8:48 PDT. NASA is congratulating itself for something — its live feed of the storm, I think. I’m living on the other side of the country from the chaos of Hurricane Sandy, now, with no real sense of how bad this is, with Drudge Report and the New York Times telling me that the world is about to end. The phrase “perfect storm” has been invoked often these past 48 hours. I feel a swell of anxiety and click away. Check Twitter. Check Facebook. Nobody’s dead. Everyone’s fine. Everyone’s drinking, probably. This is fun, still, right? This is kind of exciting, still, right?
I’m asking because I don’t know.
I always loved a storm back in Jersey, or New York, or Boston. It was an excuse to stay inside with the people I loved and play board games and gossip and drink and go “HOLY SHIT” when there was lightning. It was an excuse to be close. And it was exciting, too. Everything was different. Your carefully manicured life is interrupted by a storm. Maybe I’ll walk down the ghost-empty streets to the ghost-empty store, and I’ll stumble upon an adventure. Strange things happen in the calm before a storm. People are nice to you who are never nice to anyone. You meet neighbors who have lived on your block for years, who you’ve never talked to, and you become friends. People fall in love during storms all the time, probably.
Probably right now someone is falling in love in this storm.
Brooklyn. My friend tweets: “LOL found a piece of my porch roof 1.5 blocks from my house”
Toms River. My sister texts: “At home making pancakes. Mom just stopped by to ‘drop off my computer’ and to ‘get bones for Darwin [our massive, unruly sheepdog] because he’s stressed out’ lol”
Everyone is fine.
Messages are rolling in, and my people are all okay.
But the Subway’s closed. The Garden State Parkway is closed. Seaside (with most of the Jersey Shore) and Manhattan are flooding. I just saw a picture of a beach town I grew up near in which the Bay, on one side of the community, has met the Ocean, on the other. My friends are saying these kind of half-funny things about maybe dying, with the few further north talking about stores being out of Twinkies and copies of the New York Times; but their houses are all stocked with bottled water and candles and non-perishable foods and they don’t know what to expect. They’re seeing the same horrible images on the internet that I’m seeing. They’re listening to the same idiot newscasters who I’m listening to, saying that hundreds of people are going to bite it, probably, and that there will be billions of dollars in damage. That this is a ‘worst case scenario.’ It’s hyperbole, right? It’s the news.
The construction site next to the house where my friend was tweeting from — my home, a year ago — just collapsed. “We’re fine for now,” follows-up my sister many miles south, just as I’m reading this. My mom called me last night, midnight her time, worried about the trees falling down on the house and what to do if that happens.
I’m in San Francisco. Everyone is excited about the Giants winning the World Series. There were explosions last night in the Haight that were not fireworks, and cheering. Screaming. People were so happy that they were crying. A girl in orange face paint: laughing, and sobbing.
I went home and sat on my bed in the dark with my computer open, the sound of a city’s ecstasy breaking through my walls, the roar of celebration, as I stared at a picture of the boardwalk I grew up on. The ocean has swallowed the beaches and risen to the bars and arcades. I had my first crush on that boardwalk. I drank my first beer there. I was almost kissed on that boardwalk for the first time. And now it’s under siege.
How could I have ever said I loved a storm?
It’s the clarity, I suppose. In a storm, you have to make a lot of decisions in a very short period of time, and you have to stand by them. There can be no ambiguity. You decide where to stay, what to buy, how to fortify your home. You gather your people, you keep them close, and you wait. In a storm, all things unessential are set down. You can take from your home one thing — what is it? You can fit in your living room three people — who are they? Where are your siblings right now? Are they safe? Where are your parents? Your grandparents? Your cousins and aunts and uncles? Where are your friends? Have they boarded up their windows yet? One of them is texting you from outside, where he’s walking around taking pictures. Call him. Call the idiot.
“Get the hell inside,” you say, “you are important to me. If you die, a part of me will die too. I love you.”
Because in a storm, that’s all you see. It’s what you love, at risk, and then everything else, but everything else fades away. A complicated world is made simple, and you see that it was always like this. You know what matters, and you go to it.
Standing so far removed from the hurricane is a new experience for me. Until now, I’ve always been in the thick of the really scary stuff alongside my people. Today, all I can do is tell you that I love you — I really, really love you — and that I’m thinking about you.