By. Shosanna McCollum
Random Thoughts: I worry. Worry about the FEMA people. Was the 1- 800 number I was given legit, or was it a bunch of scam artists who drained my bank account? Of course they were the real FEMA people. A stack of papers arrived from them the following week. I am defensive. Some people’s concern is genuine and good, but for others it is a device used to exploit and our drain energy. The fine line between helpful to invasive can be crossed all too easily. I have my doubts. Radio commercials will carry on about so-called fund-raising concerts to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Exactly how do these musical people intend to aid us? What support will reach Fire Islanders in a way that is tangible?
Wed. Nov. 7 – A nor’easter is predicted to come in. While there is talk of another evacuation taking place this is not true. The police know who is here and some of us have been asked if we are staying, advised there will be no boats for a couple of days should we decide to leave, but no one to my knowledge has been ordered to do so. By late afternoon it starts rolling in, a snowy, sleety wet mix. “Merry Christmas,” Joe Loeffler says as he passes me dressed in his foul weather gear. Water starts accumulating in front of the fire hall, but a core group of folks have mobilized in case it gets bad again, a well organized machine. Cliques and infighting has plagued the OBFD for the past couple of years, but in the aftermath of this storm it appears petty differences have finally been cast aside. As the storm comes one of our kittens is unaccounted for. His littermate disappears into the night in attempt to find him.
Thurs. Nov. 8 – We are relieved to find that kitten Goodie has found his brother Sapho by the next morning. The two brothers are safe sleeping side by side in a drawer lined with sweaters. However it appears last night’s nor’easter has flooded our house again. John and I are not all that bothered. The damage has already been done; it’s just a few steps backwards.
Fri. Nov. 9 – There is a bit of a cold snap and I am wearing three layers of sweaters. The smell of spoiled food is starting to permeate the air. With no refrigeration it can’t be helped. Dana Wallace comes to our house to ask John to help him catch an injured cat that has appeared on his back deck. “You were hit pretty bad?” he asks as I stand at the doorway with several waterlogged books in my hand. The cat is apprehended with a fishing-net and building contractor Pat Curran has agreed to take the animal off to the vet. Sadly the cat’s injuries were too extensive and it was euthanized upon arrival.
Sat. Nov. 10 – John has been given use of one of the municipal placards that day and can at last make a grocery store trip off-island. I am not allowed to go with him. I hardly know what to place on the list we prepare it has been so long. However I do request a package of panties for I have been washing the three pair I salvaged by hand repeatedly over two weeks and they are starting to get holes. I also requested some sanitary products because such supplies were lost to the flood some time ago. After so many years of marriage John struggled with these two these tasks. He has also bought impulse items that were not on the grocery list including raw meat which is impossible to keep right now, and chocolate… even I the great lover of chocolate will be the first to admit there is just too much of it on this island right now. So we begin to argue in the middle of the street. “These are the biggest maxi-pads I ever saw in my life! What’s the matter with you?” I shouted. “You sent to Target’s lingerie department,” John growled back. “Ladies were looking at me like I was some sort of pervert!” I saw his point, there are some things a wife should never ask her husband to do. But Marshall Law has left me marooned here. My options are limited.
Sun. Nov. 11 – Over the weekend we hear that attempts to electrify Kismet did not go so well. A transformer fire erupted, but was extinguished right away. The generator at the school goes out as well. The generator was designed to run for a few hours, even a couple days if necessary – but not prolonged use for weeks on end.
Mon. Nov. 12 – Veteran’s Day observed. I hang laundry out to dry on Betsy’s clothesline when a handsome man wearing a white hardhat appears in the yard strolling through the beach grass. I can’t help but smile. Folks from National Grid are starting to become present in Ocean Beach and this trend continues over the week. They ride big trucks, study maps with strange objects marked on them, and have come from all over the country: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and I hear quite a few southern drawls among them. There is a rumor that they are camping in tents at the Sunken Forrest, but that makes no sense, I can’t picture FINS allowing such a thing. We later learn that they are actually camped at Sunken Meadow State Park. It gives us hope.
Wed. Nov. 14 – I wake up with a migraine headache. It was bound to happen, as I get them often, but feared the day I would get one while dealing with this. There is no ice pack available for my head and the medicine does not make me good for much. However I improve as the day goes on. It is also the day I learn my incarceration is over. Civilians are now allowed to travel off and on Fire Island again. John suggests a shopping trip the next day: himself, Betsy and me. But I find myself reluctant to go. I have things to do at the house and the daylight hours are the only time I get to spend with the cats – are these not the reasons why I did not evacuate in the first place? But there is something else… my new look consists of dingy trousers worn days on end and a bad Christmas sweater knit from boiled wool which I’ve started to favor for working in the cold, damp house. This fashion has become acceptable on Fire Island these days, but I don’t want to be seen like this on the mainland.
Thurs, Nov. 15 – Today is our big trip. I wear a more subdued sweater paired off with a souvenir t-shirt from Holland that Betsy has loaned me decorated with a pink tulip print. John has warned us that things would look different, but I am not prepared for what I see on the beach during the ride off. Damaged houses? I am accustomed to that by now, but the majestic dues by the lighthouse are now all but flattened. I’m hit with a malaise in the big department store. So many choices, where do I start? I am listless as I walk through the isles. Why bother to get shampoo? The bottle of “Silver Sheen” left by Betsy’s mother who died last year at the age of 94 has been doing the job well enough and brightening the gray at my temples to boot. We stop a Subway for sandwiches to bring back as a treat before we head back. In the strip mall parking lot by a dark-skinned man with bulging eyes accuses me of dinging his car with the door to our SUV. A chubby young woman with bleach-blonde hair sits in the passenger seat and nods and head affirmatively that indeed I did this. The routine is convincing, except this pair pulled the same scam on us in few months ago at this very same strip mall parking lot. The man must have recognized us too, because suddenly he is no longer demanding money, just an apology “to show a little respect.” This has been a hideous trip. It is dark as we head back to Fire Island. The route back home is tricky because all the landmarks we once used a guides are now gone. The terrain has been transformed into something unrecognizable and ugly.
Fri. Nov. 16 – This is a day for celebration. National Grid turns the power back on at Betsy’s. This is a miracle because National Grid has been in possession of four different lists with year-round residences, and her name was nowhere to be seen on any of them. Our address and several other people we know where also not present on these lists, which makes one wonder about the compilers.John however made a point of speaking to the National Grid folks out in the field, they got to know us and made sure we did not fall through the cracks. Betsy is elated and begins talking of a big Thanksgiving dinner. But John and I have trouble getting in the spirit of things, for there is still a long road ahead before we can go home again.