Seeing it again was… something.
It’s been a couple years now. And plenty of people have plenty of perspectives enough about what exactly a person should feel by now.
But when the palm trees sway at just a slight certain angle, or the wind goes still, or you find the “Post Irma Normal” wine bottle you saved because you never wanted to think of all the whiskey that got you through those days. Then… it all comes rushing back again. And it’s a hurdle.
And time just makes the memories hit your heart and mind in different ways.
Nothing has ever really been normal since her. She shaped too much of so much that changed.
“You know, I’m glad we are moving now and not later, but we need to hope nothing forms in that ocean that could bring another Irma towards us while we’re traveling.”
“It won’t. And if it does, we will already be packed up and then we will just ride it out again and take shelter,” his confidence included a smile.
See, we stayed through the storm. We bought non perishables, flashlights, shutters. We prepared for the Category 5 heading towards us. Sucking up the sands and tides along its way. We stayed.
We boxed up the Legos and we moved all the furniture and we waved goodbye to our Jeep that sat uncovered. We watched our neighbors get on the highway.
We watched the roads fill with traffic until no traffic remained.
We stayed because it was my job. I wanted us to go but not more than I knew my responsibility as a broadcaster. Not more than I was so unsure.
And by the time I was the most afraid I’ve ever been in my life and I’m talking on air about nearby shelters while searching frantically for “minor traveling alone outbound flights”… it was, I knew, all too late.
There I sat. With the decisions. A point of no return. My five year old little boy was about to try to survive her:
Hurricane Irma made her approach upon the Caribbean as a Category 5 with max sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. She rolled over Cuba’s mountains and then tore as a 4 through the Florida Keys. When Irma made landfall on Marco Island and crossed Collier County, she was recorded as still having up to 142 mph gusts.
And then…the land fought back…she lost what she once was.
By the time Irma hit us in Ft. Myers, her eye was already falling apart.
But she was still something. Something destructive.
Irma did not dissipate until fourteen days after she was first spotted on satellite. She flooded towns, surged cities, blew her winds through countless streets until she finally dissolved into scattered rain showers in Illinois.
Irma did a lot of damage in her path towards us. Lives were lost. Homes destroyed. Power outages and flooding that covered the entire state of Florida.
And Irma did damage here. Where we were.
And as much as you hear the opinions fly by that she wasn’t all that awful after all, that she wasn’t the monster they predicted… I know that only came down to a few inches. I know a butterfly flapped wings somewhere for a few seconds. I know we were a few of the fortunate while others still are not.
So the palm trees bend and the wind is silent and a wine bottle takes you back again.
To the devastating decisions you were making.
Decisions about you, about others, about them. Decisions that weigh on you like a burden of luggage you know you have to carry, decisions that you can rest with and bury, decisions that you revisit on and off again.
“You seem to have a pretty good take on Irma these years later…”
“Like… how? Why? I mean…what is it you think?”
“I got to go to that school and have that fun fruit milkshake and play games with those people and then we came back here and got to ‘camp out’.”
For days, weeks and months and now years after, I’ve wondered… if I was so very very wrong to risk not just my own, but his life. It’s a decision I think I’ll wrestle with for years to come.
And there will never be a truly “Post Irma Normal” for me.
But like the alcohol in that bottle… reserved for adults, for him it’s a very different memory and no hurdle at all.
And I suppose if that’s his recollection, maybe in the midst of all that pre storm terror, all the post storm worry, all the wonder and regret and all the what did I just do to him that replayed in my mind over and over and over again..
…If his thoughts are board games with strangers, new slushies in a school cafeteria and flashlight slumber parties w/ home made fans to keep us cool…
Maybe… I did something right in the midst of it all. And maybe, through his perspective…there is a “Post Irma Normal” after all.
Elizabeth Grattan is a broadcast talent and writer who has covered current events, human interest and social justice for over twenty-five years. Her loves are laughter through tears, old ball caps, reasonably priced blended reds and her dream come true little man. Find & friend Elizabeth on FB or follow along on Twitter.