NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The mystery is over. After a week of speculation as to the fate of our small cottage on Long Beach Island, we were at last able to return on Monday. A trip that normally takes one and a half hours took three times that, as thousands of anxious homeowners made the same trek, all with similar concerns. Approaching the island, we immediately observed Sandy's wrath. Boats were everywhere, arranged and piled as if they had been the toys of a gigantic child. The infamous "shack," a small fisherman's cottage that has been a landmark for many years, is gone. All that is left is the foundation. I suspect there are a lot of similar stories in a lot of places. The truth is, we were not ready for a storm of this magnitude, and the aftermath is wreaking havoc on lots of people. Some are still without power, while others have lost their homes altogether and now lack even basic necessities. We hear about other floods and storms that have changed lives in other places, and we feel for the victims. Now many more of us have at a real taste of what they're like. Surprisingly, while I rode down Long Beach Island's main drag, it did not look all that different than it does on a normal summer day. That's when the mind games kicked in -- again. "Maybe it's not that bad," I thought. I'd had that kind of false hope all during the week. The satellite images showed our neighborhood intact, some debris, but nothing too out of the ordinary. This is a place that is very special to many of us. Our grandparents came here, as did our parents. Now it's a huge part of our children's lives. The memories run deep. It's painful to see our little island bruised and battered and our homes along with it. Floods, I've learned, can play tricks on you, sometimes leaving false impressions and little obvious evidence. Things might look fine from the outside, but it's a different story once you get inside. Our little 1949 cottage, which looks much the same today as the day it was built, took on 26 inches of water. Our front porch floated away, which is actually funny. But we got much in return; the back deck is covered with two feet of debris. I can't even imagine what we'll find in that pile once we get to it.