With bright red rain boots I trekked through the feet of sand as if it were snow. It poured down the street, thick and heavy as if “The Blob” had come through and managed to get into every crevice and side street, knocking on the doors of homes.
East Avenue, a street that I ran down every day this summer. It is a street where families swarmed to empty their beach chairs, boogie boards and sand toys, where they lathered on sunscreen, bumped into neighbors and rode their bikes in the evening as the sun set. If you know East Ave, you know it like the back of your hand; each house sits proudly with it’s own personality, decorated with fluorescent flowers and a white picket fence. From Osborne Avenue to Lyman Street children play lacrosse as parents enjoy an evening cocktail.
The first day of the summer on Memorial Day weekend, families unpack their SUVs stamped with prep schools and prestigious colleges, ready to begin another summer at the shore.
But it’s not just another summer, it’s so many people’s childhood; houses passed down from generation to generation and old family photos lining the stairs in homes called “theirs” for over 100 years.
East Avenue has hosted thousands of first kisses, memories of learning to ride a bike, bonfires on the beach, making mistakes and growing out of your naïve state of childhood. And that is just one street at the Jersey Shore.
On this day, one week after the storm, locals wondered around this post apocalyptic-looking world in awe. Their favorite bakery flooded, the town’s dive bar caved in, even the church had been altered.
I wanted to feel the pain, I wanted to see the devastation, because at the time it did not feel like a reality. Words could never explain this reality.
Tractors plowed down the street creating mounds of sand, a temporary solution just to clear the roads. Soldiers roamed and warned people away, checking for proof of residence which seemed more like proof of a real tragedy.
There was no explanation; one house could be in what looked like perfect condition, while the one next door was completely swept away, now lying in pieces at the bottom of the bay, miles away.
One “house” left behind only its wooden pillars and a few slabs of concrete. The family came by and left a sign on a surfboard in front, marking their gratitude for all of the wonderful memories the home had given to them.
The bright blue water glisten behind the pillars in a mocking way, like a child with cookie crumbs on their face, pretending no wrong-doing had occurred. It was spooky- the entire town was. I stood looking at a street sign reading 25 mph. A vehicle could not even attempt to maneuver down that road. Behind was a child’s red wheelbarrow loitering and lost, now a very common expression in these parts.
I spoke to one familiar woman, with a Portuguese water dog named Sophie. My father and I occasionally ran into her on our walks in the evenings every summer. She said it was her first day leaving the house because her fear of the unknown and inevitable damage kept her tucked away for the whole week. She had stuck the storm out, never thinking it would be this bad. She knew it was real when she witnessed the water seeping into their first floor, her son screamed at the sight, forcing the family to flee to the second floor, praying for their safety.
Walking where I once ran, the words “God bless” were exchanged frequently. There was nothing else to say.