Survivor Guilt

Part of me wants to be in New York right now.

Before the storm hit, I sort of wanted to be part of, not the fun, but the experience. Afterward I could say, “I was there.” I could bond with  friends, family, and fellow New Yorkers. We would remember together, how tough we were, how we got through it. How we told ourselves, like we did during the 2003 blackout, “At least it’s not terrorists.”

But at the same time, I was glad I wasn’t there. During my visit back in May, it rained terribly one day, which fucked up everything. What should have been a ten minute door to door trip from SoHo to the Upper East Side became an hour. I was glad I didn’t have to deal with the weather, with trying to get to work, of getting soaked and, worst of all, possibly losing power.

Then the storm hit, and there was one day of no power, then two, three, and four, and my desire to be back in New York morphed into guilt.

I admit I don’t feel the same way when disasters hit in other parts of the world. I suppose this is natural. New York was my home for ten years,. I was there during 9/11 and the blackout of 2003. Not being there now, during Hurricane Sandy, seems wrong somehow. Me and New York disasters, likethis!

I keep imagining what it would be like if I were there. If I still lived in my old ‘hood, the Lower East Side, MB and I would definitely be without power. But my old workplace, on East 42nd Street, is above what Anil Dash has called the No Power Zone, or NPZ, and what others have dubbed SoPo (South of Power), so I would have been able to bathe and charge my electronic devices (what many are calling showering and powering).

If I still lived on the Upper East Side, it would be a different story. I’d still have power. It would seem no different, especially if I still worked on East 42nd. I would open up my home to friends who lived in the NPZ. They could shower and watch TV and sleep over. I would be helping, unlike now.

Friends keep putting up pictures of pitch-black SoPo, and I can’t imagine what it’s like. The closest I can come up with is something like China, where my town was so dark at night, I was scared to leave my house. Even my parents’ New Jersey neigborhood, which is in what used to be farmland, no more light. There are bright streetlamps (powered by solar panels, they probably still work now, unless damaged by the storm), and blinding anti-theft spotlights from too big houses set far from the road.

As for my parents, they may still be in Taiwan. They were supposed to fly back Monday of all days, and I had to assume that their flight was canceled. That night my mother bit the cheap Chinese bullet and called me from the hotel. That was almost five days ago, and I haven’t heard from my parents since. It seems JFK is open, but I have a feeling they’re playing it safe and waiting several days before attempting to fly back. I wish I knew for sure. Dammit, Dad, get on the internet!

This piece on the WNYC site made me think of my parents. “A long time ago,” the author writes, “I was in Calcutta, walking down the street, and it starts raining, and in less than an hour, I’d say, we find ourselves wading through thigh-high water,” and “of course, for the locals, they’re all blasé, like hey, it’s just another day in Calcutta — what’s the big deal?” My parents had the same experience growing up in Taiwan, home of the typhoon (or taifeng, as my Twitter friend reminded me, a transliteration of typhoon but also, literally, “too much wind”). Ironic that that’s where they are now, safe and relative dry, while New Jersey and New York almost drown.

Reading all the tweets and news stories about people with lack of food and water in parts of Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey are making me sadder and sadder. I worry that it’s going to get worse, that people will die, that riots will start. I worry basically that it will turn into another Katrina. Please don’t let this turn into another Katrina. Please, whoever is out there, help these people. The elderly, the handicapped, and whoever isn’t mobile. Those in Staten Island and New Jersey. Everyone.

UPDATE: I just saw a tweet that the power is starting to come back on in SoPo.

Thankful but snarky, totally New York.

Now I’ve a bit of hope.

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