Sandy,we hardly knew ye, but we'll never forget you
Get these kids outta this house!!! Echoing from a distant corner of our darkened home, the panicked wail of my wife pierced the relative tranquility of what had otherwise been a relaxing few days lounging around the house watching telegenic reporters in foul weather gear crouch from the elements and drone on about the potentially devastating confluences of wind, tide, and storm surges.
Yeah, yeah play on playa. Last year the hysteria surrounding Irene yielded slightly more impact than your average afternoon thundershower. As my far more pragmatic wife scrambled to brace for the worst, I foolishly dismissed her as an alarmist. But that blood curdling scream immediately indicated that my cavalier approach to all things Sandy had severely backfired.
One glance out the front window revealed a bafflingly surreal scene, seemingly conjured from the imagination of Hollywoods CGI wizards. Like a cinematic villain, the water mindlessly climbed, encroaching on our world, claiming possessions, and extinguishing memories. Within minutes, our entire basement and first floor resembled the last 15 minutes of Titanic.
Heeding the wifes directive, I grabbed my 2-year-old daughter Skylar, opened the front door, and manufactured a sense of wonder and delight at the aquatic wonderland that our street had become. Despite my debilitating back injury that would require surgery a month later, she received the wettest, most adrenaline-fueled piggy back ride of her young life, as I tread through the rising tide to our neighbors (higher) home. Never one to miss out on a cool adventure with Dad, her brother Brayden eagerly awaited his escort and squealed with glee as I delivered him to safety. After filling a waterproof sack like a frenzied Supermarket Sweep contestant, my wife Amber waded over shortly afterwards. Stunned, water logged, and grateful to be safe, we all settled into fitful naps in strange beds .unable to envision a beckoning new reality.
The next morning, peering out the window of my neighbors bedroom, I was struck by the eerie calm of the ocean. Like a lion napping after a large, violent meal, the Atlantic seemed completely unfazed by the destruction it had imposed on its seaside neighbors only hours earlier. A town described as bucolic, sleepy, and quaint in numerous media puff pieces suddenly resembled a far-off, war torn country that I had only ever glimpsed during grim news telecasts.
With our house completely demolished and totally uninhabitable, we joined the mass exodus across the Marine Parkway Bridge and settled into a relatives lovely three bedroom spread in Bay Ridge spacious for a family of four, somewhat crammed for a dozen refugees. With my back woes rendering me physically useless, my diminutive yet spirited wife was forced to tend to our mangled home. While she, her father, and brothers heroically managed operations down in Rockaway, I set about navigating the administrative labyrinth of insurance claims and FEMA registration.
Brayden gamely accepted the cancellation of his 5th birthday party at Kidsn Shape in equally devastated Howard Beach and reveled in an impromptu family gathering. Clad as a Great White Shark and a Seahorse, he and Skylar struck sugar-rush gold while Trick or Treating in Dyker Heights. After viewing a host of inadequate, overpriced rentals in Brooklyn, we were fortunate to land in the shockingly unscathed Arverne by the Sea development.
For several months The Rockaways resembled an open air construction site and witnessing the wreckage on a daily basis had a dual effect. While certainly saddened by the mass destruction in my lifelong hometown, I was simultaneously encouraged by the gradual progress.
In the wake of most any disaster, unforeseen opportunities for heroism are presented, and countless individuals and organizations emerged as tireless, selfless, advocates for restoring our way of life and aiding the people who live them. Shattering their reputation as self-absorbed twenty-somethings who steal our waves, hipsters turned out in droves and were re-branded Helpsters. DSNY, Rapid Repair, Rubicon, and The Amish descended like an army of angels and contributed mightily to the largest fall cleaning in Rockaways history. The Graybeards continued to do what they always did
help friends in need. Their list of such friends multiplied exponentially in one fateful night, yet they managed to accommodate nearly everyone. Spearheaded by the considerable talents and dedication of Editor-in-Chief Kevin Boyle, this oft-maligned publication became an invaluable resource for storm related information to its overwhelmed readership. The outpouring of support and generosity by so many was certainly humbling but not in the least bit surprising. It’s a Rockaway Thing.
ONE YEAR LATER
This meteorological event has indeed yielded very human consequences. As is often the case after ashared hardship, empathy spikes,and a sense of gentility seems to inform our personal interactions. In a close knit community such as ours, this dynamic has been plainly evident. Like many, we still have not returned to our home. Throughout these past 12 months, overwhelmed bureaucrats, shady insurance companies, and profiteering builders have all managed to elongate our process. And while indulging in self-pity is indeed tempting, I am quick to remind myself that a rogue wave did not tumble down the block and make a left turn at our house. On various levels, Hurricane Sandy touched us all, but not nearly as profoundly as we continue to touch one another…
John Ronayne, father of two, is a lifelong Rockaway resident.