We All Have Our Storms: Handling Death, Loss & Stress
I have a really great memory for some things. Whole evenings escape me but the shattering insecurity of not being allowed to shave my legs in the sixth grade sits alongside First Heartbreak and High School Graduation in the file of important moments in my head. We are on the bus to school, sweating in our uniforms in a Mississippi August, and Morgan and Mary are talking about how much better it feels to have hairless legs and oh my gosh feel how smooth this is. I am not quite twelve years old and I am hopelessly behind on the Judy Blume scale of middle school maturity.
Three months prior, I am not quite twelve and I am on the phone to my grandmother. She is in Poland, sick and small from chemotherapy, and through her old red rotary phone she hears me tell her that I love her for the last time. She dies some hours later and I feel it when she goes; it’s a still silence while I wait in line for carpool at the end of the school day. I have a really great memory for some things, and it’s a timeline of my inability to say goodbye.
But we’re back to August: I am not quite twelve years old and someone’s mother, faceless from what I remember, has stopped me outside our town’s doughnut shop to tell me and my mother that this will be the big one. Earlier in the week, a local weatherman said that we were downgrading to a tropical storm. He wouldn’t have a job to return to on Monday morning. Vonnegut would say, “so it goes.” So it went.
They say that Katrina made landfall in the early morning of August 29th, 2005. For me, it started on August 28th, the Sunday that saw my parents shove what they could into our car and drive our three piece family to Pensacola Beach, Florida. My memory fails me until we get to the bridge to Santa Rosa Island. Only residents are allowed on (we have a condo), the island is being evacuated (we’re running too), anyone who enters is doing so at their own risk (we’ve already left behind what we could afford to lose).
Out of a complex of five buildings with some couple hundred irregular inhabitants and the staff hired on to cater to them, we are alone. A spoken alarm – something about evacuating immediately – starts late into the night and is loud enough that I am awake to watch the rain start. Our power goes out soon after and we spend our time staring across the bay back to the mainland. Their lights stay on. I am not quite twelve and from the 15th floor I am watching the National Seashore half of Santa Rosa slowly sink into the Gulf. This is a hurricane: hours of becoming an island.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said, “I can’t talk about Hurricane Katrina.” I’ve gotten close a few times in conversations, closer once in a largely unrelated spoken word piece. I tried explaining to my roommate why a documentary we watched for a Natural Hazards class in my second year of college brought me to tears. I talk a lot about not talking about it and it follows that I am asked what makes the simple act of telling so tough.
Before the hurricane, I was a little Catholic school girl. After, I was living away from my parents in suburban Georgia, cursing for the first time and telling lies about who I had been. Katrina literally washed away most evidence that I had ever been small – pictures, videos, toys – and I found myself, finally twelve, picking a new person to be. The past eight years have been my becoming. My childhood is another life, well-lived by a little girl with whom I’ve only recently rediscovered common ground.
I’m studying abroad in London, sitting in a course on Shakespeare, and we are talking about The Tempest. A girl says, “I am really, really confused about that part.” I am too. We all have our storms.
I’m not quite twenty and I’ll be damned if I can’t talk about Katrina.
This post was written by my daughter, who really captured the essence of a person’s emotions in their many varieties ranging from mood (heightened) states to free flowing states.
What is your storm story?