no lives in your family was lost. material things can be replaced but not lives. memories can never be replaced in our hearts . i and my 3 sons lost my husband and their father in a motorcycle accident 2 months ago. he was 45 y.o. we go through different trials in our lifetime and cope differently. we can never understand the whys of life but have come to accept that God is always there for us no matter what we go through. what he gives he can take away w/out notice. we just have to keep our faith. God bless you and your family and i thank him for keeping your family whole.
alena ( charlton’s sister-in-law)
Alena, thank you for your kind words. You are right in that we have our lives and health, and that is what matters. I am so sorry for the loss of your husband, Charlton’s brother. You and your family and Charlton do a tremendous service to his memory with your empathy and wisdom of the why’s of life. Stay strong, you are in our prayers, and God bless you all.
We send positive vibes from the West Coast. Thank you for giving us a front row seat to the devastation. A big sigh of relief you are all safe. Saying goodbye hopefully means a “hello” to a prosperous beginning.
Rico and Lynette
Reblogged this on Original Salt(s).
Our hope is your goodbye leads to a prosperous hello for you and the family. We love and miss you. Thank you for giving us a front row seat of your experience. Sending good vibes from the West Coast.
Rico & Lynette
Thank you Rico and Lynette, our coastal cousins. You always send strong, loving, calming vibes which help especially now. Peace and love to you all.
You, the girls and Jose are safe, that is what matters most.
The material losses may or may not be replaced. Your family is priceless!
Thank you for keep us informed. I trust that aid is getting to you and that everyone is at least comfortable.
Mercia Weyand said:
Where are you all now? And what can we do to help? We are thinking about you all the time. I am so very sorry…but, I am so glad you are safe. How terrifying for you all…You can always visit us in Georgia…and stay as long as you want. Schools are good…love,
LouAnne and Michael Manus said:
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes …strength is in the letting go.”
Dear Louella, Jose and Girls,
I had found this quote and shared it to help a friend of mine going through a separation and divorce. It occurred to me, loss…is loss…is loss in any form. In your case, the devastation from this hurricane. Of course, there are those things we need for survival and of course too, it is a blessing that you are all here to talk about what happened, but it is natural for us to want to cling to those things that remind us of what has been our journey to this point in our lives…the books we love and the objects that hold special meanings . It is my belief that everything, (good or bad),we experience in our lives helps to shape our character… I saw all that you have written in your blog in your eyes, while speaking with you on Sunday.What you have experienced, as horriffic as it was/is…made you know / discover/uncover new parts of yourself , which in turn, will helped shape part of who you are today . I pray for you to have faith in knowing that this experience will also have a hand in shaping future decisions. My hope is that you take the time to heal and while you’re healing, know that you and Jose are helping to show your beautiful girls the way a family may face adversity keeping faith, keeping focus on what is truly important and keeping your heart open to hope . I have come to know your family as kind and caring. It is only right and just that expressions of kindness and care will come back to you in your time of need. If there is anything we can do, please count us among those willing to give back to you.
With Love, LouAnne and Michael
Rose Marie Foglia said:
Dear Louella, Jose and Girls:
I just read the account of your horrific experience. I wipe the tears from my face as I write this to you. I am so sorry! Words seem so insignificant and are not able to express the heartfelt sorrow I have for all of you. The harsh reality of your words hit me like a ton of bricks and brought into focus all the nonsensical things we worry about and makes me sad to think how our energies are wasted on the non-important stuff. I am thankful all of you were not physically harmed. Emotionally and the reality of what you witnessed and lost is mind altering, but remember these biblical words “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” I pray for all of you. For the strength and courage to continue. Your spirituality and faith will move you forward and your “wonderful” memories of happier times will sustain you and help you build future memories bigger and better and stronger than before. You are truly faith-filled people who lead by example. God will lead the way. Know that you are loved by a much “bigger” family and not only by those blood related. If I can do anything for you (watch the kids, take care of the cat…listen..hear….give a shoulder…please don’t hesitate to call me anytime. My cell is with me 24/7. Prayers and love, Rose Marie Foglia
Pingback: Haunted | LSJ