After sitting on my couch for almost 36 hours watching way too much New York One and Pawn Stars, I decided to put on my rain boots this afternoon and see what Sandy had done. I did a few loops through my neighborhood, took some pictures of the things I saw: a rain drenched book, a 9-year-old in a Joe Biden mask, a girl whose blue hair blew straight up in the wind. I bought wine from a shop whose chalkboard outside read “We survived! Come in and have a drink.” And they gave me a free sample of wine at 2:00 in the afternoon. This was my favorite kind of day.
I walked around. I watched what was happening. A British man yelled into his cell phone about having lost $1000 worth of chocolate in the flood. I bought a nail polish. I stopped at the bagel place to get lunch. Storm preparation to me meant buying spinach, Miller Light, pretzel M&Ms, and making chocolate chip cookies. I was starving. I ordered a salad. The place was narrow and tiny and jammed. It all started with too much butter on the woman’s bagel behind me.
“I can’t even pick this thing up, John!” She shouted at her 60-year-old husband drinking his coffee black. He handed her a napkin.
“This is used! You give me a used napkin? It’s too much butter. This isn’t solved by napkin!” She yelled again. He shrugged. She pushed in front of me in line and tossed her bagel back over the counter demanding a new one. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t in a hurry. Their home had flooded, I slowly gathered. I waited for my salad; changed my mind and asked for feta.
“I wanted out six months ago, we should’ve sold and now it’s destroyed and I am going insane.” She was screaming now.
“Sit down, Kathy. Just sit down.” He urged her.
“We’ve been living a lie for five years now and I’m not going to pretend anymore.” Her new bagel came. She thanked the man and continued raging. I paid for my food. The man behind me gave me 35 cents as I fished in my wallet for exact change. I left. She was still screaming as I walked passed the window on my way home.
Natural disasters are scary and terrible and I feel for the people who have lost possessions and homes and loved ones. But, to quote one of my favorite poets Marie Howe, “there is at least a kind of stopping that will pass for peace.” And it is amazing the things we may find in that stopping; the realization that we don’t always understand the difference between being alone and being lonely. The fact that we complain daily about our jobs but if we didn’t have them we’d be bored, or alcoholics, or borderline both. That we miss a lot of people. Or maybe we’ve been living a lie for six years and it still is not about the napkins.
Marie Howe writes later in the same poem, “When it leaves/ it will leave like summer, and we will remember it as a break/ in something that had seemed as unrelenting as coming rain/ and we will be sorry to see it go.”
The subways will start running again soon. The power will come on. The concrete will dry and we will go back to work. But I want to remember the stopping, and I will be sorry to see it go.