My East End Home
I never had a house in the Hamptons. Nor have I ever resided in Riverhead. I don’t have a manor in Montauk, or a place near the Peconic, and, no, I’ve yet to find shelter on Shelter Island. I’ve been a central Long Island boy my entire life, born in Amityville, moved to Saint James, and chose to attend Stony Brook University, lest I unthinkably dwell more than fifteen minutes away from the Nassau-Suffolk border.
Of course, I visited the East End many times before, as I had an aunt and uncle who lived out in Quogue. Their daughter was also the only cousin our age that we could visit without involving the TSA. So, I was familiar with the area. I’d spent plenty of time enjoying the sunny shores of Cupsogue Beach or sailing on the Peconic Bay. Quogue was the best place to spend a lazy summer day, a destination that guaranteed both fun and at least one session of mediation for an argument between my sister and my cousin.
That right there was the funny thing about family. No matter how much you may bicker or quarrel, when push comes to shove they’ll always be there for you and you’ll always be there for them. This theory was put into practice thanks to one night in late October in 2011. Sandy struck, and every Long Islander knows exactly what the impact of that storm. Just the word “Sandy” carries such weight and evokes such powerful emotions for every person who lived through it.
I woke up the morning after the storm struck, having slept on my downstairs couch in order to avoid being prematurely pancaked by a tree. We managed to avoid such arboreal impacts to the house, but we did lose power. However, when I took a walk outside that morning, I saw how lucky we were that it wasn’t worse. My quaint neighborhood looked less like Suburbia and more like Somalia. The first thing I saw when I left my house was a thirty foot oak tree embedded in the roof of my neighbor’s house. The streets were littered with branches and leaves. Every house I saw was hit. A broken window here, a toppled tree there, and more than a few crushed cars.
The first day was spent just cleaning up the damage. Of course, electric leaf blowers and chainsaws were out of the question, so rakes and clippers were our tools of battle. Our reward for that day of work was pre-prepared food from the pantry and a cold shower.
The next day was Halloween, but we had a feeling that we wouldn’t have to worry about too many trick or treaters. The power was still off, but that day we finally got back some cell service, and we were able to contact our family members. One aunt had lost her shed to water damage. My uncle had lost his entire first floor to flooding. Many hours would be eventually be spent repairing those damages, but first we had to find a place for them to stay. Luckily, my family in Quogue already had their power restored, so we were able to stay with them until our power returned, which wouldn’t come for more than a week. We arrived late that night.
Anyone who has ever interacted with a millennial can imagine what it felt like to finally plug in my phone. You might have thought I was receiving a cool glass of water after a day long trek through the Sahara. Hyperbole aside, having just a warm shower and a bowl of microwaved Easy Mac after such a short break made me realize how lucky I was.
I was smack dab in the middle of the worst storm in the history of the east coast, and I managed to avoid serious damage to anything that truly mattered. What’s more, I had family there for me, and that’s all you really need. It wasn’t seeing the green charging light on my phone, or eating a warm meal for the first time in days that made me really happy. It was seeing my aunts and uncles and cousins all together, safe after such a calamitous event.
That day was my birthday. My sister, an avid baker, was even able to whip up a cake even in the absence of any bakery open for miles. As I sat down, cake lit, with family in a chorus of “Happy Birthday”, Quogue wasn’t just a place that I visited to see family. It became a place where my family was. For that short time after that storm, I had found my home on the East End.