Monday, August 18, 2008
When It Rains, It Pours
Fay has me feeling nostalgic about strange Miami Beach experiences that have happened before storms. Hurricane Andrew of '92 comes to mind: my gal pal and I hanging out at a Club Douche, not taking storm warnings seriously. But the parent of a friend of ours was one of the dudes who flew into the storms on those specially equipped, turbulence-buster airplanes. He had been warning everyone: shit's gonna hit the fan!
In my twenty-something years, I had never experienced a hurricane and so it was no wonder that my friend and I made the most of it when we met some cute British tourists who didn't care if our world would be turned topsy-turvy tomorrow. After all, we didn't care either. She had a something-something in Tallahassee who would -- years later -- end up becoming her husband and the father of her children. But at the time, we were young, single and emotional nomads. Marauding females for the sake of a good time. We didn't have homes, mortgages, insurances, children and illnesses. Nope. We were little storms of our own, collecting our spinning energy from the tropical heat.
Yet it's remarkable to me, in retrospect, that both those who were carefree and those who were not still waited until the last minute to take Andrew seriously. It's like we really were poised for disaster. Suddenly, Miami was going to have a collective story to tell -- the kind of story that only happens when the unthinkable happens and then you're forced to come together.
I remember driving back from the beach in the early morning after a long night of carousing and a few stolen kisses on the beach. I had enough sense to pull up to a gas station on Coral Way and to wait in line -- a line that seems like nothing now, with post-Andrew media frenzy whipping everyone into a froth -- even when it's just a little squally weather threatening the mainland.
There was no way I could've predicted what would be happening in less than 24 hours. Life would never be the same. Yet this banal, average, forgettable gas-filling moment will forever stick in my mind. I guess, as writer, as an accidental composer of life, I tend to obsess about phrases. The phrase "what would happen next" happens to me every time I stick that regular fuel nozzle into the tank. Umpf.
I remember this day (August 22, 1992) like it was the demonic breed of artists; let's say that Beethoven and Robert Altman had a kid, but Virginia Woolf was the unlikely mother. Imagine the slow movement of a Beethoven symphony that starts around 9 a.m. leading to a heart-thumping chorus by midnight, and each fragment of the day is borne to light, each time it's told. Little patches of the ordinary, somehow, somehow, making up the extraordinary.
Andrew would be like the bad relationship you never wanted to have. We were young women. We weren't soldiers. We didn't go to war. We didn't really suffer. But we did go through Andrew, full throttle.
After a day of boarding-up plywood that provided a surreal contrast to the evening's shenanigans, my family and I evacuated to Kendall where my sister lived in a spacious home. We lived in South Miami, yet it was Kendall -- irony of ironies -- that'd be hardest hit.
Andrew was my first experience of real, feral anxiety and physical fear caused by nature. If there was ever a moment to truly be scared, to truly experience the adrenalin-pumping fight-or-flight reaction, it was Andrew.
I remember huddling in the corner of my sister's spacious, cathedral-ceiling bedroom, roof tiles flying and concrete shaking. Boundaries were being crossed. Homes were supposed to be stable places and suddenly, you were small and nature was looming. I felt like an idiot. How could I be kissing a British boy the night before, not knowing this? And yet thankful. Thankful I had kissed a boy, knowing this.
Low pressure on the barometer made my little corner of security only the more unbearable. The world was rocking but we were on terra firma. That's really what a serious hurricane is like -- the ocean invading the land. A watery wind world, taking over.
For hours upon hours, the high-pitched squeal of drafts filled our ears. But I listened to every single word Bryan Norcross had to say and not to that noise. His comforting voice was like a gentle guardian holding me by the hand (he held the hand of many a South Floridian that night). Bryan Norcross will forever be a hero in my mind. That man was not the mere voice of a broadcast journalist and meteorologist coming across the battery-operated, portable radio -- no, he was actually the voice of hope. Hunkered down in the Channel 7 bunker as he was, he wasn't just doing his job, for pete's sake -- he managed to pull us through the tempest. It was so real and raw, that I get goose bumps just thinking about it. Norcross was the catalyst somehow kindly speaking: "Miamians you gotta be real people now."
And we were -- well, somehow, a collective spirit of "help thy heretofore unknown neighbor" managed to flood our soaked-out, frustrated hearts. After this incredibly destructive storm, I spent time volunteering in Homestead with the air force food and shelter facility. It rained -- like insult to injury -- days after Andrew. But we plugged along, each on his own and yet one for all and all for one somehow, even though "price gouging" was becoming common parlance.
So big was the mess. Mess, everywhere. Untidiness, all around. But it's one thing if your home is untidy -- not your city. Trailers, homes, buildings, infrastructure -- all suddenly matchsticks. Stability was nowhere to be found. All you could do was throw up your hands up in the air and bless it somehow. Life had come down to basics, which is really nothing but everything: eat, drink, shit, pee and sleep.
There's nothing like a good hurricane to put everything in perspective, huh? When civilization is lost, we have no context. And weather does that to us. All the time.
Andrew forced me to move on in my life. Andrew happened when I was just about to start graduate school, so I had an assignment. Back home, by the humid moonlight, with our living room roof partially caved in, I read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams by candlelight while enjoying a peanut butter sandwich and evaporated milk dinner outdoors.
Frogs sangs at twilight. Frogs I'd never heard before. And afterwards, the sound of generators drowned out the implacable silence of an imposed curfew. Miami, silent. Miami, forced to stay indoors. Miami, the city that sleeps, but is usually obnoxious. You could really "feel" Miami in the lingering silence of those nights after Hurricane Andrew.
Why am I thinking so much about Andrew? Why reminisce now, sixteen years later, about that storm I speak of, as if it were an intimate lover? Because last night I met someone who really looked me in the eye -- the eye of my own storm. A totally unexpected meeting, on Miami Beach, with seemingly endless conversation punctuated by a furtive goodbye kiss -- the night before freakin' Fay.
Weather may be inconstant, but I guess our feelings are not. The heart covets its desires and longs for its thrills, but there's a comforting constancy in that. I can't help feeling that love is a kind of storm -- a something-something that changes everything -- even when it doesn't.