I earned the original bag at the Lupus Walk, along with a tent-like T-shirt, a purple rubber awareness bracelet so big I could slide it all the way to my shoulder, and a handful of toe and hand warmers I kept in my glove compartment for my eventual stranding on an Interstate in a blizzard (a disaster with variables I could ostensibly control with this annual hoarding of the Lupus Walk freebies—plus a deep stash of Goldfish). The faux suede, 80s-mom-jeans colored tote, lined with equally faux stitched leather, had to be discarded post-Sandy. Back in the house, I had stored my smaller bags in my larger bags directly on the floor of the closet, due to severe lack of storage space. Also due to lack of space—but my frugality as well—I did not have very many bags.
Frugality is funny now.
I have never been a big spender, but in the year before the storm, I had redoubled my efforts because Steve was going back to school. So, instead of buying a new bag, I’d go up into the attic and root around for an old bag that might feel new again—or newly acceptable. Maybe that too-glitzy hand-me-down I couldn’t not keep because, well, it’s the thought that counts? Or Mom’s leather Coach bag, which she had only allowed herself to buy because there were no ostentatious C’s on it? Why not use these? You have built-in handbags right here in your house!
It was as a direct result of this line of thinking that most of these back-up bags were on the main floor, literally on the floor, when the water came in. Two or three had been tucked inside the excessively waterlogged tote. As I remember, the so-called Lupus Bag dribbled fishy water all the way to the tall pile of belongings at our curb, and was not an easy toss. I do not suggest ever wearing faux suede to a deck party.
My out-of-town friends, who suffered through miles-long checkpoints during the gas shortage to check on us and eventually whisk us out of Long Beach (having heard rumors of brazen walk-in robberies, martial law, crazed shotgun-toting homeowners, toxic water, rivers of gasoline, and exploding cars—all only partially true), gave us all kinds of things they imagined we might need. One day, Stacey picked me up from Joyce’s house to drive me to work (it was an Olympic-level egg-and-spoon race; I was so fragile and they scooped me up effortlessly). As I stepped out, into the hands of Jill and Alison who had prepared my homework packet and possible sub plans, Stacey offered to give me her own hard-earned Lupus Bag.
“Sure, I’ll take it! I have to carry around all these FEMA and insurance papers and my school bag is completely full!”
And just like that, Stacey’s Lupus Bag became my Hurricane Bag. A few times, I have left it behind: to walk the High Line, for our tenth anniversary dinner, at last night’s bachelorette party. To my credit, though, I have not ever lost it. There is not much else since the storm that has not been misplaced at least twice (including my car), but that bag is psychically sewn to me. I would consider having it surgically attached, but there is actually not a body part that would support its weight.
Currently it contains, among other things:
-two notebooks filled with names, phone numbers, fax numbers, and notes and instructions about how to proceed in one thousand different directions during every waking hour, from: demolition, emergency waste removal, environmental remediation, and mold abatement specialists; our mortgage bank, insurance broker, homeowner’s and flood insurance companies; car insurance broker and claims department (each of whom believed in every instance that I should have called the other); five claims adjusters; two salvage guys and the company that actually towed our defunct cars away (in one case, accidentally) and then promptly lost them; the oil, gas, electric, and cable companies; the Department of Motor Vehicles, car dealer, leasing company, and police department; the company that had provided our $7500 drainage system which met its eventual demise at the bottom of the sea less than a year after its installation; our contractor, architect, surveyor, electrician, and plumber; the city and the county; the local floodplain administrator, FEMA, ICC , SBA, and New York Rising—to be brief.
-160 pages of paperwork in three separate folders for our still-pending government disaster and mitigation loans (and this for a couple with credit ratings of over 800)—plus an envelope of receipts collected so they can determine how much we’ve spent on recovery and only loan us, as I understand it, the exact amount we’ve already spent.
-34 pages of paperwork plus an explanatory packet from our caseworker at the state program with several possible names (NY Sandy Help, the NY Rising Housing Recovery Program, or Recreate NY Smart Home Programs)—but zero inspectors, a supposedly necessary yet to date nonexistent part of the process leading to this “Help.”
So, for the better part of every business day, my tension-wracked back must bear this traveling file cabinet housing these folders and more. Each afternoon I stop by our shell of a house and stuff it further, emptying the mailbox strung to a sliver of fence. Intermittently I lighten my burden, like when I gave up on FEMA ever helping us with rent as we rebuild. At 96 pages of pleading proof of need, I pulled the folder for good.
As I staggered out of school laden with bags on the last day, I was not too jazzed about summer. Pitiful, I know, but what did excite me was the prospect of returning to school in September sans Hurricane Bag.
September has arrived, and it sits by the door alongside my schoolbooks again, looking unstylish and sturdy as ever. On Tuesday, my colleagues will see me carrying it and know all that they need to know about our progress. Like my mother, I never had a statement bag—until now.