As I sit and wait (and wait, and wait, and wait) for the category 4 hurricane headed my way, it’s tempting to say I’ve never been so scared — but that wouldn’t be true.
I’ve never been so scared in this way, certainly. I’ve never had so long to tally up the items in my home that were left behind, things that mean a lot and things that shouldn’t mean much, and lament their potential loss to a 15 foot storm surge. I’ve never looked at my children and done mental math on the imminent danger approaching and their best odds for survival. (Our evacuation retreat is in the direct path, too — I took a gamble based on gas shortages and traffic, and I lost.) I've been this scared, just a different flavor of it.
This isn't my first storm, neither literally or figuratively.
I know we’ll be okay. I just don’t know what okay is anymore.
My friends and I have used this gift of time to tell each other what we’ve meant to one another, to remind each other to close interior doors and to fill bathtubs, to exchange 3am texts about the possibility of not being able to go home if there isn’t one to go to, to make promises to check on each other's property after the storm has passed or to offer a place to stay if there's no longer property to report on.
How have we not found more time to tell each other how much we love each other in the past? Suddenly, there’s plenty.
The kids have been having fun but there's a quiet solemnity to their play, as they pass our frantic viewing of the Weather Channel and peer over our shoulders as we pass our phones back and forth to show each other coverage. I was delivering cheery, “Nah, we’ll be fine!” sort of lines, until yesterday when the boys confessed they knew they’d be safe but were worried about our home and city; their little brows furrowed, their eyes sad.
“Me too,” I finally admitted. “So, our worst case scenario is that we will lose stuff. What stuff would it hurt to lose?”
For Big Kid, it was a binder of DVDs that make him nostalgic for his childhood and that contains a television pilot he starred in, little kid listed some toys, I mourned in advance for my tiny pink punch bowl, my Alice figurine from my first Disney trip, my childhood dollhouse. I have electronics and jewelry and art and clothes, but it’s these relics from my childhood that I ache for. Our family photos are at floor level, and surely doomed. My soft bed with its beautiful linens was flipped onto the floor in search of a cat that was never found (Goddamn Alexander Hamilton, I have cried a million tears for you and your obstinance), and all may be lost.
“Yeah, that stuff might be gone,” I conceded. “But we won’t be lost with it. On Monday morning, we will walk out of that closet and we’ll start a new life. And it will be scary and it will be hard, but one day it will be a story we’ll retell to each other and there’s tremendous value in that. We’ll be okay.”
This burst of honesty brought them comfort where my lies had failed.
I’m with my mom and brother, his girlfriend and her beautiful daughter. We’ve played on the dock, drank Bloody Marys, read a book I bought at Walmart out loud; we’ve laughed, joked endlessly, given each other the finger during bouts of tension, made dinners, hid in our rooms and huddled in the living room, and sat around staring at our phones.
“Garrett,” my mom said to my brother, “The neighbor said the power lines will come down. So don’t just walk right out front, but we need to think of a way to check.”
“Gotcha,” he replied. “We’ll send little kid out as a test — hey, dude, why don’t you play in the front yard for a minute?”
Hours later we googled what to do about downed power lines and she handed him her phone.
“Hey, little kid! Get down here and read this!” He shouted, as we laughed through our fear. Someone could make a movie about the evacuation process -- it won't be me.
“Mom, can I have a Diet Coke?” little kid asked yesterday.
“Seriously? I could be dead in two days and I can’t have some aspartame?”
It sounds dark as fuck — and it is — but these moments of bizarre levity are what we have.
I let him have the soda.
And I keep reminding myself that I’m rich in people — dozens have invited us to stay with them, my phone goes off non-stop with messages of love, everyone is promising that whatever comes next we will do together — and my brain goes, “Good. You’re safe. You have everything,” and my heart says, “But the baby pictures and the pink punch bowl and the comfort of that beautiful bedding and goddamn you, Alexander Hamilton, goddamn you and may your name keep you safe when I can't.”
But this afternoon I will get a report about what’s left of my home and my city, and tonight I will get into a closet with my children and our book, and I will try to read louder than the storm.
And we will be okay.
Whatever that is.