New York City, October 29, 2012

★★★★★ The wind pinned the rain against the north windows. A field of droplets stood there, unmoving, then darted a few inches in unison, one way or another or another, before locking in place again. On the west windows, the drops were being slashed into tiny dotted lines, splattered across the glass in every direction, meeting at angles like constellation maps. The building creaked and groaned from all sides, like an old sailing ship. The building is two years old and was built without any discernible timber. Down on the streets, cars and taxis were still going, for quite a while, and people in rain slickers were out. A pickup truck drove by below, with leafy tree branches piled in it. Whitecaps were rolling over on the Hudson.

The creaking and groaning intensified; acoustical phantoms stalked the apartment. My wife went next door to visit the neighbors, and yet while she was gone, from the empty bedroom, came the sound of her moving about. Pops and shifts of pressure. From the neighbors’ window, she reported on returning, they could see the broken and dangling crane at 57th Street. The reflection of the floor lamp in our living-room window flexed and wobbled, the whole glass wall heaving in place. Day was going, and the peak of the storm was arriving.

On with the rain slicker. The elevator made a shrieking, scraping sound on its descent. The rain, just out the doors—honestly, it had rained harder than that earlier this month. But small branches and twigs and leaves lay everywhere, everywhere. The quantity said what the size might not. Somewhere west of West End, the foreboding gave way to the actual. The door of the cold-season vestibule on an expensive preschool banged open and shut, over and over. An unplaceable, lungless wailing was carrying high in the air, from Trumpville or Riverside South. The steps and rampway down to the river were taped off, and ten or so figures had gathered on the overlook, hoods up, backs to the wind and facing the water. From there, we could see tiny, even stupider figures still out on the pier. The river was the color of milky tea, whipped with froth. It rode up to the tops of the rock emplacements, onto the intact upper steel of the old ruined railroad bridge. Waves splattered clear over the concrete walls.

There’s a moment, out in a real, consequential storm, when you are reminded why you are not supposed to be out in it, that this is something more powerful than the powers by which you normally live and abide. In Floyd, in ’99, I made a circuit of the flooding pond behind our garden apartment, watching the sprightly wood ducks ride the torrent, before a gust of wind cut my leg out from under me on the soggy grass. Same rain slicker that day. I do cherish those ducks, but the memory is right beside the feeling of going sideways, beyond control. We had just watched a police SUV cruise down the pier, lights flashing, the foolhardy trailing back toward shore in belated obedience, when a new blast of wind hit the overlook. My knees buckled; the tree beside me was rocking in the ground. For a long moment, there was nothing more or else to do but brace and hold. When that moment passed, there was nothing to do but retreat, face-first into the no longer insubstantial rain.

The rain had soaked all the way through the pants, but the socks were mostly dry. Tunnels were flooding, according to the Internet. The power was failing. Manhattan had gone entirely dark, Twitter said, proving for all that the view of New York is now the view from Brooklyn. Past that darkened edge of Midtown, outside our windows, the buildings were lit up as ever, allowing for an occasional flicker. Or two. Three. With the brightest flashlight resting nearby, the older boy got his bath. I tucked him into his bed, beside the window. After another two hours or so of listening to the creaking and cracking, of trying to watch facade-collapse video on what was left of the Internet, I brushed my teeth, scooted him over, and lay down on the outside.