“What’s $15,000 compared to your life!” Marilyn waved her arms. “Let’s fly outta here! The highways are clogged with cars and there’s no gas!” It was true. A quarter of Florida had hit the roads to outrun Irma. Marilyn looked like a scared three-year old. Normally a take-charge kinda woman, she couldn ’t take charge of Irma.
I said, “Let me go out and see if I can get your hurricane shutters closed.”
Marilyn grabbed the phone to find more charter flights with money-grubbing pilots. I went onto her beautiful screened-in lanai with pool and pulled on the folded metal panels. They wouldn’t budge. Some kind of stripping blocked the track. I couldn’t dig it out with my finger. Marilyn came outside and said excitedly. “I have found someone who will fly us to Atlanta for $10,000 each.”
I didn’t respond. “Look at this. There’s something stuck in the track here, so I can’t close the shutters.”
“I’ll call Cal across the street. He’s been really helpful.”
She went back inside while I continued unsuccessfully to close more shutters. Cal arrived, assessed the situation, left, and returned quickly with a crow bar. He was a cheerful, laid-back guy. It was good to have him around. He pried the strips out of the tracks easily. “These are just decorative. You don’t even need them.”
The shutters pulled together smoothly, but required keys to lock them shut. Marilyn frantically searched through her new house, but couldn’t find any that fit. She made more anxious phone calls. Finally, her realtor located the former owner and called back to tell her where to look for them. She came outside waving a little Ziplock bag of keys triumphantly. We tested them. They worked.
Cal went back to his home across the street. Having achieved something, Marilyn was calmer and looked more like the can-do woman she is. She decided she would stay.
I said, “Hey. You live in a concrete, built-to-code house with great hurricane shutters. This solid building is not going blow over. It’s the shacks with tin roofs in the islands that collapse in the wind. Stop watching the weather channel so much alone, please. We’re not going to die.”
Actually, I wasn’t so sure of that, because I had no idea what would happen if there was a huge storm surge like the one that flooded Houston during Harvey. But since I knew diddly squat about it all, I thought it best not to bring up that subject at the moment. Personally, I believed if anything was going to kill me, it was going to be fright. People said that hurricanes sound like freight trains running over you. I’m very sound sensitive and jump at the least little unexpected noise. New York City drove me crazy with wailing sirens and the subway tunnels’ clanging banging metal-screeching assaults to my ears. So, I believed there was a good chance I would just drop dead from the sound of the wind. But, I didn’t mention that to Marilyn either.
She invited me and our mutual friends, Jeff and Trudie. to come to her house to ride out the storm. Since none of us had shutters, we all accepted. I certainly didn’t want to be alone.
Back home, I brought up the NOAA website on my computer screen and frowned at the sight of Irma’s cone edging closer. Sighing, I looked up at my windows. They’re supposed to be hurricane resistant, but that seemed wimpy now—like wearing a water-resistant watch on a scuba dive. I envisioned the glass breaking and rain and wind pouring in.
So, though exhausted from all the stress and preparations, I began carrying as much as I could into a long walk-in closet and a windowless bathroom: rugs, chairs, lamps, pictures, cushions, coffee table, end tables— everything I could lift. I was amazed at how much I could fit into those spaces.
When I finished, my living room was nearly empty. The outside courtyard was already bare. The whole place looked as if no one lived in it.
I had done everything I could to be ready for the very, very worst.
There was nothing left to do, so I made oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies and two quiches to take to Irma’s Party.
Next day I drove to Marilyn’s house with a carload of stuff. Cal had kindly arranged with his snow-bird neighbors to put my car in their empty garage. The only catch was, I wouldn’t be able to get it out if there was a loss of power because the heavily barred garage door couldn’t be lifted manually. Oh, well. Worry about that later (if I was still alive).
Jeff and Trudie put their filled-to-the-brim car in Marilyn’s two-car garage, and we settled in to wait for Monster Irma. I suggested we pace ourselves and not watch the Weather Channel a lot. Everyone agreed. I was relieved not to have to put up with those highly-energized voices and scary visuals.
We chatted and ate and launched into a prolonged period of texting and Facebooking our worried friends up north. I was amazed how many people queried, “Are you going to be safe?” How the hell did I know? But, it was heartwarming to be in their thoughts.
A kind of giddiness set in. Cal texted me: “Don’t go out in the wind. It could rip your clothes off.”
I wrote back, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll be sure to take them off before I go outside.”
We talked calmly, but no one was up for games. Anxiety predominated. When I admitted my fear of the noise of a hurricane, Trudie came out of her bedroom with a box of earplugs that she said were “the best in the world.” She had them on hand because of her husband’s snoring. She showed me how they molded deep into the ear to create a nearly soundproof seal. I was deeply grateful and relieved.
As dusk approached, Marilyn, Trudie, and I stepped through a still partially-opened shutter and looked up the darkening sky. Ominous, purple clouds roiled above. An already stiff breeze was whipping the palm fronds around wildly. A palpably weird feeling hung in the air perhaps from the drop in pressure. We stood silent and grim for a moment. Then impulsively, I threw my arms up and shouted, “Irma! Calm. The. Fuck. Down!” We laughed, but they held me responsible for making that happen. It was a burden I wished I could fulfill.
We locked the last hurricane shutter, closed all the doors and went inside to look at the Weather Channel. The devastation in the Islands was terrible and sobering. Irma lashed at the Florida Keys as a deadly Category 4 storm.
At 4:30 Irma hit Naples 90 miles south of us. We figured she would get to us in about 5 hours.
At 6 pm the power went out. We scrambled for flashlights and received updates about the hurricane via texts. Amazingly, as each hour passed, Irma actually did calm the fuck down, diminishing from a Category four to a three to a two as she neared us.
At 9 pm, because Irma had weakened so much, Trudie and Jeff went to rest in their bedroom. Marilyn and I hung out in hers and spoke of how terrifying the build-up to this moment had been. At some point Irma must have arrived but barely rattled the shutters around us. I had forgotten about the ear plugs as she feebly tapped to enter. We didn’t let her in. We didn’t have to.
Suddenly, it became eerily still outside as Puny Irma peered down at us through her empty, gargoyle eye. As we sat in the absolute stillness, I admitted that when Irma was at her worst, I had almost welcomed dying because then at least I wouldn’t have to go through another hurricane or face the terrible aftermath that was expected.
Marilyn then confessed in a whisper, “You know, I was so sure I was going to die, I only paid the minimum on my credit card.”
I burst out laughing.. Marilyn, relieved of guilt, joined me. We laughed so hard I thought we would never stop.