Photo Credit: Dr. Seuss
I walked through the hallway of my dearest friend’s home yesterday and stopped to look at the pictures on the wall. Big chubby baby faces fill 4-by-6 frames. Family portraits, 30 years old now, show life the way it used to be, with dad in big-framed glasses and mom in a polyester-looking fitted suit. The invitation to Tracy’s baby shower is framed and preserved. Or maybe it was her wedding shower? I can’t remember now. I was trying too hard to fight my own grief. A week ago I found the invitation to my daughter’s baptism, which I had preserved in a a scrapbook, disintegrated, faded, soaked and gone forever.
Our lives are completely upended, but for most of New York City, nothing has changed. I’m living with three pairs of pants and maybe four or five shirts because I lack the energy to grab a flashlight and search through my closet at home for more wearable duds. I finally bought a pair of new shoes this weekend, to stop me from constantly wearing the only shoes I have left: a pair of grey Pumas. I retreat to the bedroom we’re borrowing from a gracious cousin every night by 8 because I am so physically and emotionally worn by the newness and awkwardness of my for-now normal. I make myself promise that tomorrow, I won’t snap at the kids because my patience is wearing thin on issues that have nothing to do with them. I promise myself I’ll be better, knowing my words are empty and my goals likely unreachable.
Walking through the streets of Clinton Hill, there are no piles of drywall and carpet at the curb. Neighbors chit-chat about children and new babies and best schools. No one has the shell-shocked look of a guest at a wake. At the local coffee shop, 8-by-11 sheets of paper encourage people to donate to Hurricane Sandy victims. When Tracy pre-empts me and buys my coffee, I don’t stop her. “Now you can say you bought a hot cup of coffee for a Sandy victim,” I tell her, and we both laugh.
Victim. I guess that’s what we are, technically. We’ve been victimized by a force out of our control and continue to be pummeled by the emasculation of our situation. We want power but need to wait on electricians to certify the safety of our homes, and even then LIPA might not be ready yet to turn the lights on. We need heat, which requires about $11,000 in cash for a new furnace, boiler and A/C units — cash we keep praying will come quickly from the insurance company. But how fast can it come when you can’t get your adjuster on the phone and still don’t have a date for your inspection? We want to start planning our reconstruction but we have no idea how much money our insurance will pay to help us rebuild. Thanksgiving is next week, and then Christmas, and there is no guarantee that my children will be able to decorate a Christmas tree in their own home.
We’re victims in limbo, slaves to a system we hoped to never know, trapped in a labyrinth of unanswered questions. We’ve been stripped of the mementos we love and deprived of the comforts we need. It’s the Waiting Place, the most “useless place,” in the words of Dr. Seuss. But as he writes in Oh the Places You’ll Go:
"Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!"
Oh boom bands, where are you?