I stood at Whole Foods in New York City on Sunday afternoon, where I'd planned to meet a friend for coffee. Determined not to be swept away by Hurricane Sandy hysteria, I was trying to stick to my regular weekend routine and had just come from yoga. But Whole Foods was a mob scene, and when I stopped at Duane Reade on the way there, they were already sold out of bottled water.
As frantic grocery shopping New Yorkers scurried around me, panic was rising in my chest and my resolve to remain calm was rapidly dissolving. My vision of a serene, restorative catch-up with a good friend over coffee vanished as I dialed her number.
"I'm so sorry to cancel," I gushed onto her voicemail, "but Whole Foods is crazy and Duane Reade is sold out of water and the subways are shutting down in a few hours and I have to get back to Brooklyn right away because I don't have any groceries and I'm afraid that everywhere is going to be sold out of water and batteries!"
On the subway to Brooklyn, I mentally cataloged the food I had in my apartment: one Greek yogurt, a few baby carrots, half a container of hummus, wilted lettuce, milk, salad dressing and about a cup of granola. If the hurricane hit, I was screwed! I started making a list in my head of everything I needed to buy.
Bottled water and batteries, bottled water and batteries, I repeated to myself like a mantra. If only I could track down bottled water and batteries, I would be OK.
When I got to my neighborhood, crowds of people were pushing through the streets lugging overflowing bags of groceries. My first stop was another Duane Reade, and they were already sold out of bottled water and batteries, too. This did not bode well for my success at hurricane shopping.
Shit, I thought with a sinking feeling. I'm too late.
Not wanting to lose any time eating lunch, I made a quick stop at home where I polished off the baby carrots, and then headed back into the panic-ridden streets.
I spent the next three hours walking up and down the main stretch of my neighborhood going back and forth between the big grocery store and small markets searching for my hurricane essentials and interrogating people walking by with gallons of water about where they got them.
At the grocery store, the shelves were bare and carts barreled through the aisles. Bottled water and batteries were gone. Bananas were sold out and so was ricotta cheese, two of my food staples I'd wanted to buy. I was hungry and dizzy from skipping lunch, facing this crazy grocery chaos on an empty stomach. Things were going downhill fast.
And then, I saw it: everywhere I turned there were couples shopping for their hurricane supplies together, making decisions about this bag of chips or that candle. Dodging aggressively-driven shopping carts and looking at the items piled in mine -- whatever was left on the shelves, like the Wonder Bread equivalent of wheat bread and more crappy processed food than I'd normally care to eat in a month as my only provisions for the next few days -- I felt more alone than I had in a long time. Like I was all by myself as this natural disaster hurtled toward New York, with no one to help me carry my heavy bags home or to be with when the storm hit. I berated myself for not being able to take better care of myself, for waiting too long to get hurricane supplies and now, being stuck with only the shitty, picked-over food that remained.
Trying to pull myself together, I decided that even if my culinary options were going to be limited for the next few days, I could at least make my favorite meal for dinner that night to kick off the hurricane -- pasta with homemade Bolognese sauce from a local Italian market. So I walked to the store at the other end of my neighborhood to get it.
I made it there five minutes before the market was closing and raced to the refrigerator case. Peering into it, I saw a gaping hole where the containers of Bolognese sauce usually sat. They were all sold out.
My chest constricted and my eyes starting welling up. I was hungry, lonely and tired, three out of four of the HALT acronym. But if I was completely honest, I was angry, too -- at myself for not being better prepared for the hurricane. Which quickly snowballed into being angry at myself for getting myself into this situation, desperately shopping for Bolognese sauce alone. For not having the skills to adequately stock my refrigerator in advance during a pending disaster or know how to be in a good relationship, or in that moment even be able to imagine what that would look like beyond having someone to grocery shop with.
Stumbling down the street, my bags weighed heavy in my hands as I sniffed back tears, sad that my groceries didn't include any protein, that I'd have to eat pasta with sauce from a jar that night, that I was single. I thought about my ex who lived nearby and wondered what he was doing to prepare for the hurricane. He'd hurt me a lot by ending things abruptly twice, and I'd long since deleted his number from my phone. But I still knew his email address, and an image flashed through my mind of emailing him while the winds whipped outside and the rain pelted down. Knowing that we'd both be trapped in our apartments so close to each other filled me with longing to reach out to him, to connect, to escape the waves of pain and loneliness that were threatening to submerge me as the storm drew nearer.
Then I thought about how many people feel that pull to reach out to an ex who'd hurt them on the eve of a natural disaster. I wasn't the only one who in my pain, wanted to do something that would likely cause me even more pain, either right away or down the road. In the midst of unraveling on a busy street over sold out Bolognese sauce was probably not a good time to make myself vulnerable to someone who'd already hurt me so badly before.
Brushing a wisp of hair out of my face, I decided that even though I was behind in my hurricane preparations, I could start taking better care of myself right now. I could acknowledge that I was Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired and do what is advised under those circumstances, which was to halt what I was doing to eat and rest.
Making one final stop for a jar of pasta sauce to complete my first hurricane meal, I realized that it was time to go home. Maybe I didn't have bananas, protein, or ricotta cheese, but for my own mental health, I could let that go. And feel good about what I had been able to find -- bottled water and batteries, a few fruits and vegetables, and enough processed food to feed myself for a week if I wasn't able to leave my apartment.
Walking home, I knew what I had to do, and not do. I could cook myself a big meal, even if it was less than ideal. I could sit with my pain and loneliness, my fear and anxiety about the oncoming hurricane, my sadness over being alone and my curiosity about and longing for my ex. I could make it through the hurricane without emailing him, without putting myself even more in harm's way. I could call friends who loved me and by talking to them, I could feel less alone. And I could trust that this storm, like every one before it, would one day pass.