Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tropical Depression

Folks told us the storm was coming, and they said it was gonna be bad.  I couldn't even begin to understand what all the fuss was about.  It rained at least twice a day in Biloxi, and nobody seemed to give a shit before.  Then again, I'd only been there a couple of months.  Who was I to decide the severity of local weather events?

I watched as my neighbors taped up their windows.  They dragged barbecue grills and motorbikes inside their trailers.  Our landlord suggested we fill the bathtub, just in case we lost power.  This way, we'd have water for washing and flushing the toilet.  I thought for sure he was overreacting.  It was difficult for me to wrap my mind around this kind of emergency.

We didn't have natural disasters in the Bronx.  It snowed in the winter, occasionally dumping quite a bit more than homeowners could shovel.  But school and jobs were seldom cancelled.  Everybody still had to go to work.  Sometimes, there was a fire or a car accident.  But that was about it.

"What's the big deal about hurricanes?" I asked Jason when he came home early from school to prepare for evacuation.  "What is it that they actually do?"

"They flood the place and destroy everything in their path."

"Is that what's gonna happen here?"

"I don't know, maybe.  We might have to stay on base for a couple of days, until everything blows over."

I hated that suggestion.  I was pretty certain I was pregnant at this point.  My boobies were sore, and I spent most of my time trying to will myself to get my period.

"That's crazy.  I'm not going."

"You have to go."


"All military goes to the shelter."

"Where are we gonna sleep?"

"On the floor, I guess."

"What about Waffles?  Can she come?"

"No pets.  She has to stay here," Jason advised.  "Don't worry, she'll be fine.  She'll probably just hide under the bed if she gets scared."

"I'll hide under there with her."

"You have to do what you're told."

I wished I was a cat.  A cat that wasn't pregnant.

Hurricane Elena began rather modestly as a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico during Labor Day weekend.  With no help from steering currents, it stalled off the coast of Florida, developing slowly into a category three storm.  I watched the news reports on TV covering the mass exodus from the area.  Carloads of families frantically stuffing their vehicles with provisions and bugging out to safer locations, while tourists and residents filled local hotels and churches.

As Jason secured the perimeter of our aluminum abode, I prepared food that we could eat during our detainment.  I made three sandwiches and packed a canister of Pringles in a brown paper bag, along with four sodas and some cookies.  The US Military kept us for almost three days.

We camped out on the floor of a classroom in one of the larger buildings on base. We shared the space with other enlisted men, women and their children.  The circumstances were unpleasant and we couldn't have been any less prepared, but at least we were safe.  I laid on our blanket in the darkness, listening to Jason breathe while he slept.  Infants cried and mothers soothed them.

I wonder if I can do this.  Have a baby.  I don't know.  Probably.

I squeezed my breasts on purpose to remind myself just how much they hurt.  My mind switched to thoughts of my mother.  She didn't even know where I was. Thinking about her always made me cry.  I wondered if she might come around once she found out the news.  I wished I could make my mom love me and not be so mad.  I turned on my side and tried to distract myself from the sounds of the wind and rain, ripping the world to shreds.  Hurricane Elena made landfall in Biloxi with 125 mph winds.

When Jason and I were finally released, we walked to the main entrance of the facility. Huge trees had been uprooted and broken in half.  Very few cars had any window glass remaining in them.  Some looked as though they'd been picked up and flung from one end of the street to the next.  I remember trying to identify a soda machine that had come to rest on top of a parked truck.  It looked as though it had fallen from the sky.  Dead birds of all sizes were everywhere.  Live wires sizzled and sparked in the middle of the road like snakes.  Plus there were snakes.  And rats. And other frantic animals.

At least our home was still there when we got back to the trailer park.  And wouldn't you know?  The cat was under the bed.  Some folks weren't so lucky.  I'd never seen anything quite so jaw-dropping in my life, and nothing like it since.

After the hurricane, we had no electricity or water for almost a week.  The temperature soared to nearly 100 degrees.  The first two days, Jason and I made attempts to get to the mall, in efforts to escape the oppressive heat.  Hanging out at the record store and sitting on in-door benches seemed like a brilliant idea.  But the buses weren't working, so we just walked back home and stared at each other.

By the third or fourth day, the Air Force base resumed its regular activity, and Jason returned to school.  To kill time in the sweltering heat, I dragged my ass down to the beach and watched young girls bathe their toddlers in the Gulf of Mexico.  I went back to the trailer and threw out all the food in our refrigerator.  I listened to news reports on the transistor radio.  Countless accidents involving men and chainsaws, men suffering heat stroke, men falling off roofs.

I lay on the mattress in the bedroom.  There wasn't any other place to sit.  I ate dry cereal.  I took sweaty naps on our dirty sheets.  I waited for the water truck to drive through the neighborhood.  I kept checking the phone to see if it was working.  I wanted to call my mom.

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