Last night, my spec sitcom course spent the first fifteen minutes of class talking about earthquake trauma. The professor, a native New Yorker, suffered severe anxiety and stress following the Northridge quake in the 90s. I don’t actually remember it even though I was living in LA at the time, but my mom says I ran around in circles in our Glendale residence yelling, “Make it stop!” My parents told me to stand under the doorway, but I wouldn’t listen. My instinct in dangerous situations has always been to run. That’s how I reacted exactly a year ago, when Hurricane Sandy barreled through New York and nearly flooded our building on the Upper East Side.
My roommate Jen, her boyfriend Bradley, and I thought the storm was a joke at first. We assumed the media was hyping up “Frankenstorm” to make everyone panic and have something spooky to talk about right before Halloween, but when all our respective offices and the subway closed up shop for the week, we started to worry. We worked from home the day the storm was set to hit, and for most of the day, everything was calm. We had power, lots of food, coffee from Dunkin Donuts, which was open, and heat. It was boring in a “Paranormal Activity” way, as I stated in an old blog post, which I wrote from a restaurant a couple days after the hurricane as Jen and I were without electricity. Before that, we kept waiting and waiting for something to happen, and when it finally did, it changed us forever:
I’m not going to waste any time trying to come up with an interesting introduction paragraph, partially because my Internet access is limited thanks to Sandy, so here goes: yesterday was the scariest day of my life.
In the afternoon, I said Hurricane Sandy felt a lot like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise. I just kept waiting and waiting for something to happen. Once the storm made her way to the UES, she made quite an impact. We were hit with heavy winds a half hour before losing electricity. Then came the boom and hysterical screams. I looked out one of my windows to see tons of water and a broken wall. The cinderblock wall, which separates my building from the next door, totally fell apart.
It only got weirder from there, as I wrote in a blog post for STTF:
After rushing to the living room window, I gasped. Our building was surrounded by water. The courtyard was flooded about eleven feet. I glanced out my bedroom window and saw waves just a few feet below me. There was also an inflatable toy duck floating around. If we were to get any more rain, I feared, the water would reach my window and flood our entire apartment. My heart rate skyrocketed and I headed into the hallway, where I found many of my neighbors huddled up.
“Jen, we have to evacuate right now,” I yelled from the doorway, clearly going through the fight or flight syndrome. “Our building is surrounded by water.”
“If we were going to evacuate, we should have done it already,” she replied. She was so right, but I didn’t listen.
“I have a friend who lives in Harlem. He has power. I’m going to go stay with him,” I replied, throwing on a zip-up sweater and my Hunter rainboots.
“You’re going to run 30 blocks in 90 mile per hour winds? That’s how people die in these storms, Laura. They go outside and get knocked out by a tree or something.”
“I don’t want to drown here,” I told her.
“Well if you’re going to go anywhere, you need to put on better clothes. Your hoodie and sweats aren’t going to cut it in this weather.”
That’s when her boyfriend stepped in and asked me to stay put. They didn’t want to worry about me weaving through the streets of New York during a hurricane — let alone in the eye of the storm.
“You know, Laura, for someone as paranoid as you, you take a lot of risks,” Jen said, inspiring all of us to roar with laughter. “You got coffee in the storm and now you want to run to Harlem, which is unsafe in broad daylight, during a hurricane.”
“I ran track in high school. I can do this.”
Of course, I didn’t end up sprinting to Harlem for “safety.” I stayed put and watched our street completely flood. The water returned to the East River within an hour, but I had to see the eye of the storm myself. If all hell is going to break loose around me, I have to see it unfold. I must like punishment or something, or I just need to know what’s happening at all times. Either way, you can imagine I wasn’t in a good mental place, and I began having heart palpitations, prompting my roommate and her boyfriend to tell me to sit down next to their bed. Jen herself was stressed, but she hated seeing me so frightened, so she did what she could to calm me down.
Shortly afterward, I went out with a few hallmates for a drink and to charge our phones. We were so drained and haggard at that point that the only thing we could do was indulge some alcohol and pretend it was just another night out on the town.
I don’t want to bore you with too many details, especially since I’ve written about Sandy’s impact on me many, many times. Shortly after the storm, I got severe bronchitis and threw out my back from coughing too much. I was so upset by the sight of pools of water outside my window — to the point where there were floating toys mere inches away from my room — that I had to see a therapist. A lot of people did. I’m not still upset about Sandy, especially since my roommate and I didn’t flood like some of our friends, but it was definitely an eye opener for me. Though I wouldn’t leave NYC for another year, that showed me I had to get out of the city sooner rather than later. With changing weather patterns, hurricanes might become the norm over there, and I didn’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when something unthinkable took place once again.
Right now, my mom is visiting from nor Cal, and we went out to lunch just a few hours ago. I told her about my column for HelloGiggles, potential new roommate and living situation in West Hollywood, and full-time job leads. On our walk to Mimi’s Cafe, she noted the 75 degree weather, a stark contrast from what I experienced this time last year in NYC.
“Can you believe a year ago you were trapped in your apartment with no power for weeks?” she said. “And now you’re here in the southern California sunshine.”
It’s nice to be in a location free of hurricanes. The Northridge earthquake deeply upset my New York native professor, and my hope is that a possible earthquake in California won’t be as disruptive as Hurricane Sandy. I grew up with earthquakes, but you never know how bad one is going to be — or where you’re going to be when it shakes things up. My fear is experiencing one all by myself in my condo, but even if someone else is here as it happens, it’s not like their presence is going to change anything or make the situation less terrifying.
When Mother Nature decides to get back at us for neglecting the environment, we’re totally at her mercy.