Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Danger of Hurricanes

Hurricanes are scary. Their "downgraded" cousin the tropical storm is just as scary. I know. I've been through a few.

1999. Floyd was a dangerous Cat 5 that was supposed to slam directly into the east coast of Florida. My restless, ambitious and adventurous 22 year old self had decided to run away to a piece of her unexplained past. My five roommates and I were stuck in our Vista Way apartment, a set of the kind of light coral pink stucco buildings seen all over the Sunshine State. Right in-between I-4 and Apopka-Vineland Road near Kissimmee-and of course a 24 hour Walgreens.

Days before they decided to close the parks, the first set of winds had started coming in. In Florida that's a sure sign of trouble-the air is as void as a cave otherwise. "One thing these kids might see is a hurricane," said Mike. An older, slender man with abnormally tan skin, white hair and a set of black rim glasses from Pennsylvania. He and his wife Diane had moved down years ago and ended up working for Mickey. Diane worked full-time in the Christmas shop and still had her thick East Coast accent. She was one of my trainers, warned me how competitive the marketing department at Disney was, and always expressed pity at how little the company paid us "CP's."

Andrea, Mikki, Melissa, Kim, and the girl whose name I can't remember put cardboard and tape over our windows in preparation. We watched the news and listened to the radio until we realized we were just freaking ourselves out more than we needed to. I called my mom, wishing for the first time that I could somehow go home where it was safe. Where there wasn't such a thing as hurricanes. Just blizzards and the occasional tornado. Threats I knew how to deal with. She didn't know how to help me, so she called some friends who had been through one. She told me it was just like a blizzard, but with rain. And it was good that our apartment was on the first floor. It might flood and the ceiling might cave in, but at least the winds wouldn't be as strong at that level. The Orlando Sentinel's front page headline that read "Brace Yourselves" seemed to say it all.

It was one of the times in my life that I prayed really hard. I prayed for that storm to turn, like they said it just might. I didn't wish any harm on our neighbors in the Carolinas, but I didn't want to die. I wasn't ready. Not after I'd spent so much of my life just fighting to survive. Not after refusing to give into the temptation of the bottles of my father's pills at 14. Not after choosing to look at the light, see its beauty, and know that it was okay to dream-no matter how illogical or misguided. I was lucky; I had a future reflection to believe in. I had a light that was convincing and comforting enough to make me choose to keep traveling.

After the storm hit Melbourne, the rains kept pouring and the dark clouds kept swirling around the deep green landscape of crabgrass and sabal palms, we learned that the eye of the storm had started to turn. Worst case scenario for Orlando was 60 mph winds and a downpour. The perpetual parking lot of cars and semis that lined I-4 from Daytona to Tampa eventually eased as people realized it was safe to get a hotel. We were lucky this time. Florida was lucky. I even joked about it with Sally when Disney said it was ok to come back to work. "Brace yourself, we've got a 30 mph wind coming through." She burst out laughing, tapped me playfully on the arm and said jokingly "oh go back home, you Rocky Mountain person."

My former home wasn't so lucky a few years later. 2004. Storm after storm. Destruction. Death. Endless calls to the ex to see if he and the kids were ok. Despite the slew of different names, it seemed like the storms were the same unfrozen blizzard that kept coming back for some sort of past indiscretion. But that's a tale that doesn't belong on the pages of this blog. It's a story my characters might get to tell you, after their voices have been refined by my slew of mentors and the author channeling process.

"Seth" tells me that even in the midst of probable death and destruction that if you want to survive somewhere inside you have to choose life. You have to choose to look at the beautiful sunlight. You have to choose.

Alli, one of my friends from elementary school chose differently. We became separated after 5th grade since she stayed in the public school system and my mom steered me towards what she thought was a "safer, respectable" path. She gave up a lot and worked hard to make sure I had a private education. I'm grateful. I just sometimes wonder what would have been if I'd finished growing up with some of the people I first came to know.

I still have the pictures of Alli at my 7 year old birthday party. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Smiling face that portrayed an image of sweetness. She used to walk down the same street as me to get home from school. She used to roller skate under the red, purple, blue and yellow balls at the local skating rink with the girl scouts troop. At 18 she decided it made more sense to jump off a ledge in Rocky Mountain National Park. I don't know why. I stopped knowing who she was at 10 years old. But sometimes I wonder how someone who seemed so full of light could choose something so dark. I wonder if I could have somehow helped her.

Of course I realize this notion is somewhat misguided. Despite my desire to help everyone in distress that I come across, in the end the internal forces that are driving them to these types of choices are as uncontrollable by me as an impending hurricane. In the end people have to sort through their own mess. They have to decide to either rebuild or run away. They have to decide to either see destruction or see possibility.

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