Unmoored pleasure boats, far from collapsed docks and seasonal storage towers, were scattered throughout streets, one in the driveway of a car wash. Automobiles, grotesquely abandoned by the storm surge were scattered at odd angles in roads and on lawns, filled with seaweed, sand, and condensation. Streets were like small lakes, sidewalks like ponds. And where the water wasn’t, you could see where it had been. Lines demarked the heights to which it had rose — on houses, on fences, on street signs, on telephone poles.
Our reconnaissance mission revealed a two and a half foot water line around our home. Flooded throughout the first floor to a height of nine inches, the hardwood floors were already beginning to buckle. Most of the water had receded, leaving behind a muck of silt and mud that saturated everything it touched and ruined every appliance we had. Swollen door frames necessitated the removal of doors to get to other rooms.
In our backyard, we found a huge remnant of the Long Beach boardwalk, which is situated a half-mile from our house. On the sidewalk we found the detritus of people’s lives: a bar mitzvah boy and his parents dressed in 1950s finery smiled up at us from a photograph, as did a white-gowned, third-grade communion celebrant standing before a religious statue. A beautifully embroidered Hanukah tablecloth lay soaked beyond repair by the curb. Roof shingles, wood beams, dune grass, and sand were everywhere. A seven-foot sand dune blocked the street. We found a truck floating in a neighbor’s in-ground pool.
Despite the roar of the ocean, the thing I remember now is the silence. Sand must be like snow in the way it muffles sound, and the quiet was spooky, incongruous to the devastation we surveyed.
In the days to come, when everybody on the Northeast Coast was becoming familiar with the vagaries of government institutions and familiarizing themselves with insurance adjusters, FEMA registration forms, and debating the necessity of wearing an N97 mask, the noise became more intense. State Troopers and the National Guard in humvees rolled down the streets. Rescue helicopters patrolled the wreckage from the sky. Ambulances and fire trucks screamed continuously.
But I remember the silence in those early days of recovery most of all. And in the stillness of Halloween, while my family was transporting the ruins of our lives from the house to the curb, a little girl in a fairy costume walked carefully with her parents over the shifting sand and garbage on our block. Silently holding out her festive orange bag to me I could only tell her through gritted teeth that I had no candy to give her. “No, no,” her mother fervently replied. “We are reverse trick-or-treating. We want to give a treat to people in need. You look like you could use a candy bar.” At her prompting, the child handed over a piece of chocolate. And I cried.
The sea air blows salty and clean over us all now, calm and soothing, like a benediction. Most of the community is slowly recovering, although there are pockets of decimation still that I fear will never revive. My family is crammed into the upstairs of our two-story house for the duration of the first-floor renovation. We have a hotplate for a kitchen, and the two bedrooms are like dormitories. As I count my blessings, I pray that I see Carl again soon, rising from the northern Atlantic like a resurrected Neptune.