A Swirling Mystery
Skydiving. Surfing. Bungee jumping. Scuba diving. Cliff diving.
Running of the Bulls. White water rafting.
I would never classify myself as a thrill-seeker who is willing to try anything. In fact, if I signed up for the events listed above, there would be a pretty good chance that I would chicken out before my time to shine arrived. However, I have an adventurous soul and am often tempted to wander off the beaten path to embrace a little danger.
Tuesday September 5th
I first heard about Hurricane Irma as I listened to worried customers mentioning the trending news to my co-worker. “It’s tracking to hit us over the weekend and they are saying it could pack a heavy punch.” I huddled in my small office, looking up news reports and seeing the white clouds hovering over the ocean. I closed out of the screen, passing off Irma like the other hurricanes last year that threatened our area. Schools shut down but all I experienced was a drizzly day. Two years in Florida and I had yet to be impressed by the storms. Of course I value my safety and ease of life, but a part of me looked to enjoy the new experience in Irma. As the days went by and the seriousness of the situation mounted, I have to admit that I was pretty excited.
Thursday, September 7th
Central Florida news crews were delivering hefty warnings of the coming storm. Stores were ransacked of their bottled water, bread, plywood, batteries, propane, flashlights and canned goods. You couldn’t be out in public more than five minutes before hearing Floridians chattering about Irma and their prediction of its track.
“Oh, it’s just going to smear the coast, giving us only light rain and wind.”
“Clermont is hilly, so we are protected unlike the rest of the very flat state.”
“Even if we do get wind and rain, we probably won’t even lose power.”
And then there were others who were too concerned to stay and find out where Irma was headed. They piled sandbags around their house and high-tailed it out of the state, clogging the freeways with bumper to bumper traffic. By Friday afternoon, businesses were shutting down and the roads were lined with cars like ants on a mission to their destination. My job at the bank consisted of processing withdrawals until we literally ran out of cash and closed early. Kevin and I talked about our options, deciding to hunker down and ride out the storm at home. The problem was, this was my first hurricane and I had no idea what to expect.
Saturday, September 9th
At 10am I ran my usual route around the neighborhood, soaking in the sights of a pre-hurricane existence. I heard generators being warmed up and watched neighbors nail plywood to their windows. I saw the beautiful palm trees sway in the breeze and wondered how each branch would be affected in the coming hours. Then I joined my husband at home and together we waited for the mass destruction that was promised.
Sunday, September 10th
Hurricane Irma was the size of the entire state of Florida. News traveled fast of its destruction in the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. As far as we knew, the eye of the storm was supposed to hit the west coast, leaving us to feel the outer bands. Sunday traveled painfully by my window, and I looked out into the misty rain, curious as to when the intensity would start picking up. I charged my devices, got out the candles, filled up my Nalgene bottles, cooked some extra food and watched TV for the last time. Our pet bunnies hopped safely around in our guest bathroom stocked with enough food to live through a dozen hurricanes.
Irma passed through South Florida at glacier-like speed. I took my last guaranteed hot shower at 4pm and planned to eat as we knew the gusts would be coming soon. The worst of Irma would hit Central Florida at 2am, but we had no idea that the eye of the storm would pass directly through our hilly Clermont. The longer we waited, the more we wondered where she was and what she was up to.
While I quickly ate over-easy eggs and toast, I felt the first jolt of fear as the lights flickered in the kitchen. My eyes widened and I looked at Kevin in the living room. “You better come cook your hot dogs! I think this is it!” Kevin smiled and meandered over for his usual Sunday night meal.
Determined to have some fun, I pranced into the spare room to grab our favorite game off the highest shelf of the closet. Holding the Sequence box in my hands, I announced my plans to Kevin. As we played, the lights flickered more often than they were steady. I froze each time, bracing for darkness. I yelped in surprise, asking Kevin, “Are we gonna die?!?” Of course, I wasn’t serious but part of me really did feel fear for whatever this storm was about to dish out. I jumped up mid-game to turn the air conditioning down in the effort to get a head start on cooling the house in case we lost power. Later I would realize that I should have done it hours before then.
I roped my wet hair around my head and climbed into my pajamas like any other night. I clicked our black fan on and it roared to life, shooting a breeze into the air. I stared at the bed, hearing whistling winds outside and trying to make a decision about where to sleep. Kevin climbed in without a thought, and I didn’t see any reason to sleep elsewhere. But it was about to be a long night.
Every time my conscious slipped into darkness, a wolf’s howl raised my eyelids. Every gust of wind that slammed into the window snapped me out of any form of restful sleep. I foolishly considered ear plugs. Then I pictured a tree smashing through my bedroom window and disabling Kevin and I. I wasn’t scared for my life, I was scared of my mom’s lectures if she ever found out we had slept right next to the window during a hurricane. So I sat up. As soon as I stood to review our options, my husband woke up. “I think we need to move.” I mumbled, walking toward the bathroom. I walked in and turned on the light, immediately shocked by how much noisier it was. Our tiny window made more of a ruckus than our bedroom and I walked right back out, knowing that sleeping on the bathroom floor was out of the question. Kevin was standing up holding the edge of the blanket, his hair sticking out in all directions. I shuffled past him to the closet, my mind suddenly very awake in search of a solution. Peering in, I eyed it and named it our new tiny house. We grabbed the still running fan and re-plugged it in on the floor. I lined the carpet with our one thick sleeping bag and two blankets. I moved my clothes out of the way, tying up the long dresses to the hanger. We laid down and Kevin fell right back to sleep, our ankles kissing at the doorway of the closet. I shoved my hands under my pillow and moved my head around the corner, trying to find a comfortable position. I felt crammed and feared a backache the next morning.
After fitful dreams, I awoke when the fan turned off. We lost power when the eye passed over. The howling wind continued as I fell in and out of short cycles of sleep.
Daylight poured into our eerily silent room. No fan. No hum of air conditioning. No distant trickle of water from our turtle’s tank. I rubbed my eyes, feeling strangely rested after a long night. We got up and began the long process of life after Irma.
After a brief breakfast, we surveyed the damage. Our pergola’s tin roof bent upwards about a foot. The neighbor’s fence lay completely flat on the ground, opening up the yard to our view. We ventured outside in jackets, picking up shingles from our yard. Since our roof was brand new in 2016, each worn shingle we touched was not from us. A few palm branches lay in our yard and we began the windy, windy walk around the neighborhood. The gray skies hovered above, watching Florida recover from a devastating storm.
I held my arms out and they lifted higher, the wind whipping around my body. Occasional gusts made us feel like Irma hadn’t completely left town yet. I laughed in wonder, nearly shouting to Kevin so he could hear me above the noise. We walked around and saw some of the first of many downed trees. Branches and leaves were littered everywhere, caught between blades of grass and swaying in the wind.
We had no power indefinitely, and that proved to be the kicker for me. The air in our house grew thicker with each day. Even functioning by candle light was nearly impossible. By my count, I had seven candles going and could still barely see the Sequence board as we had a rematch at 9pm on Monday night.
By Tuesday our freezer food was melting and I worried about how long it would last. Good friends gave us ice bags after we checked two stores with no luck. Our grill saved us, as we could cook meat and use the hot plate for a small saucepan. But I was running out of creativity and it didn’t take long for me to start lashing out in discomfort and annoyance. I tried to count my blessings but it was tough to be without such a vital lifeline that electricity was to us. I struggled sleeping at night as the temperature rose. On Wednesday morning, I was prepared to reach out to a friend as I knew it would be tough to make it another night. But Kevin texted me in the afternoon, “We have power!” I breathed a sigh of thankfulness. Grocery shopping on Saturday was a nightmare. It seemed like every time I reached for something on my grocery list, it was missing. I spent twice as much money as usual and cried tears of frustration on the way home. But two days later, a check came in the mail from a sweet family member. It was the exact amount that I had spent at the store. She was worried about the food we had lost in the hurricane and helped us replace it. What an angel.
With every drive I make here in Florida, I notice the way Irma left her mark on this state. I see scores of fences lying on the grass or piled up near driveways, nails sticking out of the wood. Trees are cracked in the middle and resting on grassy lawns. When I run around the neighborhood, I am always beside mountains of brush piled up and I long to crush the brown leaves in my hands. Roofs look like a ten-year-old’s mouth with a few missing teeth. Some roofs are covered in temporary tarp, waiting on the busy roofers to get to their name on the list. Windows are still covered in plywood, left by their owners in case of another storm. I notice some trees are permanently bent in one direction. It’s like someone took a picture of Irma’s presence as she pushed that tree to its limit, bending it so forcefully that it will never revert back to its original condition. I laugh because it looks like a scene from Dr. Seuss, but I know it is just a part of our history now; a part of me and something that bent me forever too.
Turns out that adventure usually involve some discomfort. In that discomfort, our community bound closer and our houses kept us safe in the storm. The adventure seeker in me is deeply satisfied. I can cross off “Survived a Hurricane” from my bucket list.