In the aftermath of Sandy, we learned that in moving on, you have to let go not only of what you had, but who you were.
On a crisp Sunday afternoon, the air full of damp and melancholy, we loaded our car with suitcases and bags to go back home.
We had learned through Hurricane Sandy what it was like to have lost, and in the letting go, realized some of what we had really saved.
Our resolve. We experienced extraordinary generosity from ordinary people: friends; colleagues; people whom we previously knew from waving on the street or at church.
To be reminded that one could give without having an agenda, without expecting anything back, was humbling, and made us want to give back more — to those in Red Hook, and Sandy Hook, and those less fortunate but more brave. We, in turn, felt our loss become resolve, to build back what was once ours, and to help others do so too.
Our perspective. In the days after Sandy, we recovered very few things. My younger daughter’s baptismal album, her newborn picture still gazing with wonder through a grimy cover. The girls’ scooters, that, with a little cleaning and shining up, looked ready to ride again.
And a vase. Next to smashed bowls and wrecked furniture, I found lying gently on the chaotic floor an ivory Lenox vase. “Brave little vase,” I said aloud in amazement. Why didn’t it break? The water must have surged in, opening the cabinet doors and carrying out all that was inside, lifting everything to the ceiling. The vase must have floated along, and despite the big objects and the structure breaking down violently around it, it came to rest gently on the floor, waiting to be found. It now stands clean and unique on a shelf, so delicate. Yet it didn’t break.
And we? Thank God that our lives were spared, our livelihood intact. The girls were our light — children, I realized, adapt to change because every day is a day of change: each hour, they are that much taller, wiser, older.
But there were days when the adults, he and I, foundered, because it WAS a test: this trying to rebuild while New York continued to be difficult; while work kept demanding; while we kept “discovering” more of what we no longer had.
We were so busy, we were robotic.
We were so sad, we couldn’t admit it.
We were so tired and flawed and wanting, that on our worst day we were screaming at each other, at the top of our lungs, rock bottom, raw — about something so stupid I don’t even remember. We were at the end of a very long stretch.
But we didn’t break.
For just as, at the end of a long stretch, you cry aloud, out of relief that you have finished and could somehow look back with some distance, so did we finally step back and realize that after 22 years of being together, we could still redefine what we wanted from each other, and from ourselves. It was as though something snapped and woke up, and at some point — I can’t place my finger on when — we became different people, looking at things from a great distance, in a much grander scheme, unafraid of possibilities, unencumbered by what had been swept away.
I remember finding, in one of the boxes we saved, all my colored pencils and sketch pads, my drawings for my children’s book, still waiting to be finished.
“What am I waiting for?” I thought. I better get this book out there.
It was freeing, to have this “What do I have to lose?” courage. Loss can do that to you, in an ironic, empowering way.
In our poorly lit apartment, from a mound of boxes and clothes hastily thrown together, we set about reclaiming our space. One light didn’t work; we moved a lamp from another room. We made room for toys and packed up summer clothes for storage. Bit by bit, a home emerged, if not a gracious home, at least one that we recognized, where the cat could ceremoniously walk to all corners and confirm, as cats do, that it was “good enough.”
“It’s as though nothing had ever happened,” said my little daughter. I smiled at the simplicity of the very young.
And so, dear reader, we moved on. There is probably another time when I will write about “coming home,” because the home part may happen later, when it hits you that you have reclaimed that sense of comfort, security…your own space. We’re not there yet.
But we came out fighters. A runner, a reader, an experimentalist, a writer — each one of us having gleaned a little bit from each other, a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.