A crazy experiment

0In Miami, it's all neon lights and scooters, waking me up with her electric blue flashes and small engines. The clouds move in at midday, every day, just in time for a lunch I'm too stuffed to eat. The Art Deco district feels reminiscent of someplace I've never been, like maybe Cuba; at the beach, our sunblock doesn't work and seemingly everyone smokes. On the horizon of the ocean are massive, iron-and-slate fortresses that move slowly from left to right and right to left; languid sailboats with white sails that run too close to the shore for my liking. Oh, and the cruise ships; always the cruise ships, docked and departing and embarking and moving. It's not the beach view I am used to. Here, I can't imagine what's across the water the way I can at home. There, I picture Ireland, geographically impossible Ireland, a holdover from when I was bad with maps.

(I am still bad at maps.)

0-1We took a tiny commuter plane home, flying over the barrier islands where I unsuccessfully looked for surfers. I had just finished reading a Hurricane Sandy article in the New Yorker, during which I cried, and I wondered which islands below us would be next, which blocks of Miami would eventually be underwater, how will we all deal with those inevitabilities.

Here's a crazy experiment, though: go on vacation and turn off your phone. Try to retrain your brain so that when there's a moment of silence at lunch, or you're waiting in line for your iced coffee, instead of reaching into your pocket to see if anyone new has tweeted at you, just look around. Just see things you didn't think to notice before. Just be.

In between

After dipping into canned hurricane provisions for lunch today I realized it was time to go to the grocery store. And not the bodegas across the street, which, while lovely and have served me many a pint of ice cream in times of need, only offer so much (and little to no fruits or veggies). The neighborhood is weird today, three days after the storm, like I'm looking at it through a wobbly plastic filter that's making everything seem slightly off-color. The grocery store was crowded but poorly stocked, missing things I didn't expect -- cheeses and black beans and eggs. I am not complaining; just observing. An old 90's Gin Blossoms song was playing and I started to tweet "Grocery stores always play Gin Blossoms. #notcomplaining" but I stopped myself, feeling too frivolous.

Yesterday was the first day I really left my apartment, going for a long walk along the East River and up through Brooklyn Heights, bolstered by the rescue mission of my sister out of Hoboken, a town still in desperate need of help and evacuations. I felt positive yesterday, now that she was safe, like we were through the worst and things were back on the "normal" meter.

Today is different. It's November 1st and my concerns have shifted. I am worried about the fact that "normal" is gone, replaced by something new. I'm anxious about the election; that many people who would have voted can no longer, or that it will no longer be a priority. I'm worried, selfishly, about how I'm going to get to work once power is back on. And I'm thinking about my hometown of Long Beach Island, and the city I lived in for a decade, Hoboken, and the city I live in now, New York. And how all of them will be different now. And how change is hard.

Everyone's talking about rebuilding better than ever and how we'll get through it and sure, all of that is true, no doubt. But just once I'd like us to be allowed to mourn for a while, to at least acknowledge the sheer weight of what is now different, before we have to "be strong." I don't know the state of my family's house on Long Beach Island -- the home in which I grew up; the home my ancestors built in 1921. I've only been able to see its rooftop, taken from an aerial photo. At least it is still standing, I told myself. At least there is still a roof to be seen.

And they are just houses, a part of me knows. But most of me knows they are more than that. That house is love and history and family. That house is a front porch and an outside shower and the attic stairs where my boyfriend fell down and fractured his foot just last month. That house is gin & tonics and friendly ghosts and a secret closet I've never even seen inside. That house is news of my baby brother's arrival and a recurring nightmare I had as a kid and Cabbage Patch Dolls under a Christmas tree.

We are all safe and lucky, always, just by sheer nature of being born Americans, where we have things like FEMA and insurance and a general, collective agreement that destruction like this cannot stand. I know all this, and you do too, but still, we're caught in between normalcy and non-normalcy, and I've always been bad with in-betweens.





There are risks no matter where you live, and this week I'm thinking about my island hometown, which is currently underwater. Living on the sea is always a gamble. Today, on LBI, the bay has met the ocean. It's not the first time and it won't be the last, but it always breaks off something inside me. When I was in middle school a(nother) big storm hit my town. My family lived on the lagoon for a few years, in a rental on a quiet street way at the edge of town, where you could see the Atlantic City casino skyline on clear days. We watched the water breach the lagoons, creeping up our backyard. We were so busy watching the back I think we forgot to watch the front, where the water surprised us, dribbling under the storm door, turning into a river.

About six or so inches came in that day. I remember leaving for higher ground -- our neighbor, just a few houses down, wasn't flooded, so we hung with her, eating weird canned soup with a metallic aftertaste and trying to keep ourselves occupied. We lost photos, but nothing else irreplacable.

A few years later, the island flooded again and lost power. I was at my summer job at Fantasy Island. We all got to leave and I joined the gang of 14-year-olds tramping through thigh-high water to the 7-11 where we could get Slurpees, because priorities. That day felt wild and free; it felt like being 14.

Now my grandmother has left our island home; my parents on the mainland have been evacuated, and people are tweeting pictures of my beloved hometown streets -- the mini golf courses, the closed seasonal shops, the restaurants and dunes, covered in a mix of ocean and bay, waves overlapping.

So, yes, the sea is always a risk, but is it wrong that I find it a preferable one to anything else? I can't imagine a tornado; I don't want a basement to hide in; the fault lines in California make me nervous every time I'm there and it's too quiet. No, I'll take a sea any time. The water always recedes.