Two weeks ago the Governor of Georgia ordered a mandatory evacuation from certain parts of the state, including Savannah where I live now. Weather forecasts predicted a Category 3 strength direct hit to Savannah from Hurricane Irma, with a storm surge of 10-15 feet. In less than five years, I’ve battened down for three hurricanes – Hurricane Sandy before I left Brooklyn, Hurricane Matthew last October, and now Hurricane Irma. It felt like I’d just evacuated and here I was ordered to leave town again.
But Matthew was only a Category 2 storm that weakened to a 1 when it made landfall. This time the prediction was a whole lot worse.
I surveyed everything in my apartment – impossible to pack it up or even tamp down much. The limb of a giant oak in front of my bay window could easily plow right through the glass with winds that high. I’d gone through similar loss analyses for years, starting in late 2002 when my ex-husband left and then sued me for divorce. He even sought sole custody of the children and vowed to have our home sold. He’d stolen my heart, and I felt he wanted to take everything else that mattered, too. So I held on tightly to everything, even him, until years later when I finally began to understand the illusion of security. And finally began to let go.
By then, one of my daughters had already graduated from college and the other was on her way. The long, difficult, costly divorce was finally over, too. I sold my house, paid off creditors, and moved south. I spent over a year purging. And then last year my mother died. At times I’ve felt like the last couple of decades have been a steady stream of never-ending loss. Perhaps I’d lose what I had left, I thought as I looked around my small condo in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
I certainly didn’t want to lose my possessions or incur the cost and hassle of replacing them. But I was no longer gripped by the fear that had once eaten me up inside. Plus, my kids were safe up north. I had credit cards in the event of an emergency. And even though I’d come to Georgia alone without any friends, I have friends here now that I can actually count on much more than I ever could my ex-husband.
What should I pack? I asked myself as I looked around. Some comfy clothes, my computer, a bag of books, coffee, credit cards, some toiletries, cereal bars, Advil, a few bottles of wine (and a few favorite pieces of jewelry, a frivolity, I’ll admit). It didn’t take me long to pack up this time. Far less lost time stewing over what I have to leave behind. “Need” has become more relative than it used to be.
My good friend Adele slept in my guest room the night before we planned to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma. The next morning we loitered, figuring we’d wait awhile and miss some of the traffic, neither of us in the mood for a long, tiring drive. The soundtrack from The Clash — “Should I Stay or Should I Go” — played over and over in my head. I made coffee. We ate breakfast. I sat at the computer working. Adele sat on my couch knitting. I had a full tank of gas. We’d both bought wine.
“You didn’t bring any lentil soup did you?” I asked Adele.
“No,” she said. “You told me not to.” When we evacuated to a motel in Montezuma (yes, that’s a real town in Georgia, not Mexico) the year before during Hurricane Matthew, I took cereal bars, coffee, chips, wine, fruit and yoghurt. I’m sure Adele brought a bunch of things besides lentil soup. But the huge see-through ziplock bag of frozen homemade lentil soup she unpacked from her cooler and transferred to our little mini-fridge is the only thing besides wine I can remember. You know what that looks like every time you open the refrigerator door, right? And after four days of not eating it, it also starts to smell. (Adele’s an amazing cook, but I still could not get excited about that soup. And neither could she.)
The following day we headed the state fair in Perry where we ate onion rings, examined every single cow, and attended the pig race.
“I feel guilty we’re having so much fun,” I whispered across the table to Adele while we ate brunch on the porch of an adorable inn the following day.
“Me, too,” she said. We laughed until we cried — for days. Of course our motel room also had a TV, and the presidential debates were on. So we had that additional entertainment as well.
And why be miserable anyway? Why not make the best of our lives and our situation? Why not laugh? I was lucky not to have suffered any damage from either storm, but my heart breaks for those who have lost so much. It’s one reason why I do what I can in my own community to help those who are less fortunate. But letting go of the illusion of security has also allowed me to be thankful for what I have — and to celebrate it.
A year later, Adele and I decided to stay put during Hurricane Irma. By the time we were ready to load the car, the storm had changed course and the governor called off the mandatory evacuation for my part of town. Adele and I had a four-day slumber party at my apartment instead. Another episode in what I call the adventures of Thelma and Louise, rated G.
The next day our friends Denise and Norman lost power and dropped by to charge their cell phones. We sat around the kitchen table swapping hurricane stories.
“You remember what she did last time, don’t you?” Adele asked, referring to me.
“We went to that state fair and Beverly wanted to go to the pig races and she was filming it and I was laughing in the background. And then she caught me on camera and I said, better not put that on Facebook,” Adele continued. We didn’t want to make anyone feel bad that we were having so much fun.
“And then Beverly looked at me and said ‘too late!’”
I’ve heard Adele tell that story at least a dozen times, and each time we howl with laughter like it’s the first time she’s told it. And now for your viewing pleasure, you, too, can enjoy the pig race, along with the laugh track!