The thing about a hurricane is that you never think it’s going to be as serious as the news media is making it out to be — until you’re in it. We live about seven blocks from the ocean, and we weren’t required to evacuate, but some people thought we were crazy for staying.
“GO!” wrote one of my friends.
Another, who knows a lot about a lot and is right about most things, called us and said something to my husband, Bruce. I don’t know what it was, but it left Bruce uneasy.
We tried to make a party of it, almost ignore it, like a car alarm blaring in the background. We went over to a neighbors’ house for home-made ham and potato salad and cocktails, but despite two martinis, all I could think about was the impending storm. By midnight, I was downright anxious, imagining a tree limb coming crashing through our windows and shards of glass flying everywhere, or our roof being ripped off by the gale force winds. I wanted to hide in a vault of some sort where I could neither see nor hear the storm’s blistering wrath, and I could emerge in the morning after it had passed. The next best thing to a vault was our neighbors’ guest room, which had just one small window exposed to the elements. But Bruce didn’t want to stay there. He wanted to stay with our home, which was just 100 feet away.
“Why did we stay, if we’re not even going to stay in the house,” he said.
“I don’t know. But what are we going to do if something happens? Hold the roof on with our bare hands?”
I wasn’t sure why we stayed. All I knew was that our neighbors’ guest room made me feel cloistered and cozy while our bedroom, which I love because it has a big bay window and you can feel the air and sky around you, made me feel extremely vulnerable because it has a big bay window and you can feel the air and sky around you. I might as well have been outside.
“I know what’s going to happen,” I said. “Bruce is going to sleep right through it, and I’m going to be up all night listening to the wind howl, and every second is going to feel like an hour.”
“Don’t anticipate things. It makes them happen,” Joan said.
“I know what you’re saying. I get like that,” Emma said. “I call it making buttons,” she said, moving her fingers as if they were busy making something on the edge of a bed sheet.
She then told me a story about how she and Joan were once stranded on Long Beach Island in a Nor’easter, and as Joan slept soundly, Emma sat next to her wide awake the whole night clutching on to Joan’s son.
“This is tough love,” Joan said to me. “If you’re really afraid in the middle of the night, you’re welcome here. But you should try it at home first.”
We left their house — me, Bruce, and our baby, Eddie — and walked out into the rain and blustering wind to make our way down the block back to our house. The “Stop” sign at the end of our street was rippling in the wind making it shimmer, like the street signs on The Weather Channel when they’re reporting from a tropical storm in Cape Hatteras.
We’d prepared as best we could, bringing in everything that could become airborne into the house, and the things we couldn’t or were too tired to lift, we tied down. I covered a few pieces of lattice fencing with about 50 bricks that we had lying in the backyard. But how do you hold down trees so that they don’t lift up into the air? Or keep your gutters from flying off? How do you keep your neighbor’s kayaks from blowing off his house and into yours, like spears?
I could hear the driving rain pelting against the roof and the fiberglass deck upstairs. On the news, they showed North Carolina, where the hurricane hit earlier today, and the reporters said residents there felt lucky because they thought the hurricane would have been worse.
“We were spared,” one man said.
But as he spoke, the cameras showed photos of streets underwater, and part of a metal sign ripped off its signpost. Joan said she was once in a hurricane on Block Island, and she was with a priest, who told her and her friend to take off their clothes and lie on a roof because the streets were flooding below them.
“No. It was to help us,” Joan said. “There was a man wearing a heavy slicker, and the priest told him to throw off his clothes, and he didn’t, and the wind caught his jacket and threw him into the water, and he floated out to sea.”
When we got home, I told Bruce I didn’t want to sleep upstairs in our bedroom as it was too high off the ground, and I feared the wind would whip through there and keep me up all night. Better to sleep downstairs in the living room, on the futon couch. We put the baby to sleep in a playpen we have set up downstairs, and we opened up the couch. But after about five minutes, the baby woke up and started to cry. I brought him into our bed and tried to put a pacifier in his mouth and hold him. At first it worked, but something about the angle of his head or the depth of his unhappiness made him begin to wail, and no position was satisfactory. Bruce brought the baby upstairs and put him in his bed in the nursery. He then went to sleep in our bedroom, which was next door, while I remained on the futon downstairs. I kept the air conditioner on – it was stuffy with all the windows closed – so I wouldn’t have to hear the sound of the howling wind. And before I knew it, I fell asleep and remained sleeping until morning when I was awakened by Bruce plunking Eddie down on the bed beside me so that I could nurse him.
“It’s cold in here,” Bruce said, shutting off the air conditioner.
I listened to the wind outside, and it had died down a lot. The rain had stopped. We thought we were in the eye of the storm, so I hurriedly fed Eddie and we jumped into the car and headed to the beach to see the surf. High tide was at 8 a.m., and it was about 8.30 a.m. We also wanted to assess the damage and make sure my father’s memorial bench was still on the boardwalk. My family bought a plaque for my father about a year ago that was fastened to a bench on the boardwalk. I feared if the boardwalk had gone out to sea, my father’s bench would have gone with it.
By the time we got to the boardwalk, there were already more than a dozen people there staring out at the ocean. It was majestic. The hurricane may have spared our little town, but it was wreaking havoc on the sea. The waves were huge, maybe 10 or 15 feet high, and the water was frothy like soap suds. The jetties were completely obscured until the water would recede in between waves, revealing black rocks underneath. There wasn’t much flooding, as had been predicted, and the boardwalk and fishing pier were still standing – though some said the structural integrity of the pier may be compromised. The boardwalk, itself, was sandy and covered with sea foam in spots, an indication that the water had indeed come up that far.
The most extensive damage I suffered was to my ego, which was bruised because of my whimpering the night before. There’s a beer commercial out right now in which a man is mocked because of his choice of beer and his display of cowardice earlier that day. In one version of the ad, there’s a guy riding a roller coaster with friends who are laughing with delight while he’s crying like a baby and screaming to get off the ride. In another, a man is sobbing at the airport because his girlfriend is leaving town. That’s how I felt today looking back on my shameless whimpering at our neighbors’ house, like an animal cowering in the corner.
As we walked down the boardwalk I noticed a cement planter and a line of concrete benches that usually face the ocean were scattered. It was easy to see why it happened. Most of the benches that run along the boardwalk have dunes protecting them from the ocean. But in a couple of spots, the dunes are missing and one can see clear through to the ocean. The winds and the tide must have come whipping through those spots last night, pushing the benches to and fro’ like an air hockey puck. But in the cluster of scattered benches and debris was one bench left untouched: the one dedicated to my father.