Earlier today, I started crying while reading my community newspaper, The Red Hook Star Revue, while riding the 4 train.
Exactly one year ago, like many of my fellow New Yorkers residing in the city's most vulnerable hurricane evacuation zones, I packed up a few bags and left home. Aside from near-daily visits that usually didn’t last more than 30 minutes — toward the beginning, the overwhelming stench of oil (there was a full-on oil spill on my street) often made entering my apartment building a somewhat risky endeavor — and involved barreling down Red Hook’s main commercial drag, Van Brunt Street, on the B61 bus covered by an eerie shroud of darkness, I didn’t permanently return home until the lights came back on nearly a month later.
As my subway tears proved, I’m feeling something on the one-year anniversary of the day that Superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters obliterated my longtime home of Red Hook and countless other communities across the five boroughs, New Jersey, and beyond.
But I’m not exactly sure what that feeling is. If anything, it’s a weird mix of gratitude, survivor guilt, and lingering anxiety leftover from watching the place I know and love be destroyed overnight. Unlike many of my neighbors, particularly the small business owners who make my scrappy waterfront village in South Brooklyn such a great place to live, I emerged from the storm relatively lucky. While displaced for three and a half seemingly endless weeks, I had somewhere to stay and was optimistic that at some point I'd be able to return home. My apartment is on the fourth floor so while the flooding destroyed my building’s electrical and heating systems in the basement, my own personal belongings were untouched.
I didn’t lose anything aside from a sense of security.
That said, I don’t know how to fully express my feelings today without coming off as trite and/or maudlin. Perhaps I’ve already accomplished both. What I do know is that I learned a lot from surviving Superstorm Sandy:
1. I learned that in the near absence of reliable government assistance, the power of grassroots organizations should never be underestimated. Similarly, I learned that there’s nothing quite as powerful as a small community bonded together by a single mission: picking up the pieces and getting back to business. My neighbor across the street, the Bait & Tackle bar, perhaps sums up this sentiment best with a sandwich board placed outside today that reads: "Sandy was a whore but we are Hookers."
2. I learned that IKEA, in addition to being a great place to buy lingonberry jam and LED light bulbs, can be a very good neighbor.
3. I learned to find reassurance from the constant hum of backup generators.
4. I learned what a big deal a grocery store re-opening can be (yep, I cried during that, too).
5. I learned that following catastrophic weather events, rental prices in severely impacted neighborhoods can still go up (thanks, New York Times for that one).
6. I finally learned how to ignore professional morons (I'm looking at you, Mr. Trump).
7. I learned that even urban chickens need saving, too.
8. I learned that utilities will go ahead and charge you the full estimated amount, even though you haven’t had heat, hot water, or electricity for nearly a month.
9. I learned how to successfully multitask while on hold with said utilities.
10. I learned to use the hell out of Twitter.
11. I learned that not even the dirtiest of looks will keep the camera-wielding disaster tourists away (seriously, I have never seen so many “joggers” in my entire life).
12. After years of patronage, I finally learned the name of the guy who runs the pizza joint downstairs. It's Tony.
13. I learned how to take full advantage of my Kickstarter account.
14. I learned that FEMA is broken. After creating a basic FEMA profile to explore any options that I might have been eligible for as a renter, I was plagued with nonstop and aggressive phone calls from contractors working on commission, even though I never actually applied for aid or a home inspection. This lasted for about four months.
15. And last but not least, I learned about the word resiliency, a word that overwhelms me each and every time I step out my front door.
Related stories on MNN:
- Robert Moses gets resilient with first of Solar For Sandy installations
- Breezy Point, Queens, one year after everything changed [Video]