Love in Floods
Last weekend, I packed up my car to make the seven-hour drive from the Outer Banks to Charleston after spending four blissful days in a 16-bedroom oceanfront with my friend, her fiancé, and the people who love them. Seagulls perched stiffly along the bridge rails as I rolled west over Croatan Sound. The moon whispered through a bluebird sky, but below the concrete of the Washington Baum Bridge, the wind chiseled away at the waves and the current tugged at the whitecaps in discernment of the coming squall.
The Wednesday before, I loaded up my car in Charleston to travel to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina for Jessica and David’s wedding, not knowing where Hurricane Irma might land. I stuffed an extra suitcase with irreplaceables—my social security card and birth certificate, my great-grandmother’s plates and gold-rimmed glasses, Grandpa Pell’s old radio—just in case I couldn’t return to Charleston. It was all too reminiscent of the year before, when I packed the same suitcase to evacuate for Hurricane Matthew. But Irma was different. She was colossal and moody, a churning mammoth fed by thermal seas. In the longest week ever, I gripped my phone and eyeballed every meteorological update to see where she might blow in. I made a tentative evacuation plan, but her projected path changed again. “Lol, not so fast,” she said. Florida boarded up. South Carolina braced. “You know shit’s getting real in Charleston when they take down the Coburg Cow,” remarked one Twitter user. The National Weather Service headlined the danger of the coming storm surge while local officials stalled. I cursed Mother Nature and hit the road to North Carolina, praying my minimal property insurance would cover any losses.
In the Outer Banks, we drank Mr. Dillard’s frozen margaritas, lounged by the pool, and wandered to the third floor at mealtimes to break bread in front of the Atlantic. Every bedroom and fridge was occupied, and every floor tile brushed with sand. We went to bed and woke up as a full house—it was loud and lovely and easy. On Friday, Jessica married David along the shoreline in her bare feet. Sarah, Sharon, and I carried bouquets stuffed with lavender-hued roses and succulents, with tissues hidden in our palms. The 60-some guests sat with their backs to the sun and looked on as David promised “to never eat the last Reeses cup.” (Lies, I tell you.) That night we ate filet and shrimp pasta around the pool deck, danced our boozed faces off on the second floor balcony, and later a bunch of drunk fools took a two-story leap into the pool below. Sober April cannot be held responsible for Drunk April’s shenanigans (but she does have to nurse a raw ankle because of them).
On Monday Irmageddon rolled into the Lowcountry, one day after I unpacked my bags from North Carolina and stocked my fridge with two cases of bottled water. I sat on my kitchen floor while her remnants battered my island home with wind gusts of 72 mph and a surge drove the ocean into roads and backyards and living rooms. A tree limped dangerously over my neighbor’s Audi, sagging closer to the ground with every gale. In between squalls, I checked on my own car to make sure it was safe distance from the rising water on the other end of the parking lot. By noon my power flickered constantly as rotating storms charged in from offshore and punched the coastline with tornado threats. I huddled at an apartment down the hall with three grad school girls I had just met in the breezeway. We crowded onto their red pleather sofa and eyed the local news and the windows while a tornado warning lit up our phones. “This Irma bitch needs to go,” Anna said as she picked up one of her cats and carried it away from the window. We all agreed. I stayed on their couch until the warning passed, then ducked back to my own apartment to eat spaghettios and pour a glass of Woodford. Irma was outlasting my alcohol stash. It was the longest day of any day ever.
Time and again, Nature proves that our huge humanly egos are no match for the fire in her belly. She does not ebb to us. We are merely her bit players.
The day after Jessica and David walked up the dunes as Mr. and Mrs. Campos, Jess and I strolled the beach with her brindled pit bull Lola dragging her paws in the sand between us. I don’t know what it was about their wedding week—maybe the gathering of friends and family from all footsteps, eating, celebrating, taking care of each other—but it felt like a place of rest in between a humanity emerging from Harvey and squaring for Irma. The ocean was tense that day, lankier and heaving with strong riptides. A thousand miles away, people were still wading through the waters and loss in Houston. I looked out on the smooth horizon. This ocean will rise, I thought, but we will take care of each other. Neighbors will bring help and boats and relief. Humanity will serve as a life vest, a refuge. After all, we have no jurisdiction over the direction of the wind or what it carries but in the face of it, we won’t turn away from each other. In the middle of grief we will prove that we are, in fact, for each other.