On the morning after the hurricane passes, the first thing you notice is the sound.
Or the absence of it.
The rain no longer pelting down, the water no longer forcing its way in through the cracks in the windows and doors. The wind no longer threatening to rip open your home and leave you exposed. Even the sounds from a life before the hurricane are missing. The electricity has been out since yesterday morning. The refrigerator no longer humming in the kitchen. The air conditioner no longer chugging away. The birds no longer singing in the morning, having escaped the destruction by heading north before the first band hit. It’s just silence and the sound of trees cracking, unable to hold themselves up after the storm.
Getting out of bed after a hurricane requires you check all your doors and windows first. Did the towels put nearby hold all the water trying to escape in? Are the panels and panes still functional? Somewhere in your house, is there broken glass? You put shoes on just to protect your feet in your own home. You have become a stranger here.
Eventually, after surveying what you thought was home, you take an inventory of what repairs are required and prioritize the roof threatening to collapse over a busted window. You have to cut down the trees about to make the damage go from already overwhelming to worse.
After working through your list, the house forces you to learn what you could have prepared better for. You switch to boarding up your windows instead of taping the glass. The heavy oak trees must be cut back despite how much you love basking in their shade with a cold glass of tea and a book on humid summer days. You start making sacrifices to prepare for the next storm. Your savings account begins to drain just to keep up with what vulnerabilities you try to perceive next. Thicker doors, a stronger roof, housing upgrades that can weather the storms more easily. Eventually, after a few hurricanes and a few more disasters, your home becomes a fortress and you become unwilling to move despite the yearly battles.
Today, I am the day after the hurricane. It is just silence and the trees cracking beneath their own weight. I’ve put on my shoes and I’ve begun to stare at the glass splayed across the living room floor and the books bloated and waterlogged in the corner. I pick up an old canister of developed film and find the picture where once we were happy and a thousand miles away from here. As predicted, I have become a stranger in my own home, marveling at the destruction, unable to process that I am staring at a memory, unable to tell myself that what I’m seeing are just ghosts of what was, and I’m only hearing the hallucinations of your voice singing in the desert.
Eventually, I will be able to prepare for the next storm. Perhaps, in some distant future, I will understand what building materials will make my home safer, what might protect my most important memories from the wrath of my own mental illness. But for now, I’ll sweep the glass up and start drying out the clothes I’ll need to wear tomorrow during the repairs.
Eventually, the birds will come back in the mornings.
Eventually, my house will become a home again.