“Everyone’s changing and I don’t feel the same”—Keane
Two summers ago, Steve and I went skydiving. I had turned 40 that year and leapt exuberantly into the life I had chosen. On that birthday, we had created an unforgettable dinner party in the old house, transforming every inch of it to create a bistro/lounge serving our homemade courses and confections. I encouraged and embraced my newfound health with the dive, a Polar Bear Plunge, and my first 5K—all of which I could never have dreamed just a few years before. I was full of life and giving back, creating ceremonies for weddings and mothers-to-be and babies. In this way I would return to the world all the beauty I had found.
I was on the verge of buying a business with a friend. I was relearning French and planning a month-long solo stay at a studio in Nice, sponsored by my generous friends for my big birthday. I would use my miles to rent a car and tour the French countryside. I could even visit Italy, Paris, or Germany. My cousin might meet me here, Steve might meet me there….
With great effort and intermittent ease, I had been finding my way through that disorienting time when all of my friends were having kids and I was not, and would not. But forty was the tipping point: I was now moving with great ease and even, sometimes, abandon.
I was discovering, with the help of wise friends, my own blend of mind-body-husband-family-friends-friends’ kids-kindergarten students-neighborhood-nature-art-world. These relationships filled me. I was making changes, but I had a full life. I was fortunate, and fulfilled.
Now I feel full of holes. Since October 29, 2012, even the most beautiful moments do not burst with fullness like they once did. They are temporary fills. Filled holes. Deep in my gut I can already feel the emptiness that will ensue when, in the morning, some distant decision maker will once again scoop out all the fresh soil. Before anything can grow.
Sandy came and drove boardwalk planks through many of my friendships and my general relationship with most of those around me. Before the storm, I had dealt with conditions, events, and choices that at times felt alienating: an abusive relationship, the tragic loss of my mother, years of chronic illness. And then there was the not growing my family of two (+Lu). My friends’ lives were changing shape, but I found my place in the pattern and my connections remained strong.
Now, though, over a year and a half into this all-consuming storm recovery, anything I might have still had in common with my own cohort is both a distant memory and a suspended hope for the future. I can’t try that new restaurant or recipe, I can’t enjoy the weather or read a book, I can’t discuss any news or politics not Sandy-related, or grow tomatoes, enjoy holiday traditions, or kvetch about work problems (work is the easy part of my life now).
When I am not putting in 13-hour days I am yelling into phones and crying over my paperwork. If you ask me how I am, the answer will likely refer to botched inspections, disastrous loans, the firing of case workers, rained-on protests, the mysterious disappearance of yet a second sheetrock team, the deck that will be built in some perpetual next week, poorly poured concrete—I will resist listing more for fear of losing any remaining readers! On a GOOD day, I have found a parking space less than two blocks from my basement rental and it is not windy and raining as I lug two schoolbags and a nine-pound Teacher’s Edition home to do the work I can’t do on my breaks because I am calling inspectors, loan officers, and case workers.
Who the hell wants to hear about this (especially when it’s so gorgeous out)? It is not even that bad, and yet even the basic text inquiry–how are you?–is something to be feared. And I get it. I can’t really blame anyone for not wanting to touch my phone number with a ten-foot pole. But it’s hard to accept. I did not choose this. I cannot change it. It separates me, and it leaves me mostly alone.
Alone time for me was always exciting. I focused all my energies within and it was invigorating. I read, I wrote, I created, I explored. This alone time is a trial. But I believe that all those years of internal searching and healthy expression and nurturing relationships must have strengthened my core. I know that somewhere inside, all that has happened is being processed: an intricate and revealing photo developing in a dark room. One day I will see what I captured and it will take my breath away. I will share with my friends who waited, and they will be glad that they stuck around in this age of Instagram to see how it came out.
I have mostly kept my perspective (I think–it’s hard to tell from the inside), and I’ve been able to find humor and inspiration. But it’s been 566 days. At intervals, I grow tired. I forget that my photo is developing, that my butterfly is all balled up inside. I forget that I have it. I forget that I do have friends who are waiting for me, and even trying to connect with me. I become overwhelmed with the energy it takes to wait, and to fight. Fighting always took me down. I could never win, because in fighting I would lose who I was.
I haven’t written in a month because I have been fighting, and I never felt fighting was something to share. I have always and only wanted to spread the good. But one of the reasons I started this blog was to help people understand the struggles of Sandy survivors. This fight for our future is worth sharing, I decided anew.
That was seven days ago. Getting to it has been another story. I’ve taken supplemental jobs and somehow must still find the time to problem solve getting back home while also working toward and awaiting fair compensation. Meanwhile, I must feed the connections that have endured, as best I can–and build the emotional new ones that have come of the storm and this Sandy life. I am giving all I can, and my strength is cloaked in effort and exhaustion.
One day soon I will fully reconnect (like the electric at our house this week!), and my current will grow stronger. Stay with me and I will light up the world with you for all our days to come. It will be worth it. I promise! So often I have heard this advice: stick with it, don’t let go; hold onto who you are.
Please stick by me. Don’t let go. All this red tape is my chrysalis. I want you with me when I am free and finding flowers….