I’m used to living in hurricane zones. For the last decade I’ve lived along the gulf coast of Florida, and prior to that dealt with Atlantic Coast storms in eastern North Carolina. Hurricanes are an annual cost of coastal living.
In fact, last year when Matthew hit Florida I hitched a ride with a complete stranger into the projected path so I could still attend Indie Book Fest in Orlando. (There’s a whole nother story there!) I’ll be honest, I’m still shocked at that adventure, as I am NOT one to take risks.
But Irma was a completely different experience. Irma was BIG. Irma was bad–projected to be a Category 5 at landfall. And she was heading right for my sleepy little coastal town of Sarasota.
We were already reeling from Harvey’s devastation in Texas, our anxiety was already high. As Irma crept closer my family tried the best we could to prepare the house and made the decision to either ride it out at home or evacuate to a local shelter. With our closest non-Floridian friends in North Carolina and the warnings of gas and hotel scarcity, evacuating our town (unless mandated) wasn’t going to happen with 3 wee-ones.
We opted for a shelter. We owned our home and had already lost a section of fence in Hermine the year before. None of us wanted to risk a Category 4 or 5, so we packed our belongings and left. As we drove away, for the first time I really wondered if we would have anything to go back to. It was a horrible feeling. And I hope I never experience it again.
But heading to a shelter was the best decision ever. They had food, electricity, and the kids made new friends as we rode out the storm almost oblivious to the destruction outside the walls. After three days in the shelter, the storm passed and we left the safety of the concrete school walls and drove the 3 miles home, passing downed trees, fences, power lines, and non-functioning traffic lights. It was a shocking.
Fortunately, we suffered very little damage; we lost our fence (again) and a lot of tree limbs. Considering we had friends who lost everything, we were extremely lucky. The power was out for 5 days so all our cold food spoiled–a full fridge and 2 freezers–and our kids were confused as to how to function with no lights, wifi, television, or air conditioning. But we made due.
To combat the 90+ degree temps inside the house, we dragged mattresses into the living room and all slept there–the one room with decent airflow. The kids thought it was awesome (although not the no wifi business) and considered it an endless slumber party. We couldn’t cook so we ate a lot of nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, and ate hot meals at a local church (and charged our phones!) Friends with power offered their showers and cooked meals, our community really came together.
We are still trying to recover. The yard is a half-finished mess, the fence is in pieces in the backyard, and we left a good portion of our possessions in watertight boxes and bags–just in case. Because we still have over a month of hurricane season left and I can’t take boxing everything up again.
Leaving our home and fleeing–however temporary–was an unsettling feeling. I can’t imagine the stress of those with worse outcomes. I’m just now–a month and a half later–catching up on pre-Irma projects. And progress is slow. So slow.
The kids, although they had fun in all the excitement, are still jumpy and stressed. Bedtime is longer, hugs are tighter, and I wake up most mornings with an uninvited tiny guest. Or two. Irma might have shuffled east at the last minute, sparing us from the worst but her presence lingers. Any deadlines I had for the rest of 2017 are dust. And I’m trying to be okay with that. I have a plan, but grace will be needed as getting back to “normal” is something that you can’t force–no matter how much I wish for a magic wand to make it happen. Patience is not one of my virtues.
Irma, with all the anxiety and stress, has made me rethink a lot of things. Priorities especially. I’ve started saving for hurricane-grade windows. We still haven’t restocked our freezers and barely our fridge, keeping only the necessities. Our packed belongings will stay sealed until at least December. I’ve started throwing out shit with cathartic abandon. Our survival box is overflowing with emergency supplies. I pay a little more attention to hurricane tracks than usual, hypervigilant. Things are tense.
Focus-wise, I find myself staring off into space more than usual, drifting along aimlessly as my attention flitters around and completing the simplest projects has become increasingly difficult. I wake in the middle of the night, sometimes with panic attacks sometimes for no reason whatsoever.
I turn off my computer. I spend most of my evenings doing middle school math. My weekends playing cards, cuddling during movies, and less time working. I hug my kids a little tighter. Normal will come, in time, but it won’t look like the old one.
Were you impacted by the hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, or Maria)? The earthquakes? Fires? Mother nature has certainly been shouting her displeasure lately. Tell me about your experience in the comments. How has it shaped you? Changed your priorities?