There is a kind of poetry in living without power. All the blankets in the house on one bed. Invigorating cold showers. A fire crackling in the grate all day. Tea lights in mason jars stationed all over the house. No Internet. No television. The company of good friends who play some cut-throat games of UNO and extend hospitality to those who need shelter. Communal meals. Guitars instead of radio.
There is no poetry whatsoever in being in a neighborhood that’s been flooded by seawater. The streets in my neighborhood are littered with debris. The stuff from the ocean is slimy but not so bad. The garbage from the trash cans that weren’t tied down and taped shut is pretty gross. The National Guard is standing sentinel at all the entrances to our neighborhood. Residents wander around, looking a little lost, cadging cigarettes and stepping over piles of detritus.
I suppose there was a wild beauty to the storm itself. One neighbor, describing the high tide that she watched swirl into her basement, told us that the water “was so happy.” She said that the water came in so fast that cars were moved. I don’t have any photos for you this year. We evacuated to the home of some generous friends and stayed there for days.
This is the second time in as many years that we’ve been flooded by a storm surge that coincided with a full moon. We were lucky – the flood stayed in the basement.
I’ve seen some people online criticize us and the people who live in our neighborhood for living near the shore. But the house we’re in is the home we’ve inherited. Until last year, it never flooded. This is the second 30-year storm in two years, who knows what will happen next year. So maybe we will move. Or maybe we will move the boiler and the fuse box up to the first floor and prepare to weather the climate change for as long as we can.
Yesterday, the claims adjuster from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (we’ll just call it FEMA) came to the house. He was very nice, and like many of the people who’ve come through my neighborhood in the past few weeks (American Red Cross volunteers, distributors of FEMA information) he hailed from a faraway state.
He walked around our house, surveyed the damage and made notes on a tablet. The visit was strange for a lot of reasons. For one thing, our house is still a mess, but really, everything is back to normal. All the major appliances have already been replaced. All the garbage is gone. The house no longer smells like low tide. It’s stopped being a clean-up and started to be more of a renovation.
When the adjuster came by, I was sitting at the kitchen table, copy-editing and drinking tea.
After his tour of the premises, the adjuster stood in the kitchen and ran through his list of prescribed questions. The last one was this: “Do you feel you will have to relocate while your repairs are made?”
It was strange to be asked that, as I stood in my kitchen with my tea still steaming on the table and my dog sitting at my feet, when so many people are so much worse off than we are. My husband’s family is from Texas. They’re all okay, but they’ve sent us photos of the fires. Thousands of homes have been incinerated. And then there’s Vermont, where whole towns became rivers during Irene. And there are the people near us, whose homes washed into the Sound.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for any help we can get. The saltwater destroyed all the major appliances and most of the belongings we kept downstairs. Still, what we experienced was a hardship, not a disaster. I can’t imagine coming back to our home to find that everything – even the vehicles – has been destroyed. Or coming back to find that my first floor is coated in a chocolate fondant-like layer of river mud, or of discovering that the back half of my home has been sunk out at sea.
We’re lucky. We still have our home and each other and the furry critters. We still have a house for the FEMA adjuster to inspect.