THE BLOG
11/01/2012 07:21 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

My Personal Storm Surge

He didn't mean any harm. In fact he was here to help. And he was right. It did look like an abstract sculpture after the wind got up under it, flipped it over and twirled it around in a sort of freaky tornado dance.

Losing the car shelter was minimal compared to what SuperSandy wrought on many peoples' lives. Yet, the moment he joked about it transforming into something looking like a modern art installation -- he with the clean, dry garage at home -- I snapped like one of the dozens of tree limbs littering the ground. How does one silly remark become a flashpoint?

Emotional "Frankenstorms" are explainable, understandable even. But they still cause damage in our relationships. And then the only way to fix things is time.

It's been a relentless few weeks (months? years?) of scrimping, coping, trudging along. This relationship has been mostly a bright spot, a refuge during a prolonged post-divorce seige of austerity that began in '08 and shows no sign of letting up.

Imagining the past two and a half years without my man makes me appreciate him even more. He has a way of showing up and making me smile. But perhaps recent events have left me too careworn to be at my best: My younger kid just recovering from ten days of pneumonia, my house hanging in sale/foreclosure proceedings for over a year, underemployed and inadequately insured, the daily problems and inconveniences piling on. Something breaks, do without it. Something ails, disregard it. Car trouble becomes unsolvable. For an upcoming birthday next week, I've saved up for a luxurious present to myself: a long overdue dental appointment. Now this.

So the guy who is on my side makes a little jokey-joke. And I storm off. Er, into the storm.

Was it the sleep deprivation? The full moon? The cash shortage from not being able to go to work last week? The second glass of wine? The midlife hormonal levels rivaling Sandy's barometric reading?

It has been a lesson, this phase of deprivation. When the oven breaks, limit cooking to the stovetop (or carry the damned half-cooked turkey to and from the oven of an out-of-town neighbor as I did last year). When the printer breaks, make time to use the one at the library. But that's just it -- more time spent on chores and errands. Death by tediousness.

All I saw in the wreck of tarp and metal was another job of disassembly, another expense of having it disposed of, and many upcoming dark winter mornings with the added work of scraping/de-icing the car and extra shoveling at 6:30am.

I know. So many people have it worse. I'm just being a big fat baby. I fall into that perfect "no excuse" category of having my struggles, but knowing that it could be so much worse. My own choices have put me here, and though facing a world of troubles, most days I have no complaints. My ex provides child support and the children's health insurance.

Ah, but there we have another factor. My ex and his wife live just a few miles downriver, in a pricier town, but in a flood zone. Since we have a so-called amicable arrangement, it seemed to make sense to invite them here.

I had enjoyed the pre-storm phase. There's something about a crisis that's so much better than everyday life. You get to sidestep the everyday rules. Drop everything and be in the moment. The house isn't clean, your bills aren't paid, doesn't matter. Stock firewood, buy weird stuff like powdered milk, cook the most expensive thing in the freezer, hunker down together. Include the ex. Why not?

Was it odd to have invited them? Of course, his opting out must be respected. Afterall, a dark, cold house filling up with sewage-infused river water is far better than a hot meal, his kids and a fireplace. And me. Not that I took it personally or anything.

But really, I do understand the decision not to come here. It's just the ignoring part, the second class citizenship of it all. What ever happened to, "no thank you, but we appreciate your concern and kind offer?"

A few years ago when we were still married, I remember failed attempts to reach him, numerous times over the course of a couple days. At one point, my older daughter offered to try him on her phone and give it to me when he picked up.

This time, he eventually checked in by contacting the kid. At 11:30 pm. To tell her that he was okay but her bedroom was flooded. And to describe his "preventative measure" of taping the doorways. She sounded like she was talking to a child when she said "Dad, tape is not going to hold back the Hudson River." It seems unfair, the way geniuses get to be adorably sympathetic figures, no matter what.

Held down by only one corner, the car shelter lurched and flopped like a wounded dirigible. Cables whipping, bolts popping. The neighbor's house was mere feet away. My dining room window only a little further. He suggested that we reduce the "sail" effect by cutting the tarp panels. I grabbed two knives and we went at it together in the sideways rain. Catharsis!

And he stuck around long enough for us to end on a peaceful moment before saying goodnight. Then, he went home. Where he belongs. And I kissed my daughters while they slept. And blew out the candles, and thought of the couples and families huddled together while the wind howled outside.

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