First, cry. Cry so hard that it feels like your soul is coming out of your body. Realize you are now “homeless” and your entire life has changed forever. Be upset about the things you lost, the plans you have to make, the people you’ll have to tell and the work that needs to be done. Be depressed for a little while. Wonder how things will ever get better and how it feels like the world is against you after you’ve worked so hard to create the life you once had.
Stop crying. It’s fine to feel a little sad at times, but now is the moment to act. Go through your debris-strewn apartment and start trashing any object that can’t possibly be saved. Do you honestly need a deep fryer? The resounding answer is “yes,” but since the plug corroded from coastal flooding, dump it in the trash bin. Start detaching yourself from “stuff” and concentrate on clearing out the place. Make sure you have a ton of those industrial-strength garbage bags, they are amazing and will help you immensely.
Throw away things you always thought you needed but never actually used — body lotion with 24k gold leaf flecks, Nerf guns, make-your-own beer kits, English-to-French dictionaries, Beatnik autobiographies, books about the Czech National Movement of the 19th century… you’re going to throw out a lot of books, soggy books that will never dry, whose pages are warped and whose covers have fallen off into soft little piles around your former bedroom. It will suck to watch them go, but then again, now you have a good excuse to get a Kindle.
Try and save your journals. Perhaps after sitting in the warm November sun, they’ll dry out. Maybe you can still salvage those precious moments about your volunteer experience in Ghana, or that Moleskine pad of cheeky things you witnessed in Ireland. Stare at an old spiral notebook, an object filled with some of the first stories you ever wrote at the age of 10, hoping and praying the pages don’t stick together so you can type them up later and save it on a flash drive.
Wash every piece of clothing, whether it is soaked with “sea stuff” or not. Do your washing at a gigantic laundromat in Massapequa, the only one within twenty miles that has electricity and a steady supply of Clorox bleach. Never stop to rest, and be proud of your own efficiency at commandeering four washing machines and three driers so that you can finish all seven garbage bags of dirty laundry within two hours.
Listen to your fellow LAWN GUYLANDERS talk about their harrowing experiences. A woman with big, blond, bushy hair nervously chatters about losing the first floor of her home in Bellmore, including her bedroom, after the tidal surges. She’s currently sleeping on the floor of her 3-year-old daughter’s room. Her laundry companion relents about taking the bus to the laundromat on account of her car getting flooded; she had just paid off the auto loan, and now it no longer works. A man from Lindenhurst is interviewed by the news on the laundromat’s television. He talks about how he left his laptop above his television cabinet “because I didn’t think the water would get that high.” When he came back, his entire house had fallen into a canal adjacent to his property.
Realize that although your life sucks right now, there are people out there that have it way worse.
Move back home. No, it’s only temporary. Yes, it’s going to suck. It’s going to be embarrassing, it’s going to be disorganized, but perhaps you’ll save some money for a new place and at least there is heat and hot water and lots of snacks. Be thankful that you have somewhere to go when many other people don’t.
Call your insurance companies, see what they can do for you. Apply for FEMA, but don’t get discouraged if you don’t qualify for aid — there are people who need that money more than you. Appreciate the help you receive from friends and family, whether it’s a trip to the movies to distract you or a Target gift card to replace your former housewares. Recognize that many people want to help you, but most of them don’t know how.
Try and volunteer. Make gallons of soup and trays of lasagna so people in local shelters have something hot to eat. Your office doesn’t have electricity so you can’t work anyway; now there’s free time to give back. Bring blankets to neighbors who don’t have heat or power yet so they can stay warm during the cold nights. Offer to drive people to their polling places on Election Day, despite the long lines for gasoline. Do something for someone else, for someone who might have lost hope or for someone who may or may not appreciate the kindness of strangers but will always remember what you did for them.
Plan for your eminent future, plan for the things from your past that you lost. Plan what you’re going to eat for breakfast. Remember to eat in general. Life is going by so fast at this point that sometimes it’s hard to think about getting lunch, or dinner. It’s okay to eat ice cream for breakfast, if it makes you happy.
Remember to be grateful, and to look forward, not back. Spend time thinking about all of the ways your life will get better from this point on. Unless you get hit by a car and die, most likely, your life can only go up from here.
Sometimes you need to lose everything in order to gain more.