It’s three o’clock in the morning on Sunday, September 10, 2017. Hurricane Irma has only just begun its trek toward us in Florida. The walls of my house seem to sway with the wind. I can’t sleep. No matter. I must stay awake in solidarity with my little townhouse. The storm shutters rattle with discontent. I walk through the rooms, blind to what is happening outside. Other senses are enhanced. The silence of Irma’s lulls is as deafening as the roaring and howling of her angry winds. She taunts me with her silence. I feel her size, her might, as she grows and rages and nears with every hour. It’s maddening.
I watch my husband sleep and I’m relieved a bit. He worked so hard to prepare us when I became almost paralyzed with fear. Mind you, he’s from North Georgia, a land where category five hurricanes are nothing but faraway legends. He researched what was needed, secured the house, hunted for gas and provisions tirelessly until he found what we needed. He deserves a restful sleep.
Through it all, I find I’m in constant conversation with God, pleading for mercy on us all. He answers, “I got this. I’m in control. Let me.” So I return to bed and try to focus on that message, and to surrender to my faulty faith.
Twenty-eight hours later, Monday September 11, 7 a.m.— Irma has moved on, but she turns occasionally to blow her gusts on us, lest we forget. We venture into the wilderness that is now our neighborhood, and I find it a study in contrasts. Some buildings are untouched as if all had been just a bad dream, while others have roofs split in two from the weight of falling trees and debris, and I silently pray that everyone is safe. Some streets are clean and welcoming; some are covered in the foliage of enormous trees that broke like twigs, their roots ripping the ground as they toppled, stretches of sidewalk peeled off the pavement like Scotch tape.
Most people seem subdued, humbled, respectful, and patient on the roads, a rarity in Miami. I see a group of teenagers around a large downed tree blocking a road. They’re not skateboarding around it or climbing it. They’re breaking off branches with their bare hands to help clear the road. That makes me smile. But there are also those who are simply unfazed. Their agenda is the only agenda, no apparent sense of community— running through broken four-way traffic lights, cutting in where debris makes navigation slow and treacherous, even ignoring lights that work! They are the minority, but they certainly stand out.
Behind my backyard, which faces east and received the brunt of Irma’s wrath as we saw it, two large, stately trees snapped uncomfortably close to my fence. I can’t imagine that their surrender would not have made a horrid noise, yet I heard nothing. Wild Irma would not be upstaged. Outside my fence, a casualty—a lovely blue jay. I imagine the scene. The storm surprised it. It was blinded by the sheet of stinging rain. Confused, it crashed against my fence. A tree fell, and it was trapped.
Confused and trapped. I know all of us felt that way at some point during the storm. Should I evacuate or should I stay? If I go, how soon will I be able to come home? Confused. And where would I go? Irma had the entire state of Florida in its bullseye. No place to hide. Trapped.
And this was only the aftermath of one fifth of what the Caribbean islands saw. Barbuda was all but wiped off the map, not an exaggeration since their prime minister qualified the entire island as “uninhabitable” with 95 percent of its structures destroyed. To think that only 130 miles south of us, Irma leveled large sections of the Florida Keys, and the same distance west of us, an astonished Naples was churned and twisted with gusts as strong as 140 miles per hour. These beloved areas I have visited many times will likely never look the same.
Here in Miami we can breathe a bittersweet sigh of relief. Frightening as it was, we were spared the worst of Irma’s fury, but sadly to the detriment of others. We all complain about no power, no air conditioning, no internet. We’re hot, we’re bored, inconvenienced. And it’s understandable, but considering the big picture of Irma’s impact, we can sound overindulged and entitled.
But it is in these moments of widespread despair and disbelief that the United States rises to show us once again why it’s the greatest country on the planet. I’m a Cuban immigrant and have lived in Europe and South America, and I’m here to tell you that response to disaster by community, state, and national authorities is never and nowhere as quick and efficient as it is here. Political, religious, and social ideologies but disappear, and the priority is to repair damage, rebuild infrastructure, and restore normalcy. Americans will not be defeated. They dust themselves off after a tumble, and then ask, “Who else needs help?”
Today, I’m thankful for my safety and that of my family, and I’m blessed to see my property intact. But I’m always proud to be an adopted American.
Author: B.B. Free
Author Bio: B.B. Free always had a book on her nightstand from the age of three, and so began her love affair with language. As a teenager, poetry became her favorite vehicle for expressing the rollercoaster of those angst-filled years. When she became an elementary school teacher, she discovered the range and quality of children’s books and began creating thought-provoking storylines appropriate for children six to 11. This is when ‘The Rescuers’ was born, a South Florida Writers Association award-winning story, which will also be published in Spanish. Her passion for writing soon expanded to include adult fiction and non-fiction. And while she will continue to produce literature for children, she is currently editing a poignant, funny and stylish novel about female relationships, food, love and reinvention in sexy Miami.
B.B. Free is married and has raised a daughter, now 27. She continues to teach and foster the love of reading in young children. She also writes a food blog where she chronicles her adventures in pursuing another passion… fine dining!
Link to social media or website: Facebook @bbfree61