Wind, Rain, and Carnivorous Beasts Conspire to Rob Our Adventurer of His Sanity.
Around 2 a.m., after four hours of sitting in the dark, I feel exhausted enough to try to get some shut-eye and bury the lower half of my body in sand as insulation. I only doze off for minutes at a time before a thunderclap or mysterious shriek jolts me awake. But in those mini-pockets of snooze, I am having the most vivid dreams about death, the amputation of my legs at the knee, and an armada of clicking, hissing horseshoe crabs storming the beach like some Paleozoic D-day. At the climax of one particularly distressing vignette, I find myself looking into a pair of glowing eyes. It takes a couple of seconds to realize this isn’t a continuation of nightmares but that I am actually face to face with a large and rain-sodden raccoon. His head is under the tarp, his face about eighteen inches from my own.
“Fuck off!” I scream, but not having spoken in almost twelve hours, my voice cracks, and this surely gives the creature the notion that I am more scared of him that he is of me. Accordingly, he seems to shrug and slinks back off into the downpour. There is no sleeping now.
It being June, true darkness lasts only about seven hours, and just after 4 a.m., I kick off my shoes, brush off some of the grime, and look at the state of my tingling feet. They are translucent, bruised, and cadaverous. I start freaking out. (But justifiably—I learn later that I am suffering from a WWI-era malady called trench foot, which, if not treated in time, can lead to gangrene and, if you’re really unlucky, amputation.) It’s only the shame of disappointing Duke that prevents me from calling for a rescue.
Instead, I decide that I have to eat something and run out into the storm to collect some seaweed. I grab a handful from the sand and rinse it off in the surf. I come back, nibble on it, and, of course, it is foul. I then pry open one of my little mussels and poke at the slimy innards. Perhaps it’s the act of steaming that makes them look less like phlegm. A moment away from chugging it, I remember what I’d read about Jamaica Bay’s four water-treatment plants’ not being able to deal with excessive storm water, and how, during weather like dear old Barry, raw sewage is often dumped into the bay. As hungry as I am, my misery will be many times worse if I have some sort of gastrointestinal episode, so I try instead to cheat hunger by filling up on water. I remember the coconuts farther up the shoreline. Excitedly, I run across the sand and, after finding three or four empty shells, pick up a nut whose weight promises sweet sustenance. I engage the chisel from my Leatherman and hammer a hole through the shell with the aid of a brick. I tip the milk into my mouth. It is seawater tinged with merely a hint of coconut flavor. But there is still the flesh! I crack open the nut on a rock and slice out a morsel of bright white meat. Unfortunately, in the weeks, months, or years since this fruit was set adrift, seawater has penetrated the shell and pickled the interior, resulting in something inedible, sour, and putrid. I manage to get a few bites down before a protracted bout of gagging.
Our Fallen Hero’s Spirit Is Broken, His Pride Cast Off; Plus, the Journey Home.
Barry has been intensifying overnight, and the collecting runoff water looks set to breach my levees. I scurry out of the shelter and trudge through the silt to the crashing waves on the beach, and attempt to haul an overturned fiberglass boat to higher ground for use as cover, but it proves much too heavy. Running back to the shelter, I gash my shin on an upright bit of decaying driftwood and a trickle of blood streams down my leg. By 9 a.m., with a limp, a coating of grime, hunger, fatigue, trench foot, and still no break in the weather, I shamefacedly text Duke an SOS signal. He isn’t scheduled to pick me up until the afternoon of the following day, and I later find out that in order to mount a rescue mission, he had to cancel two tattoo sittings. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
He says that he will be there just as soon as the bay calms down enough to cross safely, and knowing that I won’t have to endure another night shivering in the elements is a massive relief.