This is not going to be over soon.
Superstorm Sandy has forever transformed the lives of those who were directly affected by it. There is no going back to life the way it was. And only those who are living this nightmare each day and night can understand the constant daily stress, fear and worry.
Those who never had to leave their homes on that dark and terrifying day of Oct. 29, they cannot understand. Maybe they lost power for days and they were cold. Maybe some trees came down. And there are some who wonder why storm victims can't just get on with their lives and forget about Sandy.
They do not and cannot understand. We can't forget. The old cliche "unless it happens to you" is particularly apt here.
Sandy is not over for too many of us.
I took a ride over the Mathis bridge around dusk on Friday, after a visit to the Toms River DRC - or in FEMA speak - disaster recovery center. The skies were pewter, save for a thin sliver of blue. The setting sun poked through and cast an eerie yellow light on the crippled bayfront.
That was my first ride back heading north on Route 35 since Sandy blew up much of the northern barrier island. Four months in, it is still frightening.
The streets leading to the ocean in Ortley Beach were lit up with large spotlights, electric suns illuminating the devastation. Each road was barricaded. State police were stationed on each street.
I drove past Second Avenue, where my college roommate and her family lived and ran the Ortley House, a few decades ago. They lived in a nice yellow house, had a few smaller houses for rent and a large concrete building fronting the ocean with apartment units.
The apartment building was still standing. But a huge pile of rubble sat on the street. I can only assume the house and other buildings are gone now. I remember my roommate telling me how her older brothers had literally guarded the property with shotguns after the March 1962 nor'easter washed the original Ortley House out of sea.
I headed into Lavallette. I drove past the house a friend of my mine lived in, until Oct. 29. She will soon have to demolish the home her parents bought in the early 1950s. My friend is a cat lover. She had to farm her cats out to friends after the storm.
A group of homeless cats - Sandy survivors - huddled next to the foundation of her home. She goes to feed them and so do some of the building contractors.
Darkness was beginning to fall. I headed down Princeton Avenue to check out the home once owned by a good friend's parents back in the 1960s. It was still standing, but had a remediation company sign out in front. I called her from my car, to let her know the house was okay. She was glad. That home was a happy place for her family.
I began to get a little nervous while I sat there in my car. After all, there's been a curfew in the barrier island towns since the Sandy blitzkrieg. What if someone spotted my car lights and called the police? I soon realized there was no need to worry. Princeton Avenue - save for two houses at the end of the street - was dark. No one lives there.
Barnacle Bill's on Route 35 North was shuttered. The giant Paul Bunyan statue that once loomed next to the roadway disappeared during Sandy. We all hope the businesses can recover before the summer tourism season. But from the looks of things, that's not going to happen for many.
Maybe the boardwalk will be up and running in Seaside Heights by Memorial Day. I'm sure day visitors will flock to Seaside, partly for the entertainment and partly out of curiosity to see the damage. But who will want to rent a vacation home surrounded by such devastation?
The ride back over the Tunney bridge to the mainland was sobering. The bright necklace of lights that once twinkled along the waterfront is gone. There are few lights now.
Someone said to me last week that they had driven through my Bayville neighborhood and "it didn't look too bad."
Just because a house is not upside down or in the middle of the street doesn't mean people were not affected. Look for the remediation and contractor signs jutting from the lawns. Look for the dumpster and storage pods.
But if you really want to know what houses were affected, drive through at night and look at all the houses with no lights on. My house is one of them.
Four months in, we are still out of our home. We've made some progress, thanks to an flood insurance carrier that sent advance payments soon after the storm and settled the entire claim a month ago. We are luckier than many, many people.
I walked into the house a week ago. For the first time in nearly four months, I could not see my breath coming out in plumes in the cold. The heat was on. A small miracle.
But the stress of the long, slow slog towards recovery has worn me down. It's worn a lot of storm victims down. We are tired. We want to go home.
Only a Sandy survivor knows what it's like to try to sleep while bombarded by thoughts of what to do next. We grit our teeth when we sleep and wake up with clenched fists. My jaw aches from constantly bearing down on my teeth.
So if you're sick of hearing about Superstorm Sandy, please remember us. It's not over for us.