I Left My Heart in New Jersey

I’m a Jersey girl, through and through, and while I’ve been in Oregon for eleven years, and  the D.C. area before that, I’m still a Jersey girl. Born and raised there. My dad was raised there. My mom moved there when she was young. I grew up on a tree-lined street in the northern Jersey suburbs, taking trips into New York with my family, loving my town, my neighbors, my life there.

And my heart’s there now, hearing about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and then how a nor’easter is threatening the region today. A lot of the trees in my tree-lined suburb fell on houses during Sandy. Things aren’t back to normal and won’t be for a long while, especially for the hardest-hit communities. And especially with this snowstorm coming.

My Jersey friend Lisa wrote a long, newsy email on Nov. 3 about how things are, and she said I could share some of her thoughts on my blog. “The temperature is dropping into the 30s at night so folks are pretty cold,” she said. “Power restoration is incredibly slow and we’re getting estimates as late as the 9th. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the gas situation but between distribution problems and the number of gas stations without power the state is instituting ’70s style gas rationing–even numbered plates on even days, odds on odd days. The gas lines have been miles long–people waiting 5 and 6 hours only to be turned away because the station is out of gas once they get to the pump.”

It’s one thing to hear it on the news. Another thing to hear it from one of my very best friends, a fifth-grade friend, who was also a high school friend, and a college friend, and we still talk once a week by phone even though we’re 3,000 miles away.

I cried when I read her email. I haven’t felt this disconnected from my home–my friends, my neighbors–since 9/11, when I knew people who were suffering but I didn’t yet know who was dead, who was mourning friends or family, who was lucky and missed a train that morning that would have put her right under the Trade Towers at the wrong time.

Other than gas, supplies have been a problem due to the power outages. “Most grocery stores are dark so there is a run on perishables like milk at the places that do have power,” Lisa wrote on the 3rd, six days after Sandy hit. “A majority of stores and gas stations are cash only but ATMs have run out of cash. Grocery stores have been staying open for non-perishables with aisles dark and cash only registers.”

Lisa herself was lucky–she had power, no damage, but no heat.

She told me some people are acting really aggressive, with reports of looting and some really aggressive driving in areas where traffic lights were out.

“Despite all that there has been a lot of kindness,” she said. “People are setting up hot coffee and charging stations on their porches and in their businesses. Many are taking in friends and relatives. The Walgreens up the street has become a sort of storm zombie haven where all us cold, bored, and borderline insane powerless folks wander around, get warm, get supplies, and swap stories. I couldn’t get milk yesterday so I bought a bunch of liquid Coffeemate.”

My one Jersey Shore friend Summer saw more devastation than Lisa, but had a similar message. “Some have lost homes, cars, but that stuff is just a short term headache (a big one) but they’re alive. It’s amazing how much you take for granted, like street lights, being able to jug handle or make left turns. Getting somewhere quickly, getting gas quickly (the lines are ridiculous and the gas keeps running out). It feels like we’re living a version of that show on discovery channel, The Colony.”

Thankfully, her family house was safe.

A few days later, on Monday, which is when New Jersey’s trick-or-treating was rescheduled, Summer sent another update. She talked about how she’s using Facebook to centralize information about resources from municipal offices and websites to help people who are trying to cope with the aftermath. “People are losing patience with not being able to know/see if their island homes still exist. Now we’re supposed to get freezing temps and a nor’easter this week! For me, the beach is where I went when I needed to clear my head or after a bad day… I could really use it right now. That’s difficult. There are so many levels of loss… selfish loss, loss by people you care about, community loss, loss due to people/a loss due to violation (looting… happening a lot more than they are reporting). Short term.vs. long term loss. And then you meet people who have travelled across the country just to come here and help to bring people’s lives back. And then there’s the knock at your door… And you realize it’s Halloween (thankfully I had some hurricane rations of chocolate left!) And it almost feels normal… for a moment.”

Earlier this week, I also connected with another very dear middle and high school friend, Priya, who echoed the gas problems but from the perspective of a doctor who has to travel to different hospitals to visit her patients. A gas station near one hospital, Clara Maass,  allowed doctors and nurses to cut the line for gas if they showed their IDs. By the time Priya got there, only premium was left, but she was able to fill up her tank so she could follow through with her rounds.

She also talked about people honking and being aggressive in gas lines, and someone got shot in a town near where I grew up. “People have been helpful, too,” Priya added. “There have been a lot of positive stories.”

Priya’s father lost his property on the Jersey Shore–it was on the boardwalk and just vanished during Sandy. But like Summer, her family was just glad nobody got hurt. “We can’t be more thankful,” Priya said. “Everybody has worse stories than we do.”

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Community, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to I Left My Heart in New Jersey

  1. You are a true Jersey girl, Laura!
    Excellent post, I’m going to reblog it.

  2. Reblogged this on flyawayhomebook and commented:
    Jersey-Strong!

  3. From what I’ve seen and heard, the helpfulness has been the rule and the violence the exception.

    It is weird to be elsewhere when things like this happen. I was in the Midwest when one of the East Coast blackouts happened. It felt odd to watch the whole thing on television.

  4. Jersey people seem very much like Chicago people…very proud of where they come from. They never forget. It’s terrible, everything they’re going through right now. They’re tough, though. They’ll find a way to rebuild. Our church is actually working on a church to sister church plan to send aid up there from down here in Florida. Gift cards for gas, Walmart, Home Depot…anything to help people rebuild and recoup.

    • Very true, Kitt. Your comment is spot on, from the sense of identity certain communities engender to the tough, strong spirit in Jersey. Your church’s efforts sounds amazing. I want to tap into something here in Oregon, if there is anything, to send aid. We might be too far away for mailing things, so maybe I’ll do better finding an East Coast aid organization to support. Gift cards for gas and supplies are a brilliant idea and will help so much.

  5. Summer Bardia says:

    Laura, you composed this in a way that makes me feel like you’re right up the road again. Your heart will always be here…You can’t wash Jersey off 😉 !!! Thank you for telling our stories. I posted this on my facebook page so everyone can appreciate it as much as I have 🙂
    🙂 Sum

    • Oh Summer, I miss you so much! Thank you for sharing your perspective with me and allowing me to share it with my blog audience. I’m so glad to know you and I cherish our long friendship.

  6. Hey Laura … I didn’t remember that you were a Jersey Girl. My heart breaks for the entire east coast beach communties. In my beloved NY we lost the entire community at Breezey Point, in Jersey most of Seaside Heights is a wash. Mother nature gives and takes away. For the most part we are a hearty bunch and will recover. I also think there are more “good” stories coming from Sandy than not. Thanks for remembering so many of our loved ones 🙂

    • It’s so hard to watch the news, isn’t it? I’ve taken it in small Internet doses since I almost never turn on the TV. And I’m not sure I could withstand all the images one after the other. I read about Breezey Point and my friend’s dad lost his property in Seaside Heights. But yes–we are hearty and recovery will happen. The good stories are so important–people stepping up to help other people in a crazy, horrible time.

  7. Hi Laura, my eyes filled with tears after reading your blog. I am a grammar school friend of Maggie’s as well and I grew up on the Jersey Shore also. When I read what you wrote about feeling disconnected, I lost it. Since I moved to Florida three years ago, I’ve felt like that though I do go up to visit as much as I can. But now, as you do, I feel totally disconnected and that is painful. I loved your blog, all of us transplanted Jersey girls, no matter where we are now, our hearts will ALWAYS be in Jersey. I love that state, and if it wasn’t for my parents, I would’ve stayed there. Thank you so much for writing this, it definitely says what my mind and heart have been feeling and thinking. Thank you also, Maggie, for sharing this on your blog. May God watch over the greatest community I have ever known, and perhaps the best state of the nation!!!!!!

    • Debbie, my eyes filled when reading your beautiful comment, because of my dear grammar school friends and how wonderful and rare it is to stay in touch and continue those special friendships over the years and vast distances. It’s so hard to be far away from our roots and loved ones, isn’t it?

      I left New Jersey my junior year of high school, due to my parents’ decision to move, and then I begged them to let me return for my senior year. They agreed, thankfully, so I graduated with my class and all the kids I had known since fifth grade. I remember what it was like to be four and a half hours away that junior year, and now, nearly 20 years later, I’m on the other side of the country and having the same yearning and disconnect, but from an adult perspective, and in the face of this unthinkable natural disaster.

      Although I haven’t lived in New Jersey since that last year of high school, I immediately feel a connection and kinship with you–and all the other Jersey girls, especially the transplants. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such an amazing note.

  8. jmmcdowell says:

    It’s too hard to hit the “like” button on a post like this. I certainly like the positive attitude and support you have for your home, but the devastation I see on the news is unimaginable. I hope the nor’easter will pass quickly to be followed by good weather so people can regroup and take back their lives.

    Disasters are a true test of character, bringing out the best in some people and the worst in others. I hope we’ll see more of the best as people rebuild.

    • It’s so true–I’ve seen some posts where I wanted to hit “like” to support the person writing the content, but haven’t because the content is horrific or really sad. Your comment about disasters testing character is really true. As a lot of people have been saying, there are many strong people ready to rebuild and continue their lives. Maggie Myklebust titled her reblog of this post “Jersey Strong” and I just love that.

  9. I saw this post has been reposted on face book by another Jersey girl 🙂

  10. Well written and moving – I wasn’t born and raised on the East Coast, but have come to love it. I’ve experienced tornadoes and earthquakes, but nothing compared to listening to the wind blow in a week ago Monday night. Thank you for sharing

    • Thanks for stopping by, Beth. I’ve never lived through a devastating weather event like this so I can’t even imagine, but I was on the phone with my friend Lisa at the very beginning of Sandy and she said she had never heard wind like that.

      That being said, Hurricane Isabel hit the D.C. area the weekend of my wedding. Thankfully, the biggest issues were downed trees and power outages. We had many things go wrong, starting with my canceled bachelorette party, and some groomsmen stuck at the airport, but it ended up being a wonderful and memorable experience.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Lovely post – thank you for keeping us updated, and especially for talking about how people help one another in extreme circumstances. Inspiring.

  12. Judy Fleagle says:

    Nothing like the immediacy of being there and that’s what you were able to share. I’m an Oregon girl (actually no longer a girl) and I see that you’re now in Oregon. I’ve enjoyed your posts; thanks for checking on mine.

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