“The Magic of Normal” A Memoir

by Patricia E. Shevlin

    This morning: A tree down on every other street blocking the roads I traveled in Queens.

    This evening: A tree down on every other street blocking the roads I traveled in Queens.

    Last week a trip into Manhattan, a distance of 12 miles, took 35 minutes. Today that same trip took 21/2 hours. Happily it was not my personal journey, but a friend’s. Tomorrow one will not be permitted to drive into Manhattan across city bridges unless the car has three passengers. I will work from home.

    Last Sunday afternoon I stopped at Main Beach to check out the surf ahead of what was supposed to be a frightening storm. The beach was very crowded; almost everyone was shooting pictures with their tech-savvy smartphones. The atmosphere was colloquial, as though we were gathering ahead of a Sunday service at the local church. One man suggested that I stop at Jones Beach on my way home to Queens because he had heard that the surf was much more intense there. As it was already approaching dusk, I decided against that side trip. I did, however, pull off in Water Mill to fill the gas tank.

    On Monday morning, anticipating Sandy, I reluctantly made an emergency run to get water and batteries.  I also filled up the gas tank again. I was told that the weekend found many people queuing up for long periods of time at local gas stations. Just how lucky could I be? Pretty lucky.

    I then sat back in my living room and felt the earth move under my feet — on the 11th floor of my water’s edge co-op. At one point I realized I did not have many places to seek shelter from broken glass should the windows shatter. I considered the hallway for a while. In the end I was safe. Our building suffered bulkhead damage and water damage to our first-floor common areas. The water came close to breaching the wall; had it done so all the cars in the garage would have been floating; reason again to be grateful, because two days later I ventured out.

    Having that full tank permitted me to drive two hours today to check on my weekend home. I had been unable to reach my neighbors for two days. Just how lucky could I be? Pretty lucky.
    The house is safe: trees are down, but the one near the house did no harm. One fell into the street. I have a pretty good mess of fairly large branches, but I am a happy person tonight. I did arrive to find a section of fence down; the breach encouraged one of the local deer to explore this uncharted territory. She startled me and I in turn sent her into a frantic run circling the house. It was a miracle that she found the only exit, leaping over the four-foot hedge in front of the breach. I am sure she will take with her memories of the buffet she had feasted on while a houseguest. The Montauk daisies clearly were her favorite, but she nibbled at all of the garden’s last blooms.

    I jerry-rigged the eight-foot fence section back in place. I shimmied and nailed in the top-right section, and forced the top-left section into the existing opening against the 4x4 post. I then placed two 20-pound bags of plant food along the bottom, in addition to firewood and a 25-pound inverted birdbath. I felt like MacGyver!

    After cleaning up some of the debris in the driveway I headed back to Queens. I left for East Hampton at 12:30 p.m. and returned at 7 p.m. — time well spent for peace of mind.

    “Normal” has been absent from my life the past week. I prepped for the storm in two locations, I am now working from home, I am hosting friends because they have no power. I worried about my weekend destination.

    Today is Halloween and in the Big Apple people are being encouraged strongly not to go out with the children, citing safety concerns. They were right; Queens looks like a war zone. So imagine my surprise when I arrived in East Hampton at 2:30 this afternoon to see costumed kids walking along Main Street, obviously filling their pumpkins and delighting shopkeepers who clearly had power and booty. As I drove through town at 4:30 p.m. there were even more princesses and superheroes toting their candy-filled pumpkins in one hand, the other closely clutched by a grown-up.

    For a moment as I watched them cross in front of me at the pedestrian crosswalk, I felt the presence of normal. In that moment normal became magical.

    Patricia E. Shevlin, a native New Yorker, splits her time between East Hampton and the city. Her passions are her garden, writing, and photography.