Avert your eyes

I’ve been sick with bronchitis for the past week. All of the stress I’ve been under made mincemeat of my immune system and I was struck hard last Thursday night with it. I even got some excellent cough syrup with hydrocodone in it.  It helped me sleep and helped me not to cough so much.

But this morning I was still not feeling better so I called the doctor and got a second appointment. And as I was driving over it happened. A mama duck started bustling her brood across the busy four-lane road. The truck in front of me didn’t even stop and mowed over them, killing two of them. I slammed on my brakes in horror as the mama duck ran back into traffic. If my windows had been rolled down I am sure I would have heard her screams of terror.

My own mouth opened wide as well, though no sound came out. My eyes screwed shut and I could not see for the tears that poured forth. The violent death of the ducklings and the anguished horror of their mama triggered a full-blown panic attack in me. Behind the wheel. I could not breathe, nor see, nor, it seemed, able to do anything useful at all. Somehow I managed to pull off the road and sat in the parking lot of a church and remained quite hysterical for at least fifteen minutes.

Obviously I was not crying about the ducks.

If you’re sick of reading about my grief, I’m sorry. But this is a place I am going to sit for a while. Please skip over me if it bothers or annoys you.

I mean this sincerely.

There are some interesting things I have learned about grief and death in America in the past few weeks.

The first is that most people are uncomfortable with it. It is something they don’t understand and something they fear, therefore they avoid it. We are expected to cry at the funeral and then go on with our lives, doing more damage to our psyches than we realize.

When we have had a profound loss in our life it is quite natural to get hysterical from time to time. It is the body’s way of releasing the pressure we build inside ourselves.

The second thing I learned was something a wise man told me. He said that grief is like playing in the surf. If you stand hard against the waves it will knock you down and fill your mouth full of water and sand. But if you let the wave wash over you, you will go down, but you will bob right back up again. Best not to fight it when it comes.

So when it comes I am going to let it consume me. I will cry ugly. I will probably choke on my own snot and cough so hard I pee my pants a little. But I will not stand against the grief. I will embrace it and ride it out to the other side. Because that is the only way I am going to get through this.

And I will understand if you need to avert your eyes.

Shelter Me

Kosta and our little patch of floor.

We got to “bed” on our patch of floor near to midnight. But in our haste to flee we had no pillows, no blankets, nothing but our suitcase, computer bags, and some food and water. We did have two bath towels from the car, and we rolled those up to use as pillows. The lights were on in our room as folks were still coming in. But we lay down and tried our best to be comfortable.

The floor was poured concrete with just the thinnest skimming of industrial carpet and before long our backs, hips and shoulders protested. Our necks twisted painfully under the towels. At 1:30 the lights went out. But some jackass was watching Pulp Fiction on an iPad without headphones and the sounds of gunshots thudded through me. I was already strung as tightly as possible and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for it to end.

Finally, all was quiet, but getting cold. I had not packed wisely. I grabbed three t-shirts, but nothing with long sleeves. I at least had long pants but the air conditioning was over-efficient and we both were starting to shiver. But then a flashlight appeared out of the darkness and some angel came towards us with a blanket. “Here,” she said, “do you want this? I noticed when you came in you didn’t have any bedding.”

We gratefully pulled the blanket over us, snuggled together as best we could, and finally were able to sleep.

In the morning we got in line for breakfast. The cafeteria had scores more of folks sheltering on the floor, demarcated areas with painter’s tape marking their little rectangles of personal space. Everyone looked like something out of The Walking Dead–glassy eyes, shambling gaits as they waited in line for food.

Waiting for breakfast in the cafeteria.

The storm still hadn’t hit that far upstate so we ate outside on picnic tables. I think we had food they normally serve high school students. If that is the case, we need to do better as a country at feeding our kids. The food was edible, but highly processed and tasteless. Don’t get me wrong though, I was damn grateful that we didn’t have to feed ourselves solely from the snacks we brought with us. Popcorn doesn’t fill a belly like toast with sausage and cheese.

The day was long and uneventful. We watched as much storm coverage on my phone as we could. My breath hitched as I watched the eye of Irma move directly over Naples on the radar–my house right underneath it. We talked a lot about what we would do if our house was destroyed. Mostly, we were trying to mentally prepare for the idea that we would have nothing to come home to. But my parents, the cats, and Kosta and I all had our lives. The rest could all be rebuilt if need be.

I was able to talk to my parents and found they had fared somewhat better at the special needs shelter. They had both been given cots, Mom even had a mattress. They didn’t have blankets but they had brought their pillows so they were able to sleep in reasonable comfort.

The day was an interminable wait, our nerves stretched tight. I tried to read but our neighbors made it nearly impossible. The room was filled with screaming kids, people watching movies on their phones with the volume turned up, and lots of loud talking, one woman in particular shouting at her toddler every few minutes with a voice like a bullhorn. We sat quietly in our corner and tried to block it all out.

That night some jackass tried to invite the entire shelter to our classroom for a dance party. He went so far as to go to the office and ask if there was an intercom system that he could use to tell people about it. Then he put on some music and tried to coerce everyone into dancing. The only takers he had were the kids in our room, bursting with unspent energy.

Then Mr. Dance Party got sullen. He got on his phone and started talking to a friend loudly how we were all useless and just “waiting to die.” I ignored him and kept my nose stuck in my book. Finally he shut up.

The light were out by 11:30 and things quieted down for the night. But then at about midnight we all heard the power die as the air conditioning ground to a halt. The faint howl of the wind could be heard through the bunker-like walls and ceiling. Kosta and I held each other and tried to sleep.