Another step, then another. Two more and the water would be level with the first floor. What then?
That reverie was broken the second the alarm system tripped in response to the water bursting through the basement windows. Soon enough, the electrical outlets were submerged and there was no chance to reach the fuse box in the corner and switch off the circuits. We were running out of options, and fast. In a panic, I started reviewing one nightmare scenario after another.
What if water fills the first floor? Do we huddle upstairs? Punch a hole through to the attic and climb up there? Do we even try to stay in the house, and if so, for how long? Could we swim to safety out the front door?
Incredibly, the longest few hours of my life ended almost as suddenly as they began. Almost too subtle to notice at first, the water lost its surging power and began to subside. Our kids, oblivious to all that was going on, were already fast asleep. Daria and I sat in the living room for hours in the dark, save for the glimmer of a few candles, listening to the splash, like clockwork every few minutes, as our possessions fell into the water. Just when we started making a list of what was lost beneath the two feet of sewage in the basement came the biggest splash of all — our huge refrigerator.
I took a few steps downstairs and stopped. A sea of sewage was sloshing side to side and the stench — I can still smell it. I doubt it will leave me anytime soon.
Somehow, I slept about three hours that night. When I stepped back outside, I could see the same wear and tear on the faces of my neighbors. But we quickly took stock of one another and our families and began comparing notes. The damage on every side was heartbreaking. Grace and husband, Nicky, had nearly six feet of water in their basement and lost everything, including her father's ashes. But we were all alive.
We had no power, gas, heat, even cellphones with a charge — and no way to communicate with anyone outside our tiny corner of the world. The bakery and the deli across the street were flooded. Three 20-foot-long heavy metal box containers that sat in front of the Walgreen's were scattered down the block, one finally settling in front of a restaurant more than 100 yards away.
Finally, we turned our attention to cleaning up. A neighbor named Ben, who is Grace's son-in-law and works as a construction contractor, came over and began pulling up the carpeting in our basement, then the flooring, before turning his attention to the walls. In the "dream" kitchen we felt so fortunate to have just a few nights earlier, a FEMA inspector sat, compiling a list of the damage.
You learn a lot about people in bad times and what we learned is how neighbors opened their arms to each other, offering food, water, clothes — anything that might help someone else. We were the new family in town, but we've forged bonds and relationships that will make exchanging "Hello" or "Have a good day" feel genuine in a way they didn't always before.
A long, tiring road lies ahead, but the doubts that crop up will be easier to deal with knowing we're going through it together. Just a few miles away, people died and homes were completely destroyed. Seeing the scale of destruction in TV reports from my parents' home in Brooklyn broke my heart all over again.
I spent three days digging through those things I'd cherished all my life. I put nearly all of them on the side of the house, saying a sort of goodbye to so many material things.
And yet, once the sun managed to peek through the clouds, it hit me: We were blessed. We turned out to be among the truly lucky ones.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ AP sports writer Dennis Waszak and his family had moved into their Staten Island 'dream house' just weeks before Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the New York City borough. These are his recollections a week after the storm hit and upended life for Waszak, his wife and their three children.