-The Center of a sunflower-
For a week, we were bombarded with media coverage about the hurricane advancing across the ocean and up the coastline. Speculations and computer model analysis were endless. Hearing about it was as inescapable as the storm itself. The meteorologists and broadcast weather reporters had important work to do, but I was sick of listening to them. I had hurricane hype fatigue and it was my own fault. I checked the weather channel constantly, checking on the progress of the approaching storm. "What number is the weather channel," my husband asked. "Three sixty-two," I responded without hesitation.
When I can’t sleep I watch inane television. I recently told my husband that I have been watching “Toddlers And Tiaras.” It’s a show about little girls competing in beauty pageants. Three year olds have their eye brows plucked, false eye lashes applied, make-up slathered on and Dolly Parton mega do’s piled on their heads. Sequined dresses costing in the thousands are worn only once for a single pageant. Moms and dads teach their little dolls to twirl, shake their booties and throw kisses to the judges. Breast inserts are put in the bathing suits of toddlers who stick out their chests enticingly like worn out old hookers. It’s ghastly. “Who watches that crap?” my appalled husband asked. “I hope you don’t tell anyone you watch it!” he chided. I held back that I also watch “Sex Change Hospital.”
The week before the storm filled me with building anxiety about what was coming and what we should do to prepare for it. I couldn’t sleep. I watched Toddlers And Tiaras and was glued to the weather channel. I quick clicked the remote back and forth. The storm jargon, “Cat One, Cat 2, wind field, terrain effect……” soaked into my brain. Click, “Her little personality really comes through on stage,” said a helmet haired judge with overly rouged cheeks. Click. The storm advanced.
Over and over, I watched the reporters across the entire Eastern seaboard pelted by sheets of rain and wind. I came to know them and have preferences. Jim – the short guy in the L.L. Bean rain gear, Stephanie was the new girl that had to keep looking at her blowing notes, Long Beach -the town covered by the fat guy who didn’t need to worry about being blown away. Slickers, notes, hats and hands flapped and chattered across the East. I was transfixed by the satellite views spinning and grinding up the coast. I was nauseous. I had a headache. But, I kept watching.
Four of our family members, including my daughter, were evacuated from New Jersey and Virginia. Each time the phone rang, I was thankful that it did ring, a good sign that the communications infrastructures were still intact. The cell phone towers were predicted to be compromised. I got a physical address for where my daughter had “evac’ed” to. I would need it if she went missing. I wondered, would it be too much to tell her to tell her to write her Social Security number on her forearm? Each time the phone rang, my primal brain sounded the alarm, “Oh no!” The calls were status updates from loved ones, not bad news. But still, each time I was lurched. I almost wished it would come already and get it over with. The earth was going to hell! How much would it matter what I did or didn’t do to mitigate the effects? The gloom and doom prognostications were too much to get my head around. Almost too big to handle, the anxiety bar had been set high this time. We told each other to stay indoors. “Stay safe, I love you,” was chanted like a mantra.
We live seventy-five feet from the ocean. Additionally, we care-take numerous properties for absentee home owners. They also called us and sent e mails, anxious about their assets. For days, we’d been securing other people's patio furniture, planters, flags, beach toys, trash barrels, bird feeders - the list was endless. “I’m taking my boat out of the water, just to be safe,” one said. “Can you see if Larsons took theirs out yet?” I looked across the water. Not a boat to be seen, the cove was strangely desolate for August.
Then, we hustled to put our stuff away. We lashed down our boat. We deliberated about procuring plywood panels for our huge windows. Some might ask, "What's the question? Put up the panels!" The answer is expense, labor and denial. We just don't want it to be bad enough to warrant that. Boat owners don’t want to lose one precious day of the craft in the water. When the boat comes out, it won’t go back; summer is over. We want the good times to go on forever. Pushing back the fear some poor choices would be made - boats left in the water, windows left unprotected, or evacuation notices ignored. Surfers and sightseers will go to the beach.
Tra-la, la, la! Is that danger I hear at the door? “What kind of idiot goes out in this kind of thing?” The question was heard over and over. I confess: I’m that person. I’m the person the governor of New Jersey was hollering at to get the hell off the beach. I’m the person who would go sightseeing and have a tree fall on my car crushing me. I’m the person who would go surfing. I’m the person who would stand on the rocks in the face of a monster wave, blithely watching the magnificent earth wreak havoc upon itself. I don’t want to come to terms with the world being a dangerous, sometimes horrible place. I embrace hope and denial. I throw caution to the wind and go out in the storm.
This time, we got away with it and I’m thankful. Our top wind speed was forty-six MPH with sustained winds of thirty or so. Those stats don’t even make a “Cat One” hurricane. The great, muscled seas roared in swinging punches, but did not connect. Our house vibrated and groaned, but nothing was ripped away, no damage nor loss. Our day for plywood will come, but not this time. I’ll say loftily that these storms are good things. Sounding like a phony Old Salt, I’ll say “Storms clean the earth.” Then, I’ll click to Toddlers And Tiaras.
Phippsburg, Maine shipwreck October 26, 2008