The power left our house in a dramatic exit the night Hurricane Sandy hit. My son and I sat playing Monopoly. I had just escaped his torrid corner of Park Place/Boardwalk (not realizing that while we played, actual Atlantic City streets were filling with ocean water), when an explosion cracked outside with such intensity that my son hid under the table. Outside, through our wall of sliding glass windows, we watched the night light up in a blue glow; transformers exploded one after the other from one back yard to the next, and the lights went dark.
Once we took stock the next morning, we could see we were one lucky ones. A tree fell through our neighbor’s house. Another tree took out a gaggle of wires, poles and two fences in the yard adjacent to mine. Then there are the countless people who lost their homes and belongings. The devastation at the Jersey Shore. Long Island. Really, I know we were lucky.
With that said, our story can only be told as a positive one. No one was hurt and at most, I lost a couple of bags of frozen ravioli. We burned through firewood like crazy. I also learned quite a bit about my electric panel—and that low, and behold—that electricity doesn’t come from the wall! It runs on gas, ya’ll.
And because half of our street lost power while the other half remained lit, we ran an extension cord to a willing neighbor. Soon enough, orange cords ran across the pavement from one house to the next. Now we had limited electricity. A charged iPhone here and a charged computer there gave the kids some normalcy and an escape from the gloom of the day. Also it gave them a reprieve from me.
Mostly I kept my head in a positive place. I was fine—really, God dammit all we did was lose power temporarily—but by mid-week my “fine” turned into “What the fuck?!” So the kids learned a new word through all of this. If that’s the worst of it, watching your 3-year-old holler, “Why doesn’t this fucking dress fit Snow White?” then you’re not so bad off.
Our half existence of power also left us with a false sense of security. A neighbor’s house got broken into, as many houses did throughout the town. Jewelry was stolen and, disgustingly, the robber left a calling card in their toilet. We hid our computers, jewelry box (I don’t have much, but I didn’t want anyone rifling through it) and any other electronics that could be swiped. Cops drove by flashing search lights through our front windows as we squinted under blankets.
Offers poured in throughout the week: texts from acquaintances who said we could plug in. To please stop by for dinner. A bag of candles and lanterns were delivered from a neighbor down the block. There were offers to wash dirty clothes. Another friend invited us to a “power out” party. People I hadn’t heard from in weeks and months checked in. It sounds hokey now, but the kindness of my friends were a lightness, lifting me out of a cold, crummy funk I couldn’t escape. When I did eventually plug in, and scrolled through decrepit photos of the Jersey Shore—I found it was almost better to remain in the dark.
Once the cold set in on day five, we spent the weekend at a friend’s house. They were lovely. They warmed us with wine and hot food. But more, they warmed us with company. We talked politics. We sang songs from Annie. We drank a lot. My husband went back to work on Monday, suffering through a three-hour commute into New York City. (Typically it takes us 30 minutes door-to-door.)
The pinnacle of sharing is caring arrived when at the beginning of week two, a friend lent us his generator, 10 gallons of gas and 100 foot extension cords. Soon enough we were slaves to the generator. My world turned into long gas lines and five-gallon red containers. As the generator churned with all of its noisy, cranking power, I prayed that it wouldn’t poison us with carbon monoxide, or burn our fingers off. Oh, and, if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you’re having a panic attack (as I did) because your generator ran out of fuel in the middle of a blizzard (Hello nor’easter) then you should probably try to vomit away from the machine.
In the end, we were out of power for about 12 days although it still isn’t consistent. When it came back on, my daughter and I rejoiced—I swung her in a circle in our driveway and then carried her through the house singing Kanye West. All of the lights in here baby, extra bright I want you all to see this. I flicked on all the lights as I cried, knowing how many people were still in the dark. And then my daughter said: “It’s too bright, Mama. It makes my eyes hurt.”
For ways to donate or volunteer to Sandy relief effort:
Connecting families and businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy with volunteers who can help.
Make essentials donation for baby, pet or household items. You decide the amount to give and they donate the items to people who need them.
For school districts, companies and organizations that wish to donate equipment and supplies to schools severely affected by the storm. Schools in need of help should also call. 1-888-88NJSBA, Ext. 5209,
After the Storm: Sandy Recovery Info (Facebook Group)
New Jersey Needs (Facebook Group)