Thursday, November 7, 2013

Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Last Saturday night, I held my first "dinner party" since Wingman died.  I only invited a few relatives, friends and neighbors.  The majority of my guest list was contractors, carpenters, painters and plumbers.  Any and all of the people that helped put my house back together after Sandy.  It was exactly one year ago that we started deconstructing the house, so it only seemed fitting that Saturday should be the day to celebrate the end.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to write about my storm experience.  I read online that people are getting tired of reliving Sandy; that they would prefer to put it all behind them. Honestly, so would I.  My friend and fellow blogger Amy sent me a link to a NY Times article about the stress of being widowed that had me counting up my score on the Holmes Rahe Life Stress Inventory guide. With a 500+ score BEFORE the storm, it said I was a great candidate for a breakdown. Really? Ya think??? Getting that reverse 911 call the day before Sandy about the mandatory evacuation ("Think how your family will feel if they have to come and identify your body") shot my score up higher. So when I left home for the night, I had already prepped, stored, raised, hoped...and freaked. I left a Yankee hat on Wingman's cremains and told him to take care of the house.  FYI-He did a shitty job.

Flash ahead...everyone knows what he or she was doing from Sunday night through Tuesday morning. My story was no different than yours. I was with good friends, got storm updates from my brother while he could get through the rising storm waters, had heat and power until dinnertime Monday, and an optimistic outlook towards going home on Tuesday.
The tree on the house was the first sign that this was going to be a terrible, awful, very bad day. Google Earth showed it resting on the second floor roof solar panels on the bottom left of the picture.  The only thing that kept it from crashing through the roof was the rotting deck off the back of the house. That tree was the bane of Wingman's existence, so I hoped he had something to do with it coming down without destroying everything.  Besides the tree though, he did a lousy job with the house.  Mud was everywhere. There was water in the dresser drawers in my son's bedroom, in my bread maker in the garage, in the dryer which was in the laundry room built to pass 100 year storm standards.  A refrigerator had actually floated in the garage and blocked the door.

Brothers 2 & 3 brought some of their landscaping workers over to carry everything to the curb.  A brand new leather sofa set. Hundreds of Wingman's albums slated to be sold to a local record store the following week.  Appliances, bedding, books, electronics.  It was overwhelming to look at the belongings that were nothing but trash now.  Brother #2 made a call to his friend with a tree service who removed the tree in days rather than weeks.

Insurance adjusters, FEMA, town officials, National Guard, Red Cross, family, friends and gawkers came to the neighborhood.
 Wingman had always taken care of our insurance, so it came as a complete shock to find out that I had no coverage for contents. I spent many afternoons with an ever-burgeoning file of forms at the FEMA office after getting turned down for the low-interest loan they offered.  One afternoon, I watched a neighbor almost get arrested for screaming at a worker in frustration. There was never a reporter at those locations to document the stories-just tired FEMA employees-many of whom were victims of past storms like Katrina themselves. I contacted four contractors and eventually chose the one that negotiated for me with my flood insurance company to get the money I needed to rebuild. 

I used local people to do the work, like a friend of my dad's from the Elk's who did the HVAC. He brought in a plumber who happened to be there during one of my very few meltdowns. His remedy for my stress was to buy me a pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich and have me sit with his guys for an impromptu breakfast.  Brother #1 wired the electric, a friend of my son did most of the painting with my cousin painting a room as her gift. Individual facets that formed one gem of an experience.

I remember the night that my new washer and dryer were delivered.  It was dark and the streetlights still weren't lit.  None of my neighbors were living in their homes so it was virtually black all around me.  I looked up at a beautiful starry sky-more stars than I had ever been aware of, and it made me feel that everything would be alright...eventually.

Six months to the day that Sandy happened, I moved home.  Is everything perfect now?  No.  But then again, it was far from perfect before.  I just refer to this as my new normal.  The family room has a gas fireplace with a remote control instead of a wood-burning stove that I never used.  There's a new bedroom set and remodeled bathroom for my son that are both a hell of a lot nicer than mine. A garage still loaded with stuff. A yard with every bush dying. A year ago, I was faced with a situation that was gut-wrenchingly painful, and left me feeling isolated, scared and depressed. But it wasn't hopeless-just hard.  And so we celebrated on Saturday with good food and plenty of drinks.Everyone from my 90 year old aunt who sent me money to a heavily pierced and tattooed young woman who hauled out refrigerators and furniture. So Sandy-away with you.  This is the last time your name will be mentioned by me.

Except when I'm talking about that little girl I left in Korea.  The one that was born a week before her namesake storm had the audacity to turn my life and those of thousands of others upside down. The one that I put off visiting until the new normal set in right around her first birthday.

You'll be hearing about her in the future, as well as her cousins and siblings.  That's as certain as the changing tides. A tide, hopefully never as high as the one last year.

1 comment:

  1. Barbara--You inspire me with your grace under pressure. I offer my deepest sympathies for all the loss and stress you have recently undergone. As a sister widow, I know how stressful, terrifying and lonely the loss of your Wingman must feel. Keep your chin up lady!

    The Lady Kay @


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