Category 1: Very dangerous winds will produce some damage.
My mother tells me that a Starbucks has finally opened somewhere in Midtown and people are taking car services down there, coasting in an illegal line down Broadway, pedestrians walking by in parkas, glaring, their dogs cloaked in knit sweaters and booties.
“No, of course I wasn’t one of them.” 3,000 miles away, she mutes the TV. “What do you think I am?”
Category 2: Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage.
She watches the storm coverage and reports back to me. This is our Hurricane Katrina, says a woman on the Lower East Side. No one below 20th Street has power. The dentist’s office ten blocks from my mother’s apartment is open for business, with fewer receptionists than usual to line its glass walls. A pizza place in the West 40s, new to their neighborhood, stays open and delivers pies with only a staff of five.
It’s raining in San Francisco; fat wet drops piercing the balmy breeze. I shiver at the bus stop, watch electronic predictions blink before me beneath a plastic cover. New York is underwater, a filthy Atlantis coming up for air every so often, forcibly buried beneath tons of garbage from the mislaid East River and the Hudson.
My mother has lived in New York City for three years, most of them good.
Category 3: Devastating damage will occur.
My mother lives on the lower end of the Upper East Side. She belongs to a gym on 63rd and Lex that provides its members with cucumber-scented towels post-workout, and today members of downtown branches take cabs or walk for miles to shower at hers, still open in the storm.
On Long Island, hundred-year-old tree trunks and torn cables splinter homes. White porches get caked with dirt clods unearthed by callous winds in front yards.
This is where I grew up. A tree falls on a car and its hood collapses, the ends jerked up like the wings of an airplane. Some of the homes I love best are here in the suburbs — beautiful two-story houses I used to pass in my car — and they fold as if made of paper.
Category 4: Horrific damage will occur.
My friend goes out on the wooden deck of a beach club her family has belonged to forever. She takes pictures in a windbreaker — hood up, a toothy smile flashing across her red face. The storm rages on behind her.
This is where she used to have birthday parties in grade school, where my mother used to drop me off with a wrapped gift and a jacket.
Here is the beach club where we took photos before prom. This is where we celebrated our sixth grade graduation. Someone threw a jellyfish at Erik Johnson, and he cried.
Category 5: Catastrophic damage will occur.
Or maybe it was eighth. I spent the summer after sixth grade disappearing. I watched a boy carve most of a girl’s name into his forearm with a slab of broken glass. He couldn’t fit the last letter so she changed the way she spelled her name on test papers: MARI.
She laughs in every picture. Behind her, the storm has already ravaged a kayak. She seems not to notice, her eyes focused intently on the omniscient reporter she’s affixed to a weighty tripod in the sand.
This kayak was once new. These are its embarrassed features: white and red flecks of paint scattered like leaves across the sand. A branch bisects its wooden seat, a mouth full of twigs and dirt.
Category 6? Referred to as “super typhoons.”
A man is at his home in Toms River, New Jersey when his kitchen is swept away, so he walks out of the house and is quickly caught up in the current. He spends about four hours trying to swim back home before he is swept into a woman’s house across the bay.
He pens this note:
Who ever reads this I'm DIEING — I'm 28 yrs old my name is Mike. I had to break in to your house. I took blankets off the couch. I have hypothermia. I didn't take any thing. A wave thru me out of my house down the block. I don't think I'm going to make it. The water outside is 10ft deep at least. There's no res[c]ue.
He leaves his father’s name and number. After a few hours in the dark house, he ventures back out into the water. A man in a personal watercraft finds him, warms him, and feeds him.
I tell his story to my mother, who, like me, gets too much of her news from Yahoo. She takes a deep breath that crackles over the phone, like thunder after a pretense of lightning. She says, “There are some good people out there.”
In a future interview, Mike will say, “In the street there was about eight feet of water, and I'm like, I ain't dying like this, after all this, I ain't dying like this.”
Out There: a place where what’s left of the world is a Jacuzzi tub unplugged, and strangers hold hands just to stay afloat.
I wish I were holding her hand right now.
Jiordan Castle is a full-time writer, part-time pizza eater and dog petter. Her work has appeared elsewhere in print and online. She gets personal at nomoreundead.tumblr.com.