Hurricane Florence is bearing down on North Carolina. If you’re reading this you’re likely in the path of it, or at least of a part of it. We all know the drill – get food and water, gas up the car, tighten down the hatches, get ice. It sounds easy when listed like that, but it’s not. There are lines at the grocery stores and the shelves are empty, lines at the gas pump and people cutting in front of you, or bags over the pump handles, the freezer is void of bags of ice, your mind is constantly scanning for what else needs to be done.
Is the patio umbrella down? Should it be brought in? Do we need to take down the porch swing? Is there something I’ve forgotten? Something I’ve forgotten? Something I’ve forgotten? The echo goes on until it’s over. The question can never really be answered.
Twenty-two years ago Hurricane Fran hit NC and came inland. I lived in a cheap apartment in Chapel Hill in an area that was prone to flooding. My neighbors in one apartment moved out in a rush that very night, taking everything they had with them and not cleaning the apartment and digging up the irises they’d planted and taking the bulbs. I made sure I had plenty of food and cat food and candles. I put the legs of my furniture in plastic cups and hoped that if my apartment flooded it wouldn’t rise above the rims.
The hurricane came at night. Neither I nor my cat could sleep. I stood at a window (which was pretty stupid) and watched the trees whip around against the streetlights. Then the electricity went out and everything outside was dark and all I could hear was the wind. Around 2:00 a.m. there was a knock on my door. It was my neighbor Dawn. Water was coming into her apartment. We decided to vacate and see if we could stay in another friend’s place, up the hill from us. But first Dawn needed to move her car. Water was creeping into the lower parking lot. I called my friend and got the wrong number and woke someone up. I put my cat on the refrigerator and told her she could jump up there if need be (as if she needed my permission) and we walked up the hill with our flashlights to Tift’s place. Tift wasn’t home. We walked back and knocked on the second story apartment of another friend, and he said we could stay there through the night. Unbeknownst to Dawn and me there were fallen live wires all over the place during this walk. The wind had died down but it was still raining. We were lucky. It was pure dumb luck. The best kind. Sometimes I think the only kind.
The next day we returned to our apartments to assess the damage. Only a little water in Dawn’s. None in mine. My cat was fine and happy to be let out. The sky was clear. The air smelled like pine from so many snapped trees. The ground was covered in green needles and green leaves.
My first novel was published two weeks later. In the days preceding this event I was living without electricity. One day a neighbor came by to tell me there was a truck with free ice at University Mall. I got in my car and managed to snag a five-pound bag. I made rice and beans for a group of neighbors and gave candles to others. I got fired from a cleaning job because I’d mouthed off when my client complained about Duke Power taking three days to get their electricity back on. I’d said, “It’s an infrastructure. There are crews from other states up here helping us out. Maybe you haven’t noticed but there was a hurricane.”
There’s no moral to this story unless you want to read it as a cautionary tale not to mouth off to a client. But the real point is this – be patient with people. We’re all stressed out. Be patient with yourself too. After going out into the world of commerce, with varying degrees of success and failure, to get ice and gas and another cooler and butane canisters for the little one burner stove I bought after Fran, I forgot to put water in a pot in which I was steaming vegetables last night. I burned the pot. I berated myself for doing this. I don’t usually make such mistakes. “That was stupid,” I said to my husband.
“Yes,” he answered, “but you did a whole lot of smart stuff earlier.”
That was nice.
In the store where I bought the extra cooler, I thanked the clerk and said, “I’ll see you on the other side,” right when he said the same exact thing to me. We smiled and laughed.
Be safe. Be wise. Be patient. I’ll see you on the other side.