There was no light, just sound. It was 1:30 A:M and the frumpy little mess of a tropical depression had found its wings and formed into a proper Category One hurricane by the time it hit the coast down the road in St. Marks. Melissa and the dog were asleep, but the cat and I were awake. I cracked open the carport door and peered into the night with my flashlight. The treetops were swirling, the rain a steady stinging spray. It was exciting. The electricity popped out hours ago with a boom at 10:00 P:M before the weather even rolled in, an ominous sign. Still, I felt prepared.
I heard the first deep cracking of a tree before the burst of wind got to our house and laid 100′ tall mature pines and oaks over as if they would be pushed back down into the earth. It terrified me. A life-long Floridian, I had never seen wind like this in person. I knew in my sour stomach we should be somewhere else, but it was too late. I shut the door and went back to our dark bed to wait. The last forecast I saw called for winds on the back of the eye wall to be in the 90’s. I believed our brick house could withstand that, but the time for options had passed anyway. My plan was to rest until the calm of the eye came, then to take a quick survey before hustling the four of us under the house or into the hall. I awoke to a total calm, only the sound of dripping water outside and sirens competing in the distance. The storm moved east, and spared us the brunt of the tailing winds. I walked out to the street at 6:00 A.M. and saw my neighbor standing in the darkness, strong and sturdy, looking down the hill to our corner, which I no longer recognized. Large trees and power lines were down across both roads, and in the dark it was hard to interpret the image. Headlights pierced through, weaving slowly around the debris, I expected it to be the police. Instead it was my friend Kevin on his way to work, to see how the teen crisis shelter fared in the storm with nine kids, other people’s children, and the staff who look after them. They were all okay. He said they did great.
Melissa awoke, rested and in much better shape than myself, as did the dog. We walked our wooded lot and checked the house on all sides. There was no damage to the roof. Our cars were fine, but carpeted on one side with fresh green pine needles and dirt. The briefest exploration of our block determined that this would not be a normal day. My nerves were shot, and I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything although I knew I needed to get something in me. I chugged two warm protein drinks. 400 calories. After checking in with friends and neighbors the day took shape around the mission to free Paul and Stephanie, who had a massive tulip poplar across their driveway like a gate. Melissa rallied me and I immediately felt better having a purpose. Joe and Dan chainsawed while the rest of us rolled big chunks of tree to the curb. An hour later the task was done, and thus began the ennui. Nobody tells you the worst of the storm, should you survive, is the waiting.
The rest of the week would bring lots of sharing, a neighborhood kitchen set up in the park, and the endless tedium of preparing for nightfall. We didn’t leave our immediate vicinity for 2 days until we heard word that stores were opening and the inevitable outing for ice had to occur. Then each day brought normalcy to some, while others waited. Countless offers from friends for places to stay, supplies, equipment, meals came, and continue to come actually, as there are many who are far from recovered still. That’s what we do in a crisis. We try to feed each other, to put a dry blanket around wet shoulders, food and drink, a break in the air-conditioning. All of it welcome and necessary, while the one thing you really want, and the only thing you truly need can’t be had, or given by anyone in particular. You want normal. To be cool and full in your own living room, or to hang on the door of your own cold refrigerator contemplating a snack. So you develop the frustration of the ungrateful, for turning down so many well-meaning offers from those that regained their normal. It is not that you want them to continue your suffering, your inconvenience, with you- well- maybe that is it. Misery truly does love company, and this past week had its share of miserable.
Maybe those kids at the shelter did so great because their normal was already gone. For once instead of being the ones without anything, receiving constant offers of everything but the one thing they crave, they saw the whole town coming to join them, and they were happy to have such good company.
During my next disaster? I will still offer whatever small comforts I can should I be lucky, but my first question will be, “What sucks the most?”