Irene is a Greek name that means peace.
This weekend, the eastern coast of the United States was hit by a hurricane named Irene.
As hurricanes go, Irene was not terrible. Thirty-two deaths have been reported so far, and while more may be discovered as we clean up, the worst that most people are facing seems to be power outages and damage to basement storage.
One of the reported deaths was in the county where i grew up.
This is the first major disaster i have faced since moving away from my family. Despite my generalized anxiety disorder (which is triggered more by social situations or getting lost than physical danger), i was not afraid. I did experience a healthy amount of rational concern, however. I stocked up on candles, got some cash, charged my Kindle and my phone, and settled in for a long weekend of Buffy and Angel marathons. (The Kindle was for in case the power went out.)
However, i was profoundly uncomfortable being away from my loved ones during a time of emergency. My mother and sisters went to a shelter that had been set up in their church. Power was out at their house and the church, but the church had an emergency backup generator. My dad was alone in his apartment, and also experienced some power outages. My boyfriend was at home with his parents, and their power also went out. In my apartment, the lights flickered a little, but other than that we were totally fine.
We all tried to use our phones as little as possible, knowing that we'd have to save the batteries for an emergency and that we didn't want to tie up the lines for people who already had emergencies.
I don't have a smart phone, which means that my battery can pretty much last all day with normal use. Almost everyone else i know has a smart phone, which means that their batteries only last a few hours. So my boyfriend and family were far away and incommunicado.
Although the experience was, for me, anticlimactic (and i am in no way trying to diminish or mock the experiences of those who died or were injured or lost loved ones or suffered some other kind of serious consequence because of Irene), it still hit me hard in a lot of ways.
I'm sort of the dad of my house. I am the one who most often remembers to take out the trash. I am the one who most often remembers to lock the door at night and turn out the lights. I am the one who knows things about fiberglass mesh tape and different kinds of pliers. And when we were preparing for the storm, i was the one who told my roommates that, when Massachusetts is officially in a "state of emergency" and has shut down all public transportation and asked people to stay off of the highways, it's probably not the best time to go to Applebees to watch a UFC match. I was the one who filled up the bathtub so that, if the power went out, we could still flush the toilet. And when the drain on the bathtub wasn't working, i was the one who went to the attic, found an empty plastic storage bin, and filled it with water. When the storm was over i was the one who emptied the bin. Had we experienced any serious storm-related emergencies, i am certain that i would have been the one directing recovery efforts in my apartment.
It's weird to be the adult. It's especially weird to be the adult when you are the youngest person in the house. And it is exceptionally weird to be the adult when there are no other adults you can lean on, or even consult with. I couldn't ask my parents about how to light our gas stove with a lighter if the power went out. I couldn't double-team with my boyfriend to storm-proof the house and make sure that my roommates were safe. I was all on my own.
This post is pretty fragmentary and pointless; i'm mostly just reflecting on my experiences and emotions. So i'll conclude with some fragments of a poem i'm working on, based on a text my boyfriend sent me about a month and a half ago.
if the world is coming to an end
i want to go down in your arms
let the water swirl around us
i'd trade the sunrise for your eyes
I guess my point, which is parenthetical at best, is that even a potential emergency has a way of putting our hearts on our sleeves. We dig down deep to the cores of ourselves and find what matters, find what we're really made of and what we really want. And if we're smart, then when the crisis has passed we hold on to what we've found.