OCEAN GROVE, N.J.
Although Superstorm Sandy has faded from national headlines, we New Jersey residents are still feeling the aftereffects, in even the most subtle ways.
My family was lucky. So very lucky. Even though we live a block from the beach in Ocean Grove, damage to our 125-year-old house was minimal. We lost our boiler, hot water heater and assorted power tools as waist-high ocean water filled our basement. People a few miles to our north lost cars, houses and livelihoods. At least 125 people in the region lost their lives.
Three months later, favorite cafes and restaurants in our neighborhood remain boarded up; others are gone completely. Familiar trees have vanished and others are reduced to stumps while broken bridges force us to detour down unfamiliar roads.
The boardwalk that so characterizes our community, where we train for races, stroll at dusk and watch the sun rise over the mighty Atlantic, is a mangled mess. Hammers bang and power saws buzz as workers replace one chunk at a time. There is no definitive word on when it will be done, and merchants dependent on summer visitors grow edgier as the busy season grows near.
The waters may have receded, yet Sandy still seeps through the cracks in our lives. A billboard advertises legal services for those seeking to challenge insurance companies. An appliance store offers "Sandy Specials," and itinerant contractors with "fix-up" deals drop hand-lettered leaflets in our mailboxes. Countless organizations hold fund-raisers for those affected, as well.
The famed Stone Pony nightclub in Asbury Park is sponsoring "Fifty Licks for Relief," a Rolling Stones tribute for Sandy benefit. Area hypnotists offered special services one day last week and donated their fees to the cause. A girl on my daughter's swim team is selling T-shirts she designed to benefit the decimated town of Sea Bright, where she is a lifeguard.
Bump into someone you haven't seen in a while and conversation immediately turns to Sandy. Everyone has a story. Those with intact houses lament the precious family photos destroyed as storage boxes bobbed in flooded basements. Many express frustration, even outrage with FEMA and other agencies. A teenager confides that family life has become unbearable. Cracking under the immense strain of living with aging grandparents who moved in after their own home was condemned, her parents bicker constantly.
Everyone has a story.
Our story actually started in Pittsburgh, where we were visiting our firstborn daughter at Pitt for a family weekend. We also had tickets for Bruce Springsteen's show at the Consol Energy Center on that Saturday. Pushing thoughts of the impending storm from my head, we had the time of our life at this joyous show, which even included backstage access (but that's another story!).
I suspected this would be the most fun we'd have in a long time. I was right.
We'd planned to stay for a Steelers brunch at my niece's home on Sunday, but with the forecast looking dire, we hopped on the turnpike in the morning -- us and a convoy of hundreds of utility vehicles from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, all zooming east in a steady downpour.
After boarding up the stained-glass windows on our Victorian home, placing orange sand bags against basement windows and stocking up on groceries, we pondered: Comply with orders to evacuate or ride out the storm? If we stayed, we were on our own. First responders were not obligated to bail us out.
How bad could it be? Every other storm in the 20-plus years we've lived here had been exaggerated. And even if it did turn out to be bad, my husband reasoned that he'd rather be home, moving furniture away from the water. Or, in a more severe scenario, protecting his castle from looters. Despite my reluctance, he, our 17-year-old daughter and I stayed.
With no phone, no lights and not a single other family on our block, we witnessed the ocean breach the dunes, cross the boardwalk and cascade down our street. Little by little, the water gained momentum, becoming a horizontal Niagara Falls flowing past our porch. I gauged the water's depth based upon a car parked on our street. First it was up to the tires, then midway up the door, then water covered the hood.
Only after our basement started to fill did panic take hold. With water coming at us from two places, I feared we'd be trapped, with no way to flee other than leaping into the rapids or clinging to the roof like Katrina survivors in New Orleans. I was furious at my husband for suggesting we stay and even angrier at myself for agreeing to it.
By morning, the wind died down and the waters receded, revealing a tangle of sea grass, heaps of boardwalk the size of a mini van, knee-high sand drifts and dead fish caught curbside.
Welcome to the new world order.
The next two weeks were a blur of carrying sodden belongings from the basement to the curb, waiting in line with a red gas can and cooking in a chilly kitchen by candlelight. The soundtrack to our post-Sandy existence was the lawn-mower-like drill of a generator and the hum of multiple sump pumps bailing out the neighborhood. We were without power for 12 days, without heat for more than two weeks.
While Sandy continues to haunt us, we've come a long way since those initial shaky days. As the omnipresent bumper stickers proclaim, we are indeed "Jersey Strong."
In a song called "Sandy" that he just debuted, singer/songwriter Steve Forbert addresses the disaster:
"We ain't never gonna see another hurricane named Sandy," the gravel-voiced Forbert belts out in the chorus. "Because there's never gonna be another hurricane named Sandy."
We can only hope.
Janet Mazur is a Braddock native who graduated from Penn State and teaches writing at The College of New Jersey (firstname.lastname@example.org). She blogs at iamnotwiththeband.wordpress.com.