Hurricane Irma is expected to slam into our community of Tampa Bay Sunday night and Monday morning. We’ve evacuated to California, but are still dealing with a range of emotions. Thanks to everyone who’s checked in to see how we’re doing.
It’s hard to know how to act when a category 4 hurricane is coming toward your home.
We were lucky enough to get out of Florida, and like many of our friends, we’re now surrounded by normal life. Some of friends are in South Carolina, staying at oceanfront condos; others in Kentucky, making wine runs and playing at the farm; still others in North Carolina, hiking and canoeing. We are out of harm’s way, but we all carry an invisible burden. Inside, we know that everything we own could be decimated in the next 36 hours. I just reread that sentence, and it sounds overly dramatic. It’s not. It’s true. And as much as I try to turn that switch off and live in the moment, I’m struggling.
While we’re in California, we want to have fun. But how do you have fun when someone mentions their favorite recipe, and all you can think of is your 2 fridges full of rotting food at home, since you turned off your master breaker before you left, so that no one gets electrocuted in the floodwaters that are guaranteed?
How do you have fun when you see the coolest octopus fireplace on a TV show, and your husband jokingly says, “I want that!” And your mind drifts to all those special finishing touches you just added to your dream home that will likely be damaged or washed away. The seahorse made of driftwood you just picked out on your 14th wedding anniversary, the oyster shell chandeliers that you’d spent years dreaming of, the shiplap headboard that finally made our bedroom feel “just right.”
And then there’s the dream home you just spent years saving for, and months renovating. That you JUST bought. That your husband spent years sacrificing for, spending night after night in hotel rooms, traveling, working hard to come up with extra money to save. That you spent months making perfect. Just the way you like it. And the first phase of renovations was finally just about done. And you might ask God questions like, ‘Why did we have to buy this house this year? We waited so long. Why didn’t we just wait until 2018?’ WHY, GOD.
Yes, these are all things. But please don’t tell me, “It’s just stuff.” Because it’s not. It’s my life, my memories, my shelter, my family.
It’s the cradle that I ran across as I scanned our office for remaining valuables when our airport car was already outside, waiting for us at 4:20 yesterday morning. The cradle that’s normally stashed in the garage, but was brought upstairs to escape the floodwaters. Dark mahogany with a Moses basket. That has had each of our newborns nestled in it for his first few months of life.
It’s those bins of my children’s artwork that I didn’t have time to bring upstairs, or take pictures of. The popsicle stick pictures and paint strokes that you didn’t think you cared about, until you’re 3,000 miles away and the storm is coming straight for them. And now all I can think about are those damn bins.
It’s your children’s room. And even though there’s nothing of true value there, it’s their furniture and their toys and their clothes and everything they know. And you picture the roof getting ripped off and the windows broken. And the devastation that their little 6-year-old, 4-year-old, and 2-year-old hearts might experience.
And that’s not just stuff.
The further away from Florida we got, the more of a direct threat the storm has posed on our home. You find yourself asking, ‘Why didn’t we board up the whole house on Monday, instead of just the first floor?’ ‘Why didn’t we buy 40 sand bags instead of just 20?’ Why didn’t we, why didn’t we?
On Thursday, we thought we might just get high winds and rain, and our power would be out for a few days. Relief, joy, and should-we-buy-more-wine. I prepped for a few days without air conditioning and we bought a charcoal grill to make some dinners on the balcony. On Friday, the track turned again, another knot on an emotional rollercoaster that I wish I could step off. Relief turned to tacit apprehension. We bought siding (since Lowe’s was out of plywood and proper storm shutters), boarded up the first floor windows, and moved all our valuables upstairs. We bought play sand at Lowe’s, since the line for free sand bags was 4 hours long. “We’ll be fine,” neighbors and friends said. We called our friends inland and came up with a local escape plan. In a few hours, it became clear the storm was coming to Tampa Bay. The worst-case scenario of any scenario. At 4:30 the next morning, I stood outside our airport ride, watching through the windows as my husband closed every interior door in our home, turned off the main power switch, closed our front door. And next to our boarded-up front window, he stacked sandbags on top of each other at the base of our front door. I can honestly say, I wish that sight and experience on no one. About an hour later, I found myself at the airport, crouching head-first over a toilet, as the stress, worry and lack of sleep had finally caught up with my body. Yesterday, my kids’ stomachs were bothering them, and our 2-year-old threw up twice. Even though we aren’t openly worrying about the storm, I know our kids are feeling the anxiety, even if subconsciously.
I’m not sure why I’m even writing this. It’s not to make you feel bad for me, or to gain sympathy. It’s really not. As writing always does for me, it makes me feel better. It’s a sweet, sweet therapy. And I guess, as awful as this week has been, I wanted to capture my emotions somehow. I wanted to let it all out. I wanted to share it. I wanted you to understand what it’s been like, because it’s really hard to explain in a few sentences via text, phone call or Instagram. And because if I hadn’t been through this myself, I’d have no idea. I can’t tell you how wonderful it’s been to hear the words, “How are you feeling about all this?” from friends and family. “We are praying for you,” from my great aunt and my in-laws’ old neighbors. “We’ve been worried about you,” in Facebook messages from my sisters’ friends I haven’t talked to in years. We feel loved and supported. Thank you so much. I’m sorry if I’m not responding to everything, or in the most “correct” way. As I said at the start of this, it’s hard to know how to act right now. But please know we are thankful and grateful. And while this is scary, we do know it’s not the end of the world.
The fact is, now, we’re in California and there’s nothing we can do.
At this moment, it’s still dark, and I’m sitting alone in my in-laws’ backyard. It’s beautiful out. The air is delightfully crisp. I’m reclining on an outdoor couch. I thank God for my kids’ health and my parents and in-laws, and our whole family. For a few moments, I forget why I’m here. All I can hear is a single bird chirping, and the rhythmic sound of spa water trickling into the pool. There are no mosquitos (*wink*). I take a sip of hot coffee. My shoulders soften. And for a few seconds, I relax into a sweet bliss. Everything about this is a vacation moment. And then, I glance again at my phone, and remember the knot of terror that has lived in my stomach since last weekend. The winds are higher, the storm is closer, the surge will be catastrophic. The kind of fear that makes you not want to eat or talk or think or do anything. Except sit there. Numb.
We are almost done with the waiting.
And then, as awful as it might be, we will know how bad it is.
And we can act.
We can clean up.
And move on.
This photo was our last sunset at our home. Something that reassures me is that, no matter the damage, God always grants us the peace of sunrise and sunset. I’m doing my best to post updates via Instagram Stories through this, so follow along if you like! Thank you again for all your prayers. They mean more than you’ll ever know.