Room for New Memories

After evacuating their seaside home in New Jersey, a couple focuses on the positive.
By Donna M. Richardson
Last year, our Voices from the Storm series shared personal experiences during mega-storm Sandy. A year later, we heard from families who are still recovering from the storm, but are finding threads of hope in amazing places. 

Story by Donna M. Richardson

As Hurricane Sandy's year mark approaches, I am still reminded of the ravages and destruction left behind. What Sandy took from many of us was more than our homes and livelihoods. It changed us, as communities and individuals. It rocked our safe, beautiful shore right out from under us leaving no one unscathed.

I grew up on the beautiful shoreline of Bay Head, New Jersey, a small town with endless beaches and homes with views of the Atlantic that most of us dream about. To walk along East Avenue, the beach street, was to bask in the beauty of its historical homes—“Old Bay Headers”—we called them. You would pass bright, cheery, and fragrant gardens, and of course the sea. 

In one horrific blink of an eye, my world and my home were forever changed. On October 29, 2012, my life partner Gary and I made the decision to leave our condo across the street from the beach just to be on the safe side. We knew flooding would occur and possibly some damage, but nothing prepared us for the wrath of destruction on its way. We gathered a few belongings and were off to the safety of my brother Jim’s home in Brick, New Jersey.

Within half an hour of our arrival, we ran frantically outside after live wires crashed in Jim’s front yard and a neighbor’s tree tumbled to the ground. We headed to Jim’s parents-in-law’s where a generator kept their home alive with electric, hot water, and more.
Gary and I crashed in a guest room, he on the couch and I on the floor. We were safe! 

I awoke around 4 am to have my brother read from his phone the words of a police officer. “Saved many lives tonight and I am truly sorry for what people will be returning to.” A wave of fear and despair came over me. Was our home gone? What did this mean, “sorry?”

It was two days before we could return home, and then silence. I had no words. No one had words, only tears and saddened, blank faces. Homes along the beach were gone, destroyed. Sand covered the streets, gas permeated the air, the lines hissing. Bay Head was a war zone along with Point Pleasant Beach, and Mantoloking was virtually wiped out.

Now, almost a year later, the work still goes on. Some have left, and condemned homes await bulldozers. The landscape has changed; it will never be what was, but it is my home. I say this with great love and affection. For this place, and all the towns along the Jersey shore, are home to many who feel the same.

The sound of the sea has yet to lull me to sleep as it once did, and when I hear of bad weather coming, silently I cringe. Time does heal and with it comes a new reverence for nature and the sea. I hold my memories close to my heart, making room for new ones in what is still a beautiful place.

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