The Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

My alternate Sandy reality: a love letter from a former New Yorker

I am just under 3 months and just over 800 miles removed from Hurricane Sandy. Watching the news, I’m overwhelmed with relief, distressed for our friends and layered with a veneer of survivor’s guilt. We couldn’t have known, but we made a lucky escape in our move to Tennessee. A part of me longs to be in New York for just a minute, to hug my friends and to embrace the city that was my home for more than 8 years. The combination of news, reports from friends and my experiences of minor crises in the city have left my imagination racing with pictures of what my alternate Sandy reality might be like.

We would have stocked up on water, filled the bathtub and secured our small grill and plants from our front deck, just like we did last year for Hurricane Irene. This time we might have huddled in our narrow hallway overnight, the only place in our two-bedroom apartment away from windows. Our power might have flickered but would have stayed on. We’d be safe, shaken and grateful.

We’d have spotty cell phone service at best right now: a Verizon tower went down in our beloved Bay Ridge. After the storm passed, we would venture out, looking at fallen tree limbs. Our minivan, parked on the streets, would be covered in leaves or maybe damaged  by limbs or crushed by a fallen tree.

I would attempt to resume work in my home office while distracted by details and destruction. My husband would wonder how he would cross the giant transit chasm between Brooklyn and Manhattan so that he could teach on the Upper East Side. His hour-long commute would likely stretch four-fold.

It might be months before we shopped at Fairway again. Our regular stock-up supermarket in Red Hook was flooded. 

A part of me will always live in New York, where I established my career, met and married the love of my life and built relationships with so many wonderful people. New Yorkers sometimes get a reputation as rude and unhelpful. But one of my favorite memories of New York comes from my first days in the city, living in East Harlem. Everything felt foreign, including the neighborhood’s lingua franca, Spanish.  On an early shopping trip in the rain on Third Avenue, my rickety granny cart got stuck in a pavement crack. I pitched forward onto concrete, bruised and disoriented. Two complete strangers stopped, helped me up and made sure I was okay. I was alone in the city, but somehow everything was going to be fine.

New Yorkers are plucky, resilient people, and the city will recover, but also evolve. I hope I will always carry that  strength and resolve with me, no matter where I live. New Yorkers and New York, I love you. And if I could figure out a way to hug five boroughs, I would.


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