They told us it was coming a week before it did. This rage of wind and air, racing across the sky. Hurricanes come and go when you live in Florida. Last October, it was Matthew.
That was a bad week, but not because of Matthew. I miscarried that week. They told me my pregnancy was likely ectopic. They thought the baby had formed somewhere beside the home that it should have grown in. Another organ claiming that honor for itself.
We were supposed to go to Switzerland and Amsterdam that week. We had tickets to the Anne Frank house and I spent those agonizing days leading up to it re-reading her diary for the first time since 8th grade.
“I have often been downcast, but never in despair; I regard our hiding as a dangerous adventure, romantic and interesting at the same time.”
Things got so bad my doctor told me I could no longer fly because of the uncertainty, around the same time the airlines canceled our flight. I stared out at the wind through my front door windows the night it hit. It whistled and stung and in the morning it was gone.
The baby was gone.
Irma, they said, would be a big one. Irma - a name I’d never given a thought to before. Who names these storms? Who decides that a name someone might give their child should also be the name of a weapon of mass destruction? Why do we humanize this event?
In literature we assign themes to the stories we read. Man vs. Man, Man vs. God. Man vs. Nature.
That last theme keeps resounding in my mind. After viewing the coverage of Harvey in Houston, and seeing the devastating effects of Irma in parts of Florida and the Caribbean, I have decided that the theme in all of this if there is one, to such devastation, is Man vs. Nature. Because it is not God. It is the world He created, but I do not believe it is God.
For a week we prepared for it. I went to the grocery store nearly every day. They called me when new shipments of water came in and me and Claire raced there. They allowed each of us two cases of water.
The shelves were bare. Long lines snaked around the corners, people waiting to fill their tanks with gas.
We considered getting out, but where would we go?
Kevin is a resident and can’t go far from the hospital. I’m 35 weeks pregnant. And in some strange way, this is our home. I watch footage of people who won’t leave - even their houseboats in the harbor in the eye of the storm. And we call them crazy and we mock them from the safety of our homes, tucked into a blanket in front of a television.
But in the end, it is their home. A place that can be transplanted, of course. A place that can be destroyed. But home, nonetheless.
So we stayed and we waited, as a swarm of color and light made its way to us. The freeways were jammed with people making their escape. The panic was felt in every encounter.
“Stay safe!” people called out to each other for days before the storm. Not “Goodbye,” but “Stay safe!”
And that broke my heart.
I saw my doctor two days before the storm. She gave me literature on what pregnant women need to know before a natural disaster. Pack your medicine. Stay hydrated. Consider going to a shelter.
“It’s not a myth that more women go into labor during hurricanes and a full moon,” she explained. “So get to us if you have to. We’ll be here, all night.” But then she also gave me literature on a home birth. Pictures of a baby exiting a womb, along with step-by-step instructions on what my husband would need to know.
When I asked him later if he could do it if he had to, he shrugged. “What other choice would we have?”
The night of the storm we ate dinner with friends who then slept at our house. It was a good thing they did, because when they returned home in the morning, a huge tree had fallen through their fence.
Then there was nothing left to do but wait.
By the time it made its way to us, it was a Category 1 storm. But the wind was so strong I thought our house would shatter. Windows rocked. The trees behind our home danced. Something, repeatedly, kept hitting the nook by the kitchen but when I looked out to see what it was it was black.
The power flickered off, leaving us in a home we prayed would withstand this nature. I began to have contractions. Shoots of pain down the center of my belly - yawning and stretching into both familiar and unfamiliar pangs. I took deep breaths. I squeezed the arm of my snoring husband. I willed them to leave.
Claire began to cry because it was dark. I fell asleep, finally, in her room, my arm extended to her tiny bed, our hands clamped together.
I needed her, possibly more than she needed me, though we might call it a draw. It wasn’t the first time my love for her sustained me. It won’t be the last time.
We woke to a changed world. Lakes formed where none were before. Trees were flung from their roots onto their sides like tin soldiers, falling flat onto their faces, muskets raised to the square. An eerie quiet hung in the air. Humility, maybe, or fear. Possibly a combination of the two. Maybe an acknowledgement that at their core, they are the same.
It might seem strange to write about a storm that really didn’t change my life. We did not lose our home, as so many have recently. We did not have to flee - to join the mass exodus of fellow humans, the stop-and-go on the long streets away from the storm. We did not lose our lives. I did not have my baby.
But I feel profoundly changed, somehow, by this storm. Reminded, not for the first time, but for the first time in full consciousness, how small I am. How a rippling circle of color and light can descend on us and crush everything we have built.
There is no power at my house as I write this. I may venture to Starbucks, or the hospital, as we have been doing daily to get internet, to post it. Sweat is beading at my forehead. Everything in our refrigerator has to be thrown out.
In the evenings, after Claire is down, me and Kevin look at each other and shrug. What do we do now, with no light and no electricity? No television or football. Not even books. We have only one flashlight to light our pages.
The first night we laid in bed. We talked about our daughter, and the one who will join us soon. We talked about living in a place with hurricanes. We played a game of Life on his phone, passing it back and forth. I was Berta, he was K. Berta has five sons, is an accountant, visited the Grand Canyon. K is a veterinarian who found buried treasure and won a game show.
I went to check on Claire, who I thought would be fast asleep. But a glow surrounded her face instead. She held her beloved kitty light in one hand, turning the pages of a book with the other. When she was finished, I watched her put her book on the floor, and carefully, tuck the light by her face and pull the blanket over her resting feet.
Thank you Irma, I thought. For one of the most holy scenes I have ever witnessed.
A game of Life played on a phone. My daughter, who put herself to sleep, surrounded by books. And the stars, that shone through our open windows - the only light left.
A new favorite poem is by Barbara Ras. “You Can’t Have it All.”
But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back. . .
And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can summon at will, like your mother’s, it will always whisper, you can’t have it all.
But there is this.
I think of those words when I look at the still-bare shelves in the grocery store. When I pad around my dark house in the middle of the hot night, my swollen belly keeping me awake. When I watch people who have lost so much in my city and the people on the television as they attempt to restore what once was.
You can’t have it all.
But there is kindness splayed across the wet grass like dew. There are loved ones who call for the first time in a long time, to make sure you are alright. There are still the stars, a sun who rises in the morning, a baby who continues to grow.
There is a husband, whose arm you can grasp. A daughter whose world remains unchanged, the magic of childhood the only reality you want for her - intact, unchanged by this frenzied storm.
You can’t have it all.
But there is this.