Hurricane Irma is still on the march.
But she has passed by Naples.
And she has left her ugly mark.
I know that some of you may stop by my blog today to see how my family fared. My heart has been moved by the words of concern I have received… here, on Facebook, on Instagram… so before I go any further along… I will share… they are safe.
Writing is one of the ways that I process my feelings. It’s the reason I started this blog. And so process, I will. If you’d like to come along with me as I record my thoughts from my side of the storm…keep reading.
From the beginning, I’ve been worried. This storm was big and angry. But I have a tendency to worry, so I tried to keep it at bay. That’s not to say I didn’t let my opinions be known. I just knew when to push and went to stop. It’s a delicate dance. I knew who to plead with and how hard to plead. I knew the reasons that went into the hard decisions. Reasons that, unless someone has made you privy to theirs, you have no right as an outsider to question and spew hatred about. Something I see done over and over and in such a disgusting manner and in such a public space.
On Sunday, I opted not to go to Miss Sunshine’s soccer game in Blacksburg. The continued westward shift made it appear that after it crossed the Keys, it would head right towards Naples. I couldn’t take a chance on missing a call. My mother and I exchanged calls off and on throughout the day. The winds were picking up, but it still wasn’t too bad. In a later call, the winds were stronger. The palm trees were shaking. The ground too saturated. Dad had parked his truck near the house. He might need to move it. The tree wasn’t going to stay upright. I felt helpless. I was going crazy in my skin. I am a stress eater. I am prone to anxiety. I imagine worst-case scenarios. I needed to find something else to do. I decided to run to the library and pick up some movies. Anything to feel like I was doing something.
I get there and find some movies. I am perusing through a few more. I come across a movie called Rules Don’t Apply. I am wondering if this is synchronicity.
The night before I had just finished reading the memoir the rules don’t apply by Ariel Levy. A book that I chanced upon in the new book section. Its inside cover had sounded intriguing. I finished the memoir in two days. I do not review books. I cannot tell you if this would be your cup of tea. I can only tell you that she takes you right along the journey with her. I feel like I am standing there seeing what she sees, feeling what she feels. Perhaps this is my INFP personality… this ability to become immersed into a storyline. Nothing like anything I have lived. But hers is a real storyline. A tragic one.
So I turn the movie case over to read the description. To see if perhaps there is this glimmer of reason that I have stumbled across this particular movie…and my phone rings. I know some people talk on the phone in the library. The rules seemed to have changed within my lifetime, but I do not take calls in the library (in fact, my phone is typically on vibrate) or in lines to pay a cashier. I cannot miss this call. I race towards the coffee shop area of the library where talking is acceptable. I don’t know if I can take unchecked items through, so I dip down by the doorway separating the two and answer in a hushed voice. My mother asks if I am okay. I see the irony. My mom…asking if I’m okay…as she’s going through the outer bands of a hurricane. I tell her that I am and she asks if I’ve seen the text she just sent. I haven’t. She says to look at it and call her back. I go to the checkout desk and while the librarian is retrieving the movies, I look at the text.
My dad was able to secure the palm so that as it uprooted, it wouldn’t take out the power line. I am hopeful that this is as bad as it will become.
I call her on my way back to the house. I am worried about the roof. It is gabled. She says that the gables are boarded. This eases my panic… some.
She sends me a text that says the news says they are going to get the worst of the storm. PRAY. Seeing that word in caps makes the tears that I have been holding back spill over. I am frightened. I know that my mom is afraid. I cannot crawl into that space into my mind. That space of raw fear. I know raw fear. I know driving across the State of Florida late at night after your firstborn child has been medflighted to a trauma hospital fear.
But that turned out okay. This has to turn out okay. The part of the memoir that most resonated with me was her thought that nothing bad could ever actually happen to her in “her movie” because she was the protagonist. I am wondering if I will reach the moment in “my movie” where my role as protagonist no longer means that everything turns out okay. I cannot dwell in that space. I am sending out updates to friends and family. I am calling my mom to tell her what is being said on The Weather Channel. I am wishing they’d talk about Naples instead of Miami. Marco Island…Naples..that’s getting this current impact.
They are in Naples. I am watching the weatherman brace against the storm. 95 mph sustained winds. 142 mph recorded gust. I know the plaza he is standing in. I know those tree lined medians. They are saying it’s much worse to the East of him. My family is to the East of him.
The calm comes in.
I call my mom again.
She says that it is getting bad. That the house is beginning to buck. She means that the bands are strong. The house is heaving and groaning as wind comes whipping around it.
I am thinking they must be close to through it. My dad is trying to tell me the bearings of the radar map.
I am willing the TV channel to zoom in so I can see more roads.
And then The Weather Channel zooms in on the radar and I see it…
They are not almost through it. They are East of Orangtree. Orangetree, the subdivision that was nothing more than a pasture filled with cows when I was young. They are in the red. I tell my dad that the Northeast band of the eye wall is over them right now. He is not surprised. The wind is howling. The house is crying. I am panicked. How long? How long will it last? They want to know. I have no answers. The TV isn’t saying anything. They’ve mentally moved on to Jim Cantore in Estero. I tell my parents that it lasted about 45 minutes in the city, but that the eye is eroding. I tell them that there will likely be no calm, only a slightly lessening wind. They need to relay the information to my brother. We hang up.
Over and over in my mind, the scenes from Twister are racing through my mind. This isn’t a tornado, but it is fierce circular wind. I know hurricanes. I know how they sound howling through the trees. I am praying fiercely that the old wooden house doesn’t decide that it is tired and has given all it can. Protect my family. I know that they will ride out this eye wall in the hallway. I know that hallway. That hallway that my feet have walked along since I was seven. A long, narrow corridor, just wide enough for a child to reach out and run a hand alongside each wall. Something my brother and I were taught not to do. I know which doorway leads to which room…what photos hang along the way. I imagine them there…safe. Protect my family.
I think the eye has surely reached them. But I cannot get through. A cell tower is down.
I feel in the pit of my being that they are safe. There may be damage, but I know they are alive. Surely I would know if they were not. The fact that life doesn’t always have a happy ending threatens to undo me, but I suppress it.
I worry about whether or not I said all I wanted to say. I think about my Grandma. About how she was dying when I moved to Virginia. About how I thought about going back one last time to visit. But I knew she’d want me to settle my family. Yet, sometimes I wish I’d just gotten on the damn plane and returned home once more. I don’t want this to be like that. I don’t want to think about the what-if’s. But they creep in.
I ask my husband what will I do if I haven’t heard from them by my birthday (I turn 40 tomorrow…the 12th). Every year, my mother calls me first thing in the morning and sings me “Happy Birthday”. It doesn’t seem right that on this milestone it won’t happen. He has no answer for me. I like answers. I am a person who is always seeking answers. As a child, during movies, I would ask my mother over and over…. “that didn’t really happen, right?” “that’s just pretend”. I still find myself biting my tongue (and sometimes failing) wanting to know the answer to a question in a movie. Usually when I fail, I’m met with “you know as much as me, Amy.” But do I? Maybe you caught something I missed. Some integral piece that gives me the answer that I want to know. I don’t like this waiting. This helplessness. I need to know they have survived.
Eventually we go to bed. Monday is another day in this world I now live in. This world away from destruction. After an entire lifetime in Florida, being gone for four years has lessened the surreal feelings I have when my home, my Florida, is under threat.. but it hasn’t completely removed them.
My phone rings. I am startled awake. My adrenaline starts racing. My phone would only ring if somebody has checked on my family. I lift my phone. It reads 12:12 a.m. The number is my dad. In the middle of the night, the air out there picks up signals from much farther away. When I was a child, on a clear night, we could listen to radio stations many cities away. I am certain that if he has managed to get through despite the downed cell tower, that the moments will be precious. He is surprised that the call has made it. They have been trying for about three hours. My mother has stood on chairs trying to hold her phone to places where she might receive a glimmer of a signal.
He says they are all safe. He tells me that it was bad. In that moment, thoughts are racing through my head. I am hanging on this thread between reality and dream-state, having just been awakened. I am thinking that maybe the house did fall down around them. He says that the houses are fine. He tells me that it was like nothing he’s ever been through in his life. That it was way worse than Wilma. They are telling me about the floorboards rumbling. Somebody, I think it was my brother, said it felt like the plucking of guitar strings below his feet as the bands of wind went by. That it never let up. 45 minutes…an hour…unrelenting.
I think about how it must feel to be in a petrified state of fear for an hour straight. Counting down the time. Praying for the wind to cease. Willing your house to stay together. To protect you. It makes my stomach hurt.
He tells me part of one shop is gone. It’s hard to hear. Is it just the wall? The roof? I know this shop. I ran a 4-wheeler into the side of it when I was 15. I came up the driveway with the throttle wide open, my favorite way to ride. But then it wasn’t stopping. The shop approaching way too fast. I claimed the brakes didn’t work. I still maintain that.
He says a truss from the other shop has been ripped away and thrown some ways into the yard. I’m pretty sure that he says that attached to the truss is a car frame that had been placed in the rafters of the shop. Miss Sunshine and I just watched Sweet Home Alabama the night before and I am envisioning the grandfather shooting anvils from a cannon. I am wondering if this is what their yard looks like. This yard that I trod upon as a barefoot child and teen. This yard that I laid upon as I watched the clouds race by. The one in which I counted stars and imagined faces in the Harvest moon. They are telling me about uprooted trees. I think my mom is telling me about losing one that she likes so much. The call is breaking up. She repeats it. I still cannot tell what she is saying because it is breaking up. They tell me that they can hear me fine, so I tell them about the hotspots that they should be able to get to the next day.
We hang up. I am relieved that all are safe.
After telling everyone through Facebook that they are all okay, I collapse into bed and have a fitful night of strange dreams and long periods of being awake.
My mom gets a short call through to me today. The hotspots don’t work. Orangetree had 130-135 mph sustained winds. There were 142 mph gusts. The area is a mess. The call fails before I can hear more.
Now begins the process of cleaning up. My family is resilient. Florida is resilient.
They will emerge even stronger.
Let your light shine!