Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cynthia Ramnarace
On Saturday, I asked the cashier at a Rockaway gift shop if she could wrap my purchase. I used to have a huge container of gift wrap supplies but now, I don’t. She gave me that knowing look and we commiserated about how frustrating, and sometimes sad, it is when you think you have something but then remember -- No, Sandy took that too.
While driving home I saw two newly demolished homes, the bulldozers still parked on the sidewalk. Six months later and there are people who are just starting to move forward.
Everywhere cars and homes are covered with fine layers of sand. With no boardwalk to catch it, the sand now just blows down the streets and sometimes, into your eyes.
Friends came over Friday night and the majority of the evening was spent discussing home renovations, contractor complaints and, although I mistakenly thought there was nothing left to tell, the night of the storm and what it sounds like when floating cars smash into the side of your house.
If you leave the Sandy zone, Sandy is history. But six months later here in Rockaway, Sandy is alive.
We are waiting to hear back on our second appeal to the flood insurance company, which we believe low-balled our settlement by at least 25 percent. We’re waiting to finalize a Small Business Administration loan that will help us cover the difference between what we’ve spent and what we still owe our contractor and still need to purchase. Every morning the kids ask me, “Will the workers be here today?” and I say I have no idea. Trying to get my contractor to come and finish the bathroom, the lighting and other items on the punch list is an exercise in nagging, persistence and unanswered texts.
But things are better. The kids are back on the t-ball fields. My daughter’s dance recital is just weeks away. Vegetables are planted in the community garden and the boardwalk concessions are being rebuilt. The thought of frozen sangria on the beach or fresh tomatoes from the garden conjure up a feeling that’s been lacking over the last six months: unfiltered joy.
It’s a feeling I have when we sit on the couch and watch grown-up TV after the kids go to bed. I can make oatmeal and omelets in the morning and Annie’s Bunny Pasta for lunch (Does my son need any other food? In his mind, no). Not once since we got our kitchen back did I have to crawl on my knees and dig around for food in the refrigerator. We’ve rebuilt and we’ve made it better than it was before.
But as I wipe down those long-wished-for quartz countertops, that joy is measured. Yes, I have the kitchen I’ve always wanted and angels sing in my head now that I can sweep up the kids’ spilled cereal instead of pulling out the vacuum. But don’t tell me I’m better off now. Given the choice between this reality and the one I so happily lived before, I’d go back. Give me back my dishwasher that sounded like it was fueled by a marching band and the carpet that started beige and thanks to various spills turned “leopard print.” I’d give it all back for not having to walk through the gauntlet that was the last six months. It was hard and I did not like it. Not one bit.
I feel older, which can be positive. I feel more mature and capable of handling life’s dips and dives. But in other ways I just feel old. I can see Sandy on my face — the dark circles under my eyes, the deeper wrinkles, the worry lines. I can feel her in my back when I roll over at night or scoop to pick up something off the ground. I sense her in my soul when I choose to stay in instead of go out, or roll away from my husband instead of towards him. Sandy took something from me, something I’m not sure I can ever replace.
Someday, however, this experience will move from reality to memory. The sun warm on my arms, the sea-scented air gently swirling around my neck, kids building sandcastles and digging giant sand pits will all help bring me there. Being done with insurance and contractors will as well. But six months later, those of us who were so deeply impacted are still living Sandy.
Cynthia Ramnarace is a freelance writer and editor in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. Read more about her Sandy story here.