After several days of soaking up the sun, drinking margaritas and mojitos, and paying absolutely no attention to the clock, I was more calm and relaxed than I’d ever been before. Surely nothing could intrude on my state of bliss, on my mind floating in a tropical lagoon of pure pleasure.
I was limited in my ability to interact with the outside world. On a small tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean, I was thankful for the periodic power outages every day. My blackberry couldn’t receive any emails from work, and nobody was calling or texting because I was disconnected from the mobile network entirely.
Near the end of my time on the island, I was slowly awakening, as if from a long, deep slumber. Every once in a while, a stray thought about a project at work began to creep into my euphoria. That was to be expected.
But my pleasure in paradise came crashing down when I turned on the TV one day and saw Hurricane Sandy snarling toward the east coast.
Suddenly, my tropical paradise became a forced exhile – everyone I knew and loved was in the path of this monster storm, and all I could do was watch in terror and dread.
I tried to process what was happening – I had gone to the Caribbean during hurricane season – and yet my home in the States was under the onslaught instead? It made no sense.
My friend watched with as much anxiety as I felt. Her family was in inland New Jersey, mine was in coastal Connecticut (my husband was in central Pennsylvania, so I figured he would be safe enough, though I did warn him not to park under any trees). We started imagining all sorts of terrible things.
My Gram lives in a small town on Long Island Sound. To get to her house, you have to drive over a long road through a marsh. At the best of times, the roadway is maybe 5 feet above high tide. The only other road out of the town floods even in heavy rain conditions. Once the weather stations started predicting storm surges of 9+ feet in Connecticut, I got really worried.
We Skyped my family back in Connecticut – What was it like? Were the winds bad? Had they lost power at all? What about Gram? Is she evacuating? What about my aunt and uncle that live down the road from her? Are they evacuating too? Did everyone have food? water? gasoline?
I knew I shouldn’t be worried. My dad is the most well-prepared person I know. He has a generator, they have a fireplace and dry wood stockpiled, and they had coolers with ice just in case the power went out.
But what about the giant trees that loom over their house? What if they fell on the house? To be fair, this was a major fear of mine as a child. There was a massive pine tree next to my window when I was growing up – I was on the second story of the house and it still went up another 50 feet past my window. When the wind blew during huge storms, I was convinced the tree was going to fall right through the roof and onto my bed.
All of my irrational fears were coming out in the moment. I was glued to the TV, watching the wind and waves wage war on the New Jersey coastline, watching the storm surge that would eventually top 12 feet smash into the Connecticut coast.
When I knew my family was as safe as they could be, I started to worry about my friends. I have dozens of friends who live in New York City – what if they got trapped! The subways flooded, the streets flooded, low-lying neighborhoods were completely inundated.
In between all of this frantic TV watching, my flight off of St. Kitts was cancelled. I suppose my plane had been stranded in the northeast. Oh well, one more day on a tropical island. Boo hoo to me.
Except that it happened again the next day. And the next. And by that point, I was desperate to get back home. I don’t know why – I couldn’t have done anything that my family could not have done for themselves, but it was driving me nuts being thousands of miles away.
Finally, I was able to change my flights and fly out Tuesday night (I was supposed to leave Sunday) to Florida. Wednesday morning I got back to the Baltimore airport and began the drive back home. I was relieved to see that only a few extra branches were down, that the autumn leaves had turned into a slippery paste on the roadways, but that overall the area seemed to have survived.
So I went to the Caribbean during Hurrican Season, and watched helplessly as a monster storm hammered away at everyone and everything I knew.