This time last week we were anticipating the wrath of a storm which we believed would be bad, awful even, but who thought it would irrevocably change the lives of millions and almost the entire coastline of New Jersey, New York and much of the Connecticut shoreline. Over a hundred lives lost from Sandy, the heartbreak and misery she wrought on one of the most densely populated areas of this nation will continue for a very long time. As one whose writing-gig is to find humor in difficult situations I have failed miserably on this one. I’ve heard only one joke: A new drink, ‘The Sandy’ a watered down Manhattan. I laughed, sort of, probably because I don’t drink and it’s a little too soon for jokes.
The stories I have heard, in person and on TV, break my heart, the generosity of strangers mends it. I’ve spoken to many folks, trying to find the humor angle, and other than family members and friends whose discordant personalities have no business sharing two hours over a resplendent Thanksgiving table of dead bird, let alone bunking together for a week, (when one is out of power and the other out of patience); I find absurdity but no humor. But I did discover something odd.
The morning after the storm, once my husband and son-in-law cleared the downed trees from our driveway and country road, my daughters and I decided to zigzag our way around town to check out the damage. Many roads were blocked, there was no power, and it was still early, which means there was no one to tell us to scram when we gawked in amazement at the damage.
One town over, and only few miles from where we live, there is a causeway. It’s less than a mile long, bordered by marsh and cove on one side, and Long Island Sound on the other. It’s a beautiful place and though it is vulnerable we hoped it survived. After we twisted our way through town to get there we were disappointed that it was barricaded. Huge trucks were parked at its mid-section, which meant to us, the causeway had been breached by the floodwaters. We were devastated. I parked. Walking around the barricades we approached the work area. Other than the workers we were the only people on the scene. It was comforting to see that the causeway was fine and that the crews and trucks were actually there to cut up and remove the dozens of whole-trees and piles of driftwood which had floated up onto the roadway during high tide at the height of the storm. The immensity of the task seemed daunting considering one of the pieces, scattered among the huge whole trees was a three foot thick slab of tree trunk, at least thirty-six inches across. The tree it had come from had to have been hundreds of years old.
We didn’t bother the DOT crew and they didn’t shoo us away. My daughters’ snapped pictures as we slowly walked the causeway surveying the scene. That’s when I noticed something odd. At first I didn’t mention anything but finally I had to.
“What’s with all the tampon applicators?”
“I noticed them too,” one of my daughters said. Pink and white plastic tubes were scattered everywhere in the sea grass and debris on the causeway. A while back the son of a friend of ours told us that where he lives on Cape Cod, they wash up on the beaches by the hundreds. I told my daughters, that though I thought ocean dumping has been stopped, they were probably from trash barges which dump city garbage way off shore. The rest of the trash must deteriorate but the plastic tubes do not. It was a bit disconcerting to imagine that the one thing which remains of our garbage, after many years in the ocean’s hostile and caustic environment is a bunch of tampon applicators.
As we proceeded to leave the causeway we noticed something else that was little strange; a black running shoe, bent and shriveled from being in the water a very long time. Nothing rather odd about a soaked and shrunken left shoe deposited in the detritus of one of this nation’s worst storms in history, except that next to it, only inches away was its mate, the right shoe. They were not tied together they just lay there, next to each other, as the pair they always had been.
Of the many images of utter destruction I have seen on TV, and damage I have witnessed in person, it is the pink and white plastic applicators which speak to me of human-kinds odd lasting impressions, and the amazement of a simple pair of side by side running shoes at the end of their race against tides and devastation. There’s a lesson there somewhere. I’m just not sure what it is.