Rock Away Pens was established as a writer’s workshop in 2018 by Edward Mallon, Bianca Ambrosio, and Frank Verderame. It provides a weekly meeting where serious writers can complete their projects in Fiction, Memoir, Drama, and Film for publication or production. For more info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week we shared some of their Hurricane-Sandy inspired writing. The following in Part II.
“We stood a moment so in a strange world…”
By Jean Maiorino
My husband and I were listening to a CD of Robert Frost reciting Boundless Moment when my cell phone disrupted our lunch in Shaftsbury, Vermont.
“Ma, you’re not going to believe this. We just had an earthquake here in Rockaway.”
“That’s not funny, Michael. Your morbid sense of humor is like your father’s fascination with death.”
“I’m serious. I was in the house when the walls started shaking. I thought the house was going to collapse. I grabbed the baby and ran outside. My neighbors were all outside wondering what happened.”
Since news of the earthquake and that hurricane Irene threatened to hit the east coast, we decided to cut our Vermont visit short.
“You’ll be much safer here,” said Tom, the inn keeper.
At home in Brooklyn, our son, his wife and baby, my nephew, his girlfriend and my eighty year old mother crammed into my small Sheepshead Bay house for shelter. Wind blew water through our recently repaired roof. We placed buckets and pots beneath a freshly painted ceiling. We told ourselves that it could have been worse. The roof didn’t fall in upon us.
After the storm, I called the inn. Tom described how they had watched from a top floor window as the Battenkill River overflowed and swallowed a man.
Then, a year later, our home remained dry through the night when our small group gathered again. We watched super storm Sandy’s water rush down our block flooding most of the homes. A couple of days later, a neighbor complained about the three inches of water she had in her basement. There was very little damage and the water was already pumped out. I didn’t tell her how lucky she was compared to others. Our son and his family had to stay with us weeks until their Rockaway home was dried out.
Then, five years later, we moved into our Belle Harbor home. A friend asked, “Are you nuts moving to Rockaway?”
“Yes, maybe,” I said. “But I’m looking forward to Halloween with my granddaughter.” For years my husband and I thought we might move to the peninsula to be near our son’s family. I was hooked when we took our granddaughter trick or treating in Belle Harbor the year before. In Brooklyn during the ‘90s, doorbells stopped ringing when the news carried horror stories of razor blades in apples. I had to search the streets to give out my candy. In the small community of Belle Harbor, where everyone knows everyone else, the old traditions are alive. Now, I shop early in October to make sure I have enough treats when my Rockaway doorbell starts ringing. Each happy face on the kids in various costumes warms my heart. Here, I have a much larger family. Here, happiness is more than a holiday, it a way of life to be shared by all.
By Jean Maiorino
“It was noisy in the apartment last night,” Miguel said. “I had to do my homework in the closet. I did my best.” Miguel was in my fourth grade class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where students who lived in condos overlooking the sea learned alongside those who slept on the floor.
“I’m glad you got it done.” I put his work on my desk.
“I’m going to get a good job someday,” he said, “and a nice apartment for my family.”
A week later, Hurricane Sandy flooded the community, driving families from their homes. Many children, including Miguel, did not return to school the following week. Teachers spent hours locating students who did not return. After two weeks, everyone in my class was accounted for except Miguel. I called the numbers that I had for him several times both day and night. I questioned students who knew him. One boy said, “His house is boarded up.”
Then after three weeks, he returned to class.
“Water came in and flooded the apartment,” he said. “We had to get out fast.”
“Where did you go?”
“We went to stay with a lady my mother knows.” His weary frown aged him. “We’re back now.”
“I tried to call,” I said.
“My mother lost the phone in the water. She had to get a new one. We left everything when we ran.”
“Where are you staying now?”
“Our apartment. It’s much drier. We hung some blankets over the hole that the water made in the wall.”
“Is it warm enough there?”
“Yeah. Someone gave us extra blankets.”
After Thanksgiving break, he came back to school smiling. “You are not going to believe all the food we had for Thanksgiving.” His face looked young again. “We went to a church where they had so much food. They even let us keep going back for more. It was the best Thanksgiving ever.”
“I’m so glad.”
“Yeah, me too. A homeless man sleeps under the train stairs. My mother makes sure we feed him every day, so when she brought him a big dish for Thanksgiving, he cried.”
Throughout fourth grade, Miguel worked hard to overcome our academic storm delays. We kept in touch until he moved on to high school. Then one day, he came to visit his old teachers.
“I’m graduating high school this year,” he said.
“Do you plan to go to college?”
“I’m going to Kingsborough. I’d like to be a policeman.”
“That’s a good job,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll be able to help people.”
Although we lost touch, I can imagine him wearing his badge with pride.
The Trees Came Tumbling Down
By Catherine Gebhard
The wind was always the issue when we were expecting a big storm on the North Shore of Long Island. This would be the first hurricane I didn’t have to work in the hospital and I contemplated what to do to pass the time waiting. Our daughter Kiera had recently moved back home to pursue an MS degree in Education and was ensconced in what was our “Granny Flat” as Nana called it when she lived there. I lay on her couch to read, but could not relax as the howling wind blocked out all other sound. I watched through the skylight as the leaves on the huge, century-old oak tree swirled above my head. Round and round back and forth rushed the branches. I was mesmerized by this leaf dance to the music of the wind when without a warning sound there were no more dancing branches. It took a second to realize that the tree must have fallen. A quick look out the bay window confirmed it. The oak was up-earthed and landed away from the house. I rushed to tell my husband the news, while marveling that the house was spared. I thought of the big elm at the end of our front lawn and got to the dining room window a second before it fell completely across the driveway. It humbled me to grasp the size of the root systems of these beautiful shade providers. Did my wondering cause this to happen? My Irish superstition was in full swing. Within the next minutes, three more trees were toppled, each a few yards from the corners of the house. I considered it a minor miracle that we had no damage from the 95 miles an hour wind toppling five enormous trees. We sure must have beaten the odds. Most of all, I’ll miss the beautiful old blue spruce we decorate for Christmas and the flowering cherry blossom that served as a backdrop for so many occasion photos.
As darkness descended on the neighborhood, we lit the candles and set a fire in the den, musing that we will have wood until the next millennium. Our good luck continued. When in preparation for the storm, my husband realized that our generator was no more and there were no generators to be found. When travel was possible a few days later, my daughter’s friend’s father drove from Massachusetts with two new generators, one for her and one for us! Speaking of Kiera’s friends, our house became temporary shelter for the now homeless and their dogs from the ravaged Long Beach. The daughter of a previous neighbor, who fled from her college dorm, joined our displaced friends.
As the young women located temporary housing, we continued to host their fur babies until a pet-friendly arrangement was found. It amazed us that five strange dogs plus our two could live in such harmony. There is surely a lesson there for us.
Close Your Eyes
By Dan Guarino
“Close your eyes,” I say.
And one by one they do.
I have told this story before. Today it is to students from Denmark as we stand in the street. Other days, other years, I have told it to those from Harvard, Pace, Parsons and anyone who wanted to know.
They want to know what it was like.
“Imagine it is night. You are in the storm. Pitch black except for an eerie amber from the street lights bouncing off waves rushing around you.”
I picture it for them.
I summon images of the woman, battered by the tide, struggling for refuge in the overhead subway, finding it terrifyingly empty. The man nearly drowned in the street, pulled in by neighbors, leaving the next day without even a name.
“Imagine the water, very cold and dark, pouring down the streets, getting deeper.” They shiver, involuntarily. “There is nowhere to go.”
“The water would now be about six feet, submerging this entire island, Broad Channel. It would now be closing over your heads.”
They shift from foot to foot now, breath becoming shallow, faces paling.
I ask them to imagine the unimaginable.
The night of Hurricane Sandy.
Eyes slowly open as I point out a dark second floor window a corner away. “That’s where I was that night. That’s …where I used to live.”
I breathe in and don’t even have to close my eyes to feel that night’s ripping winds, the darkness and fear crawl across my arms.
I was leaning out that window, nearly sucked out, balancing my camera.
Flipping on a photo-correction program, years later one of those pictures would emerge from blackness and scare the hell out of me.
That evening, I was oblivious, hearing but not looking out the window. Tapping away at my newspaper column before the lights went out, as they often did from the wind. Then I looked outside.
In the darkness I saw waves, deepening, edging up, swallowing fence tops and hedges, rising up to first floor windows, under first floor doorways across the street. The world was drowning.
Disappearing under the rising water, eerie pale light and the darkness.
I rushed to the stairs. Inside, quietly, cold water pushed calmly around the door, starting to climb.
Then there was a pop! pop! pop! just outside-saltwater hitting electrical wires. No.
I knew about frying lines, about electrocution by brushing water alive and swimming with sparking wires.
On the last dry step I swung a wooden broom, knocking off the main breaker, just short of water deluging the circuit box.
Now the darkness squeezed around my shoulders. Nothing but the sound of creeping water, the howling wind shaking the house.
I was alone.
Would the water stop rising at all. I did not know.
Would I drown here, trapped?
I lay on the floor. My heart pounding. Thoughts raced…to be the last one?
I lay. I listened. I waited for….
Even now the memory comes crashing up behind my eyes and runs down my soul.
What was it like, you ask?
Close your eyes.