Felt the lightning / And we waited on the thunder / Waited on the thunder
Monday, 3 October
A workshop submission is due today for my MFA residency in December. At 5:00, I send it away over the ether. I collect H is for Hawk and a highlighter and walk to the housing development’s private pool for some uninterrupted reading. The air outside is perfect, dry and warm. Hurricane Matthew is still far from where I live in St. Augustine, Florida; still a day south of Haiti. Matthew is an abstraction.
In the parking area by the pool, my neighbor, Jerry, leans into the security guard’s car window, talking with her.
He beckons me closer. “You might not want to go to the pool,” he says. “A lady died.”
The security guard adds that the pool is open again. “It’s no longer a crime scene,” she says. “If you want to swim.”
Jerry says the security tape shows the lady was swimming laps alone, then she sat in a chaise and was messing with her phone. And then she got quiet.
Wait, which chaise? I think.
I turn and walk back to the house. I can’t process this beyond wondering, fleetingly, what is wrong with me. Which chaise. I want to read H is for Hawk in my favorite chaise next week after the sun comes out again. Matthew will wash it all away.
Later I’m walking the dogs and run into Jerry in his driveway. I get three mosquito bites while he tells me everything else he knows. The lady’s husband found her at the pool. The emergency responders did CPR for twenty minutes. I ask Jerry questions he doesn’t know the answers to: how old was the lady, and do they have children? I keep other questions to myself: Is the husband alone?
The lady and her husband are renters. They’re building their dream home in a nearby development. Their house will be ready in two weeks.
Tuesday, 4 October
I have a blog to write, but this hurricane is on my mind. Conditions need to be favorable for writing. Chores done, desk clean, some quiet—Matthew is disruptive. He is destroying Haiti on my second monitor.
Waiting for a hurricane takes patience. I grew up in coastal Massachusetts. I’ve waited like this before: Gloria in 1985 and Bob in 1991. Two months after Bob it was The No-Name Storm, later known as The Perfect Storm. A few hours before a rogue wave would swallow the fishermen of the Andrea Gail, we walked from our house to Fort Sewall. When the wind gusted just so, I leaned out over the bluffs marking the entrance to Marblehead harbor, my stepfather’s hand on my belt just in case, and felt the wind lift me up, hold me aloft.
I waste my writing hours thinking about storms past.
Wednesday, 5 October
The blog should be going to my editor today. I’d normally be on my third draft by now. I don’t miss deadlines. I have an opening paragraph and an idea that I liked until I sat down to write yesterday. Now again, I should write. Other things are on my mind, like the husband of the lady at the pool, and Matthew, who destroyed Haiti yesterday and is now in Cuba, and the ice and water we still need and probably won’t be able to procure by later today. Images of bare shelves are already in the news updates.
I was going to blog about my dad and me, and Bob Seger. Maybe another time.
I just want ten uninterrupted minutes at my desk to write anything. My husband, Chad, has never been in a hurricane. He is unperturbed, working in his office. Dad and my stepmom, Jane, have been through two hurricanes in their townhouse where we live with them. They are unperturbed. Dad’s watching movies.
I’m interrupting my work, again and again, to build lists of emergency items in case we need to evacuate, to refresh my browser for updates from the county, for updates about the rising death toll in Haiti. I wait for Matthew to bring danger.
We won’t have enough dog food. No one has gone yet to get ice or water and it’s probably too late, the stores stripped clean of necessities. Chad loaded the truck with the pet supplies I packed in case we need to evacuate. I’m certain our little teardrop RV over in storage will be a goner.
I want to read H is for Hawk, or think about the husband of the lady at the pool. What is he doing while waiting for Matthew? Weather alerts are pinging, and I’m worrying about two friends who are out of town: Who is caring for their pets? And another friend who just became a mother: Will she be clinging to her baby on her roof on Friday? Instead of writing my blog I’m thinking about the thousands of Haitians who just lost everything. I’m visualizing roiling streets of water in Haiti and remembering the rising waters of Katrina.
I listen to Rick Scott’s press conference. I print the pets’ rabies certificates and gather some valuables and study the county’s pet friendly shelter brochure.
This blog isn’t happening.
Thursday, 6 October
At six this morning, two county zones went under mandatory evacuation orders. We do not live in an evacuation zone. The hospital is closing. The airport is closing. We are staying. I wonder about the husband of the lady at the pool. Will he stay alone and what will he eat? The number of dead in Haiti is rising.
Jane waited outside for the grocery to open this morning and got ice. Chad procured the eighteen gallons of water I decided we needed—three gallons per day for each person, plus six more for the pets. Earlier, the absence of these items seemed predictive that we would suffer.
There are things to do: make oatmeal to supplement the dog food since the replacement is delayed by Amazon; grind coffee; drive to the RV in storage to get tarps and the coffee percolator; endlessly refresh the emergency pages on social media for the county alerts and the weather. Evacuation supplies need to be packed into a laundry basket, and the cars need to be re-positioned with the truck in the driveway, ready to load pets and go. I have the husband of the lady from the pool and all the Haitians to think about.
Still no blog.
Friday, 7 October
Matthew will be here today. Before the inevitable power loss I run a load of laundry and take a shower. We fill the home’s only bathtub. The waiting that has consumed days is now collapsing into hours.
The NWS warns this will be the first major hurricane to impact our region directly in 118 years. There is no one with living memory of the last storm.
Outside, the neighbors bustle. Everyone regrets not leaving voluntarily. With wind now gusting and the pressure inverting I also regret not having left. But it’s too late. The highways are snarled.
The power flits on and off. My laptop is old and the battery doesn’t work, so I power down and switch to mobile. I hunker in bed with the dogs, watching local news on TV, cutting in and out, watching all the emergency sites on my tablet: NWS, St. Johns County EMS, Twitter. Chad did yoga and is working in his office. Dad watches one TV in the living room, Jane, another in their bedroom. We convene in the kitchen every few minutes to share updates. The updates gain urgency: storm surge breaches earlier than expected downtown and is destroying our city, the oldest city in the country; twenty people are trapped in a B&B; a homeless man in a wheelchair falls off the Vilano Bridge and is rescued. The water is rising.
At home, ten crucial miles west of the ocean, the power flickers and the wind and rain rage. There is nowhere I can go to lean into the wind. The dogs refuse to go outside to pee. The pond spills over and streams beside the house. Chad works, and asks why I’m not working, or at least reading. I am watching. I am waiting.
I finally crack H is for Hawk because I feel accused of not working. I devour chapters and almost miss a press conference, distracted by Helen Macdonald breaking my heart: “It struck me then that perhaps the bareness and wrongness of the world was an illusion; that things might still be real, and right, and beautiful, even if I could not see them—that if I stood in the right place, and was lucky, this might somehow be revealed to me” (151).
As dusk settles, I see on TV that kayakers have taken to the flooded downtown streets. Our rain stops but our wind still gusts. We must walk the dogs before dark. The wind batters my body and I can’t look up at the trees to see if they threaten to fall. I can only look down at my dog and my feet, and choose each step. When we get back inside, our power goes out. It’s the cusp of darkness. I’m humming Seger’s “Against the Wind.”
I immediately yearn for H is for Hawk, but I shouldn’t waste the flashlight batteries. Officials warned that power outages will last days. The storm is moving north. I think of everyone downtown, storm-surged, wet; now dark. I think of Haiti and the husband of the lady at the pool.
In less than an hour, power is restored. We start drinking and watch Total Recall.
Saturday, 8 October
I sit in bed with coffee and read Thursday’s NYT article about being trapped in a category 5 hurricane in Florida: “But, like any good suspense story, the second half tumbled into terrifying.” I’m thankful I didn’t read this yesterday.
I walk the dogs. Every fallen stick looks like a snake. The sun shines and the wind feels warm and perfect. We’ll go check the RV, see if it’s a goner. The water recedes downtown and the National Guard might let people back in soon. You’ll read this instead of my blog about Dad and me.
I want to finish H is for Hawk. It’s a beautiful day for the pool.
I watched Matthew on TV in bed with my dogs while he struck around me. Our town is ravaged, though no one died, no one was stranded on the roof. It was nothing like Haiti. Matthew was an abstraction and then he was wind and rain and downed limbs. He was storm surge. Then he was on to Savannah and Charleston, and North Carolina to kill. The husband of the lady at the pool was on my list of worries, but has also dissipated to my east. I prepared for eventualities while a trip to the pool on a sunny day can be the end.
My fears came to pass, for others. Others suffer. I watch them on TV. Today, I help my friend haul everything she owns out to the curb. Tomorrow, I’ll help again, with my hands. I’ll donate to Haiti with my heart.
Matthew left me unscathed. He could not prevent this blog; he could only change its course.
Macdonald, Helen. H Is For Hawk. Grove Press, 2014.