new york city goes dark and the river comes up my street

There was a motorcycle lying on its side in the street, but we went out anyway, which I know, I know, is stupid. But Bear was like, “I’ll go, you wait here,” and I was basically like, “I’ll die with you!” and then I just ran into the street, with the stop sign slapping frantically and the wispy potted trees next to our building bending all the way over, like they were doing yoga. The wind hit me so hard, I dove into the nook of a boarded-up building, where there’s usually a bar, dragging Bear after me.

The East River had washed up the street, all the way up past the coffee shop with the exotic roasts.

Everything was eerie and glistening wet and dark. It was supposed to be somewhere around high tide, 7:30 pm. Two dolls on a string whipped back and forth overhead, where someone had tossed them over a power line, mocking the shoe tradition or playing with it. I tried to get a picture and Bear yanked me out of the street.

A shop door was flung open by the wind, the glass shattered.

“Can you shut it?” a guy yelled from a window, and Bear stopped it with a cement block.

“You’re a good man!” the guy yelled.

“Take care!” I yelled inanely back.

“This isn’t safe,” I said to Bear.

“Should I take you back?” he said.

“Let’s just go to the bridge.”

There were other people there, hoodies pulled up, like mine. We were all lumpy shapes in the dark, with the river washing right up around our ankles. It had swallowed the park and it coursed down the road. No one said anything to each other. We just watched it. It surrounded a sign and a phone booth. Someone was smoking. An ambulance sloshed around the corner and then paused for a long time, like it was waiting for a tragedy. We were asking for it.

(that’s the Manhattan Bridge, above)

“That’s enough,” I said, and we went back, ducking around corners in a neighborhood that looked like it had been abandoned after war. Maybe there would soon be zombies.

We walked up seventeen flights of stairs and I thought my heart was going to explode and I thought that it was a really bad place for that to happen, because Bear would have to try to carry me down, and he’d be panicking, and even if the ambulance was still by the bridge, it’d take forever to get to a hospital. The bridges are shut down. The wind is pounding the shingles off buildings.

The lights flickered in the lobby.

Back in the apartment, we gathered candles and filled water bottles. We looked up photos, and it’s much, much worse in other places. Connecticut and Atlantic City and before that, Cuba. The water is in people’s homes. It’s carrying people’s histories away.

I want to enjoy this—the forced rest, the romantic potential, the drama—but I’m scared. That wind out there was not joking around. It was throwing things. It was relentless.

I kept saying the same thing, accidentally. “This is for real.”

It sounded dumb, but maybe there’s something to it.

Bear said, in the kitchen, “It’s good to be reminded of how fragile the city is.”


I think I can’t believe how fragile the city is. New York City feels like this whole secure, locked-off world to me. I walked through its mile-high gates four years ago and they shut behind me and that was that.

New York is always buzzing, rushing, vaulting forward, towards the promise of a fancy, gleaming future. But outside my window, the Manhattan Bridge has gone dark. There are no cars, there is no progress. The subway isn’t rumbling eternally over it. It’s dead still, a lumbering dinosaur of a structure, almost steampunk, mechanical and shadowed.

Now I am sitting here in the living room as Minute the cat chases the ball around her scratching pad. Around and around, because the ball sits in a circular groove and she’ll never be able to get it out. It seems a little sad, but she looks cheerful. The financial district has gone dark. The usually wastefully well-lit billboard outside my window is dark, too, and it leaves a hole in my view. I can tell which buildings in the neighborhood have lost power. I was watching the local news on my laptop for a while and then it cut out, just like in a movie where the aliens are about to attack. In that movie, the front of this building would be suddenly ripped off. That actually happened, on 14th street. The whole front of a building fell off.

Bear is asleep. It’s past midnight. I feel totally alone, which is sort of stupid. I’ve been off all day. We should be cuddling and watching movies and having sex and laughing a lot, cooped up together in our little cubby in this apocalyptic city. But I feel distracted. The ceiling in the bathroom keeps creaking and creaking, and rattling. It sounds dangerous. The world feels dangerous right now. I guess because it actually is.

And I feel like I have no idea what to do with myself.

(a mural in my neighborhood, creepy and awesome in the weird dark)

So I check Facebook, where everyone is posting that they’ve lost power. And Twitter, where everyone is sending prayers to the NYU hospital where the backup generator failed and they’re bringing the NICU and ICU patients down nine flights of stairs and into ambulances. Oh god, I am so compulsively thankful to not be one of them, and to not love one of them. Thank god. But at the same time I think about Bear and how he needs insulin to survive, and it scares me so much I am floored by it. I want to read a hilarious, riveting book and never stop. I want there to be a fascinating TV show. I want to turn something on and turn my brain off and disappear into someone else’s story. Which I think I try to do a lot. Because it sucks so much to remember that everyone is exactly the same and we’re all so hopelessly sensitive and we all have this thin, taut skin stretched over plaited muscles and snappable bones underneath. And it’s kind of a miracle every moment that we are breathing and moving and thinking and complaining about how we aren’t famous enough and don’t make enough money and aren’t where we’d thought we’d be at this point, when we used to imagine ourselves at this point, back when we were seventeen and didn’t know much.

I can’t sleep. The wind swings the rain around in swirls and silvery swaths, like flags waving come here, no, go back! Go back! Because I can’t see the city, I wonder what’s beyond it. The ocean, I guess, somewhere. That’s what’s pouring in. It’s all this water from somewhere else. Manhattan always looks like it owns the water, like the water is small and meaningless and casual. It’s decorative– there to be pretty. But today the news anchors are talking about the tides, because suddenly the tides matter, suddenly the water is bigger than the city. And it makes me feel like maybe the city was never as big as I thought, after all. Maybe it was always small, compared to the things that surround it. With all the lights out, it looks like it isn’t even there. And I can’t remember why I came here in the first place. What I thought I would become. Why I thought I’d change so much and become this slick, impressive person. When actually, I’m just thin skin stretched over plaited muscle and snappable bones.

(the carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a few blocks away from where I live. source)

*  *  *

I hope everyone is OK!! Please be OK, everyone! Let me know how you are and what’s going on in your neighborhood.

Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when I look down at myself dressed in a white cotton dress that I wear as a nightshirt.


Kate on October 30th 2012 in fear, life, new york

22 Responses to “new york city goes dark and the river comes up my street”

  1. Corinne Blair responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 2:10 am #

    I’ve been looking at all the posts and pictures from the east coast internet people and it sounds pretty crazy, while at the same time everyone is rather nonchalant. I’m way over on the west coast (Pacific Northwest, actually, so I know about torrential rain, but I’ve never seen anything close to this.) I hope the the storm breaks up soon for you guys. Well wishes to you and everyone else over there!

  2. Claire responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 2:26 am #

    I’m in Oklahoma, but please know you and Bear, and people affected by this storm are in my thoughts.

  3. sami responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 3:14 am #

    We get cyclones and massive tropical storms here in Australia, in the northern parts anyway. It’s terrifying (though apparently as a baby I slept through one!) but it’s also expected. I guess the scary part of this storm is that it really is rare for New York to experience it. That a big metropolitan city is not really equipped for such events, physically and mentally, in the same way that small towns in our north are with their massively reinforced buildings and cyclone fences and evacuation plans and small populations and blasé attitudes.

    I live in the south west of Australia now and we don’t get the full impact of cyclones here but we do get the tails of them, and we get hurricanes, which is enough for me. I’ve stood on my patio and watched my backyard flood. I’ve seen 40,000 cars annihilated by huge hailstones. I’ve seen trees fall and lightning hit electrical towers across my street. I’ve seen buildings collapse and wash away.

    But I’ve been okay. And that’s the thing.
    You and Bear and everyone else in the city will come out okay too. All the stuff is fixable. It sounds like your services and authorities have lots of plans in place and they’re working. We have been watching the updates and videos and photos from this side of the world and we can see that the city is ready and can get through it. We can see the tenacity and fortitude of New York City residents and we know that Americans can definitely be as tough as us Aussies ;)

    This was our last major cyclone: Yasi was massive, but planning and preparation meant that only one person lost their life (indirectly). Planning is the key, and New York has done that. You’ve done that. You will get through it and you’ll be okay.

    Sending well wishes and snuggly thoughts to you all from this side of the planet. Keep us posted. And please stay inside! xo

  4. Lizzie responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Thinking of you over here in London, keep safe and keep calm xx

  5. Amy responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 10:21 am #

    I live in Buffalo and everyone is being a jerk because that’s how we are. It was predicted we’d all be flooded out and blown away and it didn’t happen so now everyone is mad that there is no bread left at the store and they bought 7 sump pumps for no reason. (Yes, someone actually was seen leaving Home Depot with 7 sump pumps…)
    There is no school for anyone in the tri-county area and all the adults are complaining. Heaven forbid you have to stay home with your own children for one day. Your life is so hard.
    I’ve got some friends in the City and they thankfully are fine but shaken. Kate, I hope you and everyone you care about are okay.

  6. Michele responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Kate, I hope that you, Bear, and your families are ok. We are worried about you.
    From Michele in Oregon

  7. Melanie responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 11:43 am #

    My thoughts are with everyone in the eye of the storm. I really liked what Bear said about how it is nice to be reminded of the fragility of the city. I agree.

    I think maybe sometimes the universe does this sort of thing to force people to slow down and say, “Yeah, the internet is not the most important thing.” I can’t imagine living in a bustling metropolis then suddenly seeing it quiet and empty. It must be very surreal. I hope those people at the hospital who had to move are okay. I hope that as few people as possible lose the things that make their lives joyful.

    And I most of all hope the front of your building doesn’t rip off. That is scary!

  8. Person responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Those pictures are both eerie and strangely beautiful at the same time. It’s so odd, I agree, to see a once busy and constantly active metropolis suddenly go dead. I was in Times Square on Sunday morning, and I had never seen it so desolate. There’s always lights and people there and, once the storm warning started being broadcast, it’s as if everyone and everything just left.

    The setting and seeing your pictures remind me of this story I read in high school, called “By The Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benet.

  9. Hannah responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    We on the Upper West Side seem to be doing alright. I still have power, though my parents (NJ) and grandparents (Bronx) weren’t so lucky. Riverside Park and Broadway are both lined with broken branches and wet leaves. I did see one tree uprooted, just pulled out of the stone-and-concrete home it usually lives in by a bench on Riverside Drive, but otherwise, everything here is good.

    The bodegas have been open for hours, of course.
    Actually,I was snuggled up in pajamas yesterday, so I have no way of knowing if they even closed at all.

  10. Kim responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    When hurricanes descend upon us here in Southeastern VA, it’s pretty darn scary. The last biggie was Hurricane Isabel in 2003 which halted everything for a week or two while we removed trees from the road, fixed our homes, and grilled all of our meats on gas grills during street-wide cookouts. But for me, seeing such flooding and devastation in an area with such a significant population is even more scary. The Hampton Roads area where I live has a population of just under two million. There are over 8 million in New York City alone … combine that with neighboring communities suffering from the same flooding and damage – that’s a lot of people, with greater potential for a lot of HURTING people. I’ll be making a donation to the Red Cross so that I can, in some small way, help to make a difference. And I’m keeping all in my prayers.

  11. zoe responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    i can’t imagine what new york completely shut down is like. it almost doesn’t feel real. regardless, you’re in my thoughts. actually, i came here to see if you’d written anything about the storm (i was hoping you did!) and if all was well. be well, kate! sending some love your and bear’s way.

  12. jojo responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Ma Nature likes to remind us who’s in charge of this fragile blue marble we live on and whats really important in life. stay safe x

  13. Carolyn responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    I’m in Brooklyn – Gravesend – and from my little slice of window it looks like a regular rainy day (a quieter day with the F not running steps away, but a regular day). The crazy tangle of phone/power/cable wires outside my window has held, and my quiet little neighborhood has suffered nothing but the occasional small down limb. I look at the pictures of Manhattan and the “cool” parts of Brooklyn, and can hardly believe that much craziness is going on so close. This is not my first rodeo (I’ve lived in hurricane zones for 20+ years and have been through a few biggies), but this is my first “northern” big storm. You were scared for the fragility of the city; I’ve felt the press conferences have actually been reassuring – Cuomo and Bloomberg seem to actually have plans in place (unlike other places I’ve lived – places where the ultimate answer was always FEMA).

  14. Alexis responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I hope you guys are okay! I have family who live in Keyport, NJ and they were terrified. I am from Miami, so I know hurricanes are scary. Just thank God it wasn’t a category 4, we had one a few years back and that was scary! You’ll pull through :)

  15. Rapunzel responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    I thought about you a couple of times, wondering how you’re doing. You’re the only person I “know” in NYC. Glad to see you’re surviving, even if it is with some philosophical reflection.

    My cat has one of those scratch pads. I’ll never forget the first day I brought it home. She was nothing but an orange-black-white blur for about an hour until she got tired and took a breather.
    The ball isn’t in it anymore though–it popped out somewhere along the way, and I threw it away accidentally. Oops. I’ve been meaning to get another one for my princess. Maybe for Christmas…

  16. Erin Lee responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    Hope you make it through! We only got the wind where I am in FL, though that was enough to ruin my last sampling trip. Pity, I had to get back to my champagne sooner than I thought. :)

  17. Sari responded on 31 Oct 2012 at 2:18 am #

    I’ve been photo-stalking from over here. It’s crazy stuff. The Atlantic had a bunch of pictures of DUMBO…
    One of my professors from undergrad has been going around measuring water lines (he’s really involved in NY waterways stuff) and posting some crazy after pictures. Shoulder-level-ish around you guys. Just… wow.
    Feels weird not being there able to dive in and help. Glad you guys are ok.

  18. Beth responded on 01 Nov 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Glad you guys are okay. Those pictures are incredible. I agree with Bear’s sentiment. Cities are so much larger than we are, and have longer ‘lives’. So we tend to think of them as some sort of indestructible constant in our own lives. Natural disasters show us how wrong we are, that those cities are just as fragile as us.

  19. Mari responded on 01 Nov 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    I am really glad you are safe. I am thinking and praying for you guys up there.

    Also, please please please write a book. The way you wrote this piece was captivating, and it sounds like something out of a novel that you couldn’t pry from my grip for anything. :)

  20. Eat the Damn Cake » everyone is supposed to be exercising all the time responded on 02 Nov 2012 at 11:49 am #

    [...] two neighborhoods away. I am getting off the subway earlier (or I was, when it was running, before the apocalypse) and walking ten or twenty extra blocks to my destination. I am trying to learn Brooklyn better. I [...]

  21. Kate responded on 02 Nov 2012 at 11:50 am #

    I really appreciate these comments, guys. Thanks for the support and sweetness.

  22. Ann responded on 06 Nov 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    I’m behind on your blog, and catching up today- this piece made me catch my breath. It’s- stunning, beautiful, haunting. Thanks:)