A Staten Island resident relives her ordeal—and what it taught her about faith, love & gratitude.
Batteries line the kitchen counter next to several flashlights. Behind them, a series of candles, some placed in holders, others bare on the granite. My husband, Jim, places matchbooks in my hand in an act of love, instructing me to use them sparingly over the next 24 hours that he'll be gone, then kisses my forehead and makes his way out the front door.
I look at the arsenal of supplies scattered about the room, then peer out the window, the October sky relatively calm minus a couple of gray clouds passing above. I watch as my husband drives away to a firehouse that isn't the one he normally works in, but to another that he's going to utilize with other rescue crew trained for extreme situations. A severe storm is on its way, but none of us have any idea what Hurricane Sandy has in store for us.
After the taillights of his old pick-up truck disappear into the world, my heart starts to palpitate. With eyelids clenched, I force myself to concentrate on inhaling and exhaling steadily, a breathing technique acquired from my shrink. My husband is a first responder to our community, and I have to be the first responder in our home, to our daughter.
When composed, I turn to my one-year-old daughter and rearrange the Cheerios on her tray. She looks up, her doe eyes unblinking, and says, "Tank you, Mommy." She's pretty sophisticated for a toddler, and I'm very lucky. But I've always been a skeptic with luck: it's usually short-lived, the end of it lurking right from the start.
I change the television program from Sesame Street to the news to see what our future holds. The anchorman spews information about the hurricane that's fast approaching, saying that the area of New York City in which I live, Staten Island, will be hit hard. We would later find out that Hurricane Sandy would take about 24 lives on Staten Island, accounting for more than half of NYC's death toll from the storm.
I glimpse again out of the casement, but it still reveals an average day. I jam a finger down on the remote control, shutting off the television, recalling how overly dramatic the forecast was with Hurricane Irene the year before. For some time, I've blamed the media for my anxiety.
I put sneakers and a coat on my daughter, and then myself, and head outside for a walk sans umbrella. Along the park path behind our house, we stop to pick up rocks, twigs, pinecones and hollow acorn shells, stuffing our pockets with nature's treasures. During the stroll I dial Jim and joke about how "dangerous" it is outside, squawking "Auntie Emme!" into the phone as a light breeze tickles at my cheeks. He chuckles, but asks if I'm close to the house. Because of the concern in his voice, I vow to go straight home and lock the door.
Jim is a rescue fireman; his special skills and training qualify him to respond to extreme situations. In 2009, he was involved in the relief effort for the US Airways flight 1549 crash into the Hudson River, in a fireboat wearing a scuba diving suit along with other trained FDNY personnel and the NYPD ESU unit, assuring passengers reached safety. The truth is, I'm as worried about him as I am for my daughter and myself. But knowing he's saving others reassures me. Somewhat.
Back home on Staten Island, the day's activities continue as usual. Rain begins to clank against the sills of the windows. I turn the news on once more to see what soap opera is unfolding in the world, when images of big waves crashing onto the shores of New Jersey flash across the screen; it appears as if Atlantic City is being washed away.
To distract my jittered nerves, I bounce my daughter on my lap as I continue to watch. The meteorologist says that the worst is yet to come at around nine o’clock in the evening, when the full moon's gravitational pull will have an overwhelming affect on an already high tide. He's talking science, a language I understand from my days as an elementary school teacher. That's when my stomach starts to flip. Keep reading...
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