I wasn’t sure what to write about today. It was another rough one, and I didn’t adopt this means of connection in order to have someone to complain to. My storm-ravaged friends and I have each other for that. And anyway, I already yelled at Steve on the phone today. Not AT him—he did nothing wrong except maybe think he could talk me out of my irrational assumption that I am being targeted by some kind of sinister jokester.
Anyway, as I sat blinking at the blinking cursor on a blank document, Lucy ventured over and tried her best to remind me what is important. “Me,” she suggested with her tentative tongue. She knew I was concentrating, so it wasn’t until I turned my face to her searching snout that she really licked in earnest. Grateful for the distraction, I let her at it. Once she saw I was game, she tried to come in even closer. She would climb inside me if she could, but her strategy, raising herself ten inches by placing her paws on the air mattress, only brought her to my un-lickable hairline. So I held her head there and scratched behind the bat-ears she extends so expressively in all directions.
Trying to end the love-session, I pulled back and saw her long profile against the blank screen. “Me,” she prompted. “Remember how I got saved?”
We had planned to evacuate. There was so much to do. Anyone remember sandbagging? Didn’t it seem so important? Didn’t you believe you were taking some serious action to protect your house or your business? We did. Someone remarked later that we might as well have used tea bags! But damn, we were so earnest about it.
We took the time to move everything to the top shelves in the basement even though we had a new French drain that was guaranteed to prevent even one drop of water from ever entering our home! Were we being over-cautious? We thought so. However, we weren’t going to evacuate unless it was mandatory. A call had come in earlier recommending evacuation. But until it was a command, we’d continue to prepare. All day we waited for that call, but it never came. Just as the wind picked up in Long Beach, we learned that a tree had fallen on my dad’s house. Loading up the car and heading there was no longer an option for us. I called our neighbors across the street whose house is far above street level. I asked if we could join them if we saw the water begin to breach the boardwalk up the block. They were thrilled! Hurricane party!
Lucy would require one final walk before it was too late. The three of us strained against the wind, to walk and to hear another of our neighbors. In Long Beach, you know everyone.
“You guys stayin’ too?”
“Yeah! We were gonna evacuate if it was mandatory, but….”
“Uh, it is mandatory.”
They had received the call at two in the afternoon! We never had. My gut somersaulted. I am not a rebel. I am a rule-follower. Now I wasn’t. I was one of those people who stubbornly stays and endangers heroes. Who ends up balancing on her chimney with her dog on her head. Who gets her trusting mutt killed after having rescued her eleven years prior.
We led Lucy home and finished preparing. Packed our bags and hers. Every half hour, we checked up the street. No breach. Our lights were on, our heat. Steve was packing his things, I was furiously texting and emailing concerned friends and family around the country who were seeing our block on television. “We are fine! Nothing is happening! Some wind! That’s all!”
Ooh—a half hour had passed. Better check up the street! As I approached the front door, what I saw didn’t make sense. There was water everywhere. I couldn’t see the street, and the curb and the patio were disappearing. It was lapping at my bottom step. My bottom step was the new shoreline, and I only had three steps. In a half hour, the ocean had swallowed two and a half blocks.
“Steve! Oh my God! Look! We have to GO! We have to get Lucy across NOW!”
I was shrieking. He was assured. “I can get her across, no problem. Don’t worry.”
“I AM worrying! It’s rising! It’s rising fast!”
The lapping was more fervent now, and left little foam clusters clinging to our shrubbery.
I ran everywhere gathering everything, calling out items for inventory like I was 16 again, working at the Jones Beach Shop. “Dog food! Toilet paper! Coconut water! Whaddayou got?”
By the time we had jammed the basic necessities into garbage bags, the surge had already swelled to the second step. We still had to unplug everything in the house and shut the lights. If only we’d had some warning. Had I really believed that the waves would breach the boardwalk and pause to celebrate their triumph before pillaging our streets? They advanced together as one, a rushing horde beneath the wind, soon to be fed by the rain.
“We have to take Lucy NOW!” I had an image: my beloved girl swept away, so fast, her ears flat with fear and her sleek black head thrusting. Her painted eyebrows angled toward us, in question. Why can’t you save me?
Sometimes Lucy looks at us as if to say, “Please, people, I know you can stop the rain. Why don’t you? I want to go outside and warm my coat in the sun.” She expects things of us. And she should. She gives us everything she’s got.
“Steve! Forget everything else! Let’s take her and come back!”
He slung her super-long body up over his shoulder. I was relieved to see her curl her neck and cling, her striped nose pointing down his back. She hates being picked up. “Don’t struggle,” I thought. Don’t squirm.” Over and over. “Don’t squirm. Stay. Stay.” She does have a talent for staying. It is her best command.
She stayed. We made it through waist-high waters with our Lu. Safe inside our neighbor’s house, she immediately celebrated her narrow escape by committing to a fuller life. In this warm, dry place, there were cats to befriend.
Meanwhile, Steve made his way back to the house to finish closing up shop. I stood at Joy and Chuck’s front window peering into the rain-lashed night, seeing nothing but the distant light from our front door. My house had been closer in Peru. Steve was further than he had been in Japan. I waited for the black smudge that meant his shape at the door. He had to come back to us now. Come on, Steve. Come on. Come on. Someone brought me a flashlight, and I shone it into the storm. Two boardwalk bicycles, twisted together, shot past an abandoned pickup wedged between trees. Now, Steve. Now.
His image materialized at the median. He was already halfway across and looked like an overgrown beast with the bulky bags on each shoulder. His progress was slow, so slow…but he remained sure-footed and arrived dripping with seawater, debris, and stories of near-encounters with nail-ridden boardwalk planks.
We were together. Our little loving family had made it across and we knew we could make it anywhere from there. Maybe, just maybe, when we are back in our house and Lucy wants to warm her fur in the sun, we will even make the rain stop.