The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
- William Arthus Ward
I hoped for winds of change. Prayed even, that something would blow every unravelling shitty personal drama away offering a fresh, scrubbed start. Like an early morning rain followed by sparkling rays of sun.
When the first storm of the summer came, I stayed outside as much as I could, tight against the garage door, under the small eaves. Hands on waist as if I was in control or at least a worthy opponent to the incredibly strong gusts. Freight trains of wind came from the west. I heard them before they were upon me and roughly pulled my hair off my face and into a bun. I watched, keen-eyed in the direction of the rumble and release. Trees went wild, waving limbs with abandon, like fervent ecstatics — clutching, slapping, and gesticulating. The wall of air hit my body in electric seismic waves. My heart pounded, arms dropped to my sides and I experienced it fully and fearfully. Trees broke. I could hear the cracks and splits from yards blocks away. Pines and oaks broke free in tiny explosions and then hit the ground, taking wire with them. Sizzle booms expanded in the thick humid air that withheld its rain. Limbs in my own yard snapped and dropped near me. Every once in a while, I ran inside afraid — but within a few moments, I crept back out unable to ignore the lure of the tempestuous winds.
Things we lost: some big trees, all the food in our refrigerator, and our electric for five days. But what the winds took was replaced with a momentarily cleared mind. We only had to concern ourselves with daily survival. A list of HOWs to solve, my happy (although arguably not healthy) place. I thrive when problem solving, I get super calm and look the task straight in the eye.
How will we get a meal?
Which food should we try to save with limited ice?
How will we take a shower?
How will deadlined, online work be delivered?
How will my kids turn in their school work?
How will we go anywhere when the roads surrounding us are blocked with trees and wires?
The days of battering hows were rewarded with nights of cozy boredom. The house and neighborhood were abysmally dark under a new moon and her silence; we were unnerved and drew close together on the den couch and futon. It is the coolest room in the house, built into the ground like an animal burrow.
A camping light cast a weak glow and a portable battery-powered fan agitated the air enough for us to think we felt relief. Neither had been turned on since we camped in the Dry Tortugas a few years ago. On the couch covered with a cool sheet, I thought about that island deep in the Florida Straits. The immensity of sky and sea never made me feel small, no, I felt integrated. The difference here is the strength of the storm and our reliance on municipal services has made us feel weak and vulnerable.
In the Dry Tortugas, the sky and sea reflect back on each other; on the tensile clothesline between the two hangs a third space. Rich in emptiness, timelessness, universality. It is cool, blue, and unsentimental and smells like quartz and burning salt. It is that space I try to imagine when I am scared or lonely, to hang myself on that chord and be pinned and held. In nature that space is universal and comforting. In a neighborhood it gets under your skin. In a blackout the rough seams of daily life are revealed.
But I remained hopeful that there would be a take-away, a new perspective offered as I moved forward in my life. A life complicated by a global pandemic, an imminent divorce, a sudden family death and my thesis semester of grad school. Oh, and within the last year both our cats died of old age diseases and our chihuahua died in my arms when her heart exploded. It was nearly comical in its hyperbolic badness.
The roads had barely been cleared when a tornado came. Or more accurately, a microburst, which sounds sort of adorable like sparkly eyeshadow and Hello Kitty pencils but can actually be as damaging, or more than, a tornado with short, strong winds of up to 150 miles per hour.
The day was overcast and we expected rain, but nothing much was happening. My husband’s phone alarm went off saying that there was a tornado in the area. I looked out the window and shrugged. I am used to false calls and trumped-up weather predictions. Then my daughter flew screaming down the stairs, sliding over the last few. A tree was bending towards her bedroom window. She was inconsolable and she repeatedly tried to relay what she saw.
We squeezed into our utility closet, the safest place in the house. Three tall teenagers, two bitter adults, a confused Husky, and after much begging, our rabbit, rescued from the upstairs landing. Oddly, I can not remember the sound of the storm as anything other than the breath and worry of those in the closet with me. There were no howls, or whinnies, or explosions of trees. Yet, all of that must have happened because when we emerged fifteen minutes later, our yard and neighborhood were wrecked. Our house was covered in leaves that had blown off trees and stuck to our exterior walls like an ironic collage. A dozen trees on our property were snapped in half, some fell into the yard and some hung up in the canopy. Hundreds of pounds of future risk — a visible problem we could not escape and did not have the skill to solve. Roads were unpassable. Electrical fires danced from wires on the ground for hours. And everything was silent save the murmurs of neighbors emerging and checking on each other. I walked the streets stunned and trauma-laughing at the absurdity. The evidence of the last storm was still piled high. This one would take months.
Waves of tears rise in me all summer. I do not burst out and cry. The change is barometric, pressure building until my head feels salinous and swollen. The heat on my face becomes unbearable and I struggle to not cry. Why not? Because there is no space, no time, no allowance. Crying makes me sick, triggers a migraine, swells my eyes and nose, makes me purple and tender. It feels a luxury to allow my inner turmoil a physical manifestation.
But then I wonder if I could have cried, would the storms have come at all? It seems silly and childish but I allow myself the delusion that my pain is so great, it has seeped from my body and is destroying the world. I am not sure if it is my ego or propensity for taking the blame.
My husband lay in bed for the next several days, convinced he had COVID after being exposed at a funeral in Florida; my kids and I cleared brush using clippers and a hand saw to pare the fallen trees down to thick trunks. Dragging limbs for days to the front yard where the town promised to do additional yard debris pick up, we built a wall of tangled, splintered limbs and logs. It was so green with still-live leaves it felt like a beautiful, protective hedge. After a few weeks, all the leaves on those severed branches browned and the death was evident. No more dreamy forts with wild things whooping and howling from the edges. Everything got darker, and I felt more and more alone. My husband's self-quarantine turned into a blitz of overtime; he worked a month of twelve-hour shifts in a fume to pay our legal fees. My kids helped as much as teenagers can. My daughter’s boyfriend spent an afternoon helping with his chainsaw. A young man, he stepped into the role with bravery and skill.
One afternoon, sticky with sweat, we stood in the middle of the yard to catch our breaths. My half-lidded eyes of despair caught something — golden sequins rising from the earth. Slow and sparse at first, and then an outpouring. The midday sun shown through the animated confetti evoking a dazzling disaster party.
A nuptial flight, my son said.
Yes, yes, I pumped my fist. I read about this — ants mating in air, the few survivors create new colonies. The rest die in dusty heaps. Weather conditions have to be just right for this phenomenon. I walked into them, running my hands through their glister and feeling their bodies bump into my arms. Maybe they were inviting me to come with them, I wish. If only I could shake the gravity from my feet.
This is when you catch a queen, my son tells me. The flight is a brief moment that contains flashes of possibilities.
And I realized we were all creating and testing out new, imagined spaces. The pregnant space, where I am alone. Where I forge and strengthen new relationships. Where my kids walk into their young adulthood, zephyrs at their backs. Storm winds change atmospheres and new life grows where old is swept away.