The water began dripping through the ceiling around six a.m. The drip became a waterfall and we lost power. I spent the next five hours emptying buckets, while my mother sat holding the radio close to her, trying to hear the newscaster over the static caused by the howling winds.
Halfway through the ordeal, the eye passed over and it got eerily calm as the winds abated. Then, the other side of the storm wall hit and it began all over again.
By mid-afternoon, exhausted neighbors came out to view the damage. Windows were broken, their metal frames twisted. Trees were uprooted and lying on their sides. Those that remained upright had been snapped off like toothpicks. Pieces of the roof were scattered . Air conditioners that had been mounted on the roof had been flung off. Some landed on cars.
For the next week we were in survival mode â€“ a combination of new friendships and fatigue. One generous neighbor had a propane stove. She and I made soup and went door to door with a ladle. A friend brought over a few cases of emergency rations. We distributed them to neighbors along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Another family procured a barbecue and using fallen branches for firewood, we salvaged what we could from our freezers.
Finally, the Red Cross set up camp and began handing out meals and ice. But the elevators were out of order and elderly neighbors could not walk down the stairs. Suffice to say, I spent my days going up and down stairs, delivering water, meals, ice, and whatever else I could.Â A few mornings I actually woke up crying, frustrated by my own limitations and concerned for the many who may have been forgotten. Towards the end of the week, the health department began going door to door. What a relief!
By the seventh day, we were grateful to get the power back on, except no repairs had been done to the roof. A group of handsome firemen came by with rolls of plastic and covered the tops of furniture. That was fortuitous because a night or two later, it rained buckets indoors and out.
We were on the top floor of a four story buidling. In every room, water poured from the seam between the top of the walls and the ceiling. My mother went to a friendâ€™s apartment on the floor below while I wrestled with the incoming water.
A few hours later, soaked in grey water and depleted, it occurred to me that I had better check on our neighborâ€™s apartment. She was in Canada and my mother was taking refuge in the flat directly below hers. When I opened the door, there was a lake in the living room. I just stood there.
Suddenly, a man I’d met after the hurricane appeared. Then he vanished. Â Moments later he returned with a WetVac and began playfully vacuuming up gallons and gallons of water. I was in the doorway watching him when one of the neighbors walked by. â€œWherever did you find him?â€ she asked in awe. â€œHeâ€™s not real,â€ I replied.
For weeks, water continued to be a problem. The laminate wood floors lifted so we tore them up and lived with cement floors, and the walls began peeling. Fortunately, a group ofÂ storm chasers came by with fans and heaters to abate mold problems. Florida is hot and humid so that was a huge blessing.
Throughout it all, my mother lived in gratitude. She never once focused on what was wrong, only on what was right.
One morning a neighbor told me he was leaving and would return in a few days. When I saw him again, I asked if he had decided not to go. He informed me that four days had passed. You know those invisible lines between days, indicating Monday is Monday and Tuesday is Tuesday? I lost the lines. The sun rose and set, but I could no longer grab hold of any sense of division.
I had an injury and went to visit a lovely retired nurse.Â After she attended to me, we sat and visited. She said that since Iâ€™d come into her home a ring of angels had been flying around her face. Personally, I think they arrived before I did.