i'm not really here

Epictetus was right.
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SEPTEMBER 1, 2010 9:29PM

the hurricane chronicles

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The government has decided schools will open.  Even with a hurricane warning given.  A disastrous move, they will backtrack that order in a few hours, sending frenzied parents into searching for their offspring.  Schools will let students out after lunch, roughly 11:00 a.m. 

By 9:00 a.m. power goes out.  The children cheer.  The last real hurricane to hit us was Georges, which they don’t remember.  But we adults do.  A month of going without.  

During my own lunch break I go to the closest supermarket and buy what I forgot to pick up on Sunday.  More juice boxes and canned food.  Prince is blaring away on the speakers about purple bananas and dying.  There is something so gloriously ridiculous in stocking up to this song, I wish I had a raspberry beret on. 

 I am in an out in fifteen minutes.  Then I go back to school and start helping the teachers who have skipped lunch.  Some teachers get text messages from family members.  The traffic is crazy, they say.  Traffic lights are dangling in the breeze, not working.  Police, where’s the police?

We have hundreds of kids calling their parents.  Parents stuck in traffic talking with the teachers with their last cell phone bars.  Half an hour trips turn into two-hours of escalating hysterics.  Parents M.I.A.  No one else available to collect their kids.

My last student is picked up around 2:30 p.m.  We can go home now.  To our own kids.  To prepare ourselves.  Earl is coming closer than expected.  The janitor locks up and we all drive home.

I miss the dreadful gridlocks because I live very close to the school.  I am in the door, get the ironing board and iron out and start working on a bunch of clothes that need to be pressed.  I need at least a week of wrinkled free clothing for my family.  I run out of luck in thirty minutes.  The power goes out in my neighborhood.

And just like that, I am listening to the radio with as much technology around me as if were in the 1940s.  My eyes wander to the windows.  It’s not even raining yet.  What the hell happened with the power?  I close my eyes and help concoct the news images in my mind.

(my kids are making the most incredible racket)

I am tired, sleepy.  The radio news almost lulls me to sleep.

I remember odd details.  The memory of a past governor who believed himself a meteorologist and used to give the weather report makes me laugh out loud, so many years after the fact.

(my youngest daughter settles on my lap, asks me why I don’t light a candle and put it in the microwave, making it work)

I cook by candlelight.

My husband jokes about it, the so called romance of it.  But the flame speaks of time in my ear, candles take me back centuries in my psyche, the dressings and utensils I use might be different, but I am without power---and if I turn off the battery operated radio---I could pretend it’s the middle ages.

  Gusts of wind will come and go, as they should, until the early hours of the morning.  Then the rain should begin in earnest. 

Or so they say.

Cat 4.  I’ve never seen such a thing.  We have been so lucky.

There are things I am looking forward to, if power still does not arrive.  A starry sky.  A smaller utility bill.

And strangely enough, I enjoy writing by candlelight.  Black ink in my spidery handwriting.  It does not look the same under a glaring light bulb.  And somehow, when reading, the flickering light turns the pecan colored page alive.  I find words forgotten written on another power failure.

I am reading Inkheart.  But do not fear, I do not read out loud.  A lone ant winds quickly around my candles and stops, its front limbs--hands, antennae?---maniacally wringing them out.  As if considering a path a purpose a decision and scampering off, leaving me none the wiser about what goes on in its mind.

(while candlelight slows me down, it stirs my children into a frenzy)

Hugo was to me the ultimate hurricane.  The wind sounding like a prowling beast searching for prey.  A demon, a killer.  That sound I had never heard before, and hope to never again.

It is best to turn in early.  There’s a certain boredom in waiting for a hurricane that might not come.  When one truly hits, there’s no sleep to be had.


Still no power.  And that worries me.  Because if this is not a preemptive strike if you will, then it really means the infrastructure of the island is absurdly frail.

 On the radio, the government gets more flack for their lack of provisions regarding that chaos.

Darkness was spent in nightmares, horrible ones regarding embracing stories that it might not do to give birth to.  My hand still hovers over a file and whether to hit the delete button.  When you stare at the abyss it also stares back at you, Nietzsche says. 

 Hurricanes are times of feast.  All meat has to be cooked immediately.  You eat until you can’t anymore.  Then you survive a month on canned sausages and soda crackers and room temperature juice.

I’ve cooked loads of chicken, churrasco,  mounds of shrimp rice.  Funnily enough, I manage to pass with flying colors.  It only takes mayhem for me to cook well.

Power doesn’t come back until the evening.  My children shout with glee, and run to turn the T.V. on.  I am strangely saddened by this, though I know it makes no sense.

I turn on my laptop and read your comments again. And some new ones I had missed when I couldn’t access the web anymore.  I want to answer all of them so badly.  But I am so tired I simply go to bed.

Tomorrow I will worry about Fiona, and Gaston, and whichever is next in line. 

 It will be the strangest of Septembers.

At least, the words have returned.


© Vanessa Seijo 2010

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Glad to hear your voice and that power has returned. Frances and Jeanne taught me more than any person should have to learn. And that was one year before Katrina changed everything, for everyone. Your words flicker in my heart.
Glad you are safe. (and Inkheart is awesome!)
thank you, cartouche
those are lovely words, thank you
hyblaean-Julie: Thank you. Inkheart is read in the little time left over after grading papers and writing out lesson plans.
So glad you are all safe & sound.
I am glad to see you...I have been following the news...and thinking of you...xox
So glad! How can you write so well with all that going on. You are so calm woman!!.r
The abyss will always win any staring contest...but for you, I think surreality is no competition at all. I am with you; it seems a strange September is indeed on deck...and not just for la isla. Otra vez y mas suerte, Vanessa. Estamos contigo.
trilogy: Thanks!
Robin: thank you. It is crazy. It does look like a bowling alley. One after another.
hugs,me: oh, thank you. Not calm at all. Writing is the thing that does the calming.
catch-22: magical realism never seemed to leave, thanks for that
Thanks, Bea. And thanks for your message.
Not long ago I went through a 2-day blackout, so I can understand exactly how you must have felt. I too cooked loads of food (on the grill) only to realize I had no way to keep it because I couldn't find any ice! Once was enough for me! Glad you're safe.
You write beautifully even under the worst circumstances. I'm happy that you are alright. Been listening to the radio and weather about Earl and thinking of you. Stay well and safe, Vanessa.
Whew. Good to hear from you.
love it...a preview from the so called third world
or whatever the f-- they call you
here in priveleged NEW ENGLAND

as to what's coming our way soon if we don't mend our
climatic ways...
this should be required reading
somewhere, i dunno where...

in the halls of power, in the squalor of the schoolsystem so called
her e in the first world
as mother nature inexorably gets around to all of us
Fay: What is ice? ;-) I remember when days would stretch on to weeks and people would fight over ice as if their life depended on it. We're not out of the woods until the season ends on November, but here's hoping.

FusunA: thank you for those words. I hope I won't have to post on hurricanes anymore, but we'll see.
ocularnervosa: thank you!
mr. sunshine: We are used to hurricanes, which does not mean we are prepared for them. One never truly is. But I always wondered why people on the East coast build using wood instead of cinderblock, like we do.
I was worried about you and even talked about you tonight to a friend.
I am so glad you are okay.
Rated with hugs
thank you, Linda! No worries, truly. It's like dress rehearsal. Bound to happen one of these days. We'll manage if one does hit.
Hurakan, that powerful indigenous god has kept you and your family safe. I'm very thankful for that. But, I fear that "Hurakan" may be angry at what is happening with climate change... preparate bien, Vanessa~Saludos.
Inverted Interrobang: Gracias por eso. Sad to say it is like riding a bicycle...
I am grateful that you and yours are okay. It is scary to be at the mercy of nature. Good to hear your voice.
Glad to hear that you and your family are safe.
What a wonderful journal of survival and love.
I remember Hugo's voice and path. I was in NC at the time. Much devastation. I expect ya'll got it much worse there.

Thinking of you, vanessa!
Been thinking and worrying about you. Grand and fine that you and yours are safe!
Here in Columbus, if the winds spits the power goes out. Sometimes for weeks at a time. So the Island seems to have a pretty good infrastructure in comparison. I hate to lose food and refrigerators, but then it is also a magical time in my city. If you drive around, you will entire neighborhoods on front lawns, communally grilling food so it won't go bad, and sitting around in big circles on Lawn chairs laughing and telling stories to while away the hours without videogames and cable. I am glad you are alright.
Glad to hear you are there and the beast has stayed away for now.
All the best.
I lost my VW Rabbit in Hugo, trying to drive thru a flooded intersection in the country trying to get to my home in a low-lying part of the county. Water up to my knees. Car dead. I don't remember how I got out, which is strange now. We are still worried about Hugo in Virginia. Yesterday the authorities ordered evacuation of Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. Also yesterday, we had a couple of trees taken down that we were worried about if the winds come out of the northwest. We live on higher ground now, so wind is our only concern.

But right now I'm thinking of you. Stay safe.
Make that...we are still worried about Earl.... Sorry, the winds of worry are swirling this morning.
Relieved to hear your voice and know that all is well. Hope all continues to be well as this particular path continues to be active.

Love the images of the flickering candle light and the glow of romance as you read and as you write. I understand that absolutely.

Will continue to watch and wait as this season rolls on. And hope.
Lovely words - I know the feeling of perverse hurricane dissapointment. Bob was our worst, in my time - decimated Martha's Vineyard. Earl is going to have some fun here, but New England only gets the rare Cat. 4 or 5. (I think Bob was "The Perfect Storm".
I have been thinking of you and I am glad you are safe and with power. I'm thinking of PR in January - mainland and Vieques - any thoughts? An island meet up?!
Whew (for now)! Glad you're safe - always the main thing.

Power doesn’t come back until the evening. My children shout with glee, and run to turn the T.V. on. I am strangely saddened by this, though I know it makes no sense.

I think it makes sense . . . there is something about the quiet of non-electric living that feeds one's soul. We don't want it to last indefinitely, but when the hum that we usually tune out is gone . . . it's not exactly welcome on its initial return. At least that's been my experience during various blizzards and a flood a few years ago . . .
thanks for the update. hope you are OK.
Mami always trembled when there was a thunderstorm. I think they reminded her of hurricanes. Hugs to you, mi hermana. Glad you escaped round one; hoping there are no more. Admiring of your eloquence.
Stay safe! I just picked up extra batteries this morning.
I've been thinking about you....glad to hear of your adventures ?? and glad to hear you and yours are fine.
mypsyche: Thank you for that. Now we wait on Gaston. Kind of tired of pushing classroom furniture around and securing it again and again.
The Wright Sight: Thank you!
Romantic Poetess: When one has electricity there is no time to keep journals. How strange it takes a power failure to be able to do so.
kitd: Hugo is forever ingrained in my mind. Gaston seems to be minding that path. We are so used to this we sort of shrug our shoulders and say, well come and get it over with.
Scylla: That means a lot to me.
Antoinette: Storms seem to bring out the worst and the best in people. That sharing and coming out of our houses is something cherished in times like this. Thank you.
Scarlett: Thank you, my sweet.
Matt: With Hugo I just remember what happened on the island and then just going primitive. Warming water in the sun to get baths, collecting rainwater, running out into the rain to take a shower. Your story of trying to cross over a flood chills me to the bone. I have a very small car and I can't even try that on a simple flooded road in midday rains. And winds can do scary things. Take care.
anna1liese: It will be a crazy season. Puerto Ricans have a dark sense of humor, and we just joke about it. Even my students were making jokes about the storms the day after.
aim: (-----------------!!!!!!!!!!!) that's my squeal of delight, too high for human ears. Oh, I'd love to see you! Mainland sounds good, Vieques with my 3 kids sounds impossible. (Because I'll have to take them with me and that is just punishment. They are lovely but they are high maintenance). And if a hurricane hits Vieques it'll take months to fix. I've no idea why that is that way.
LC Neal: Ha! I watch every news update and when I can't find them I turn on the Caribbean Weather Channel. Gaston looks bad now. They say it will re-form.
Owl: It is that sense of going back in time, of being able to channel a different era, something that got lost along the way.
Sheba Marx: Thank you! I appreciate that.
Pilgrim: ¡Mi hermano! My own grandfather witnessed way too many. Especially the Cat 5 "San Felipe" in 1928. I have half a story written on that. One day he told my mother he didn't want to live through another one anymore, that he had no more energy for that. That was a sad day, but we understood where he was coming from. Those hurricanes of the early 20th c were truly horrifying.
Eve Collins: Thanks! I'm hitting the stores again on Wednesday.
Just Thinking: adventures are the right term, no other would do. Thakns for caring.
Keep well, Vanessa and let's hope this hurricane season passes quickly.
Good Lord, Vanessa, this is a little masterpiece. Your description of these days is crystal clear.~r
I am glad you are okay. I watched that big green blob go over Puerto Rico on a weather site and thought about you. We're waiting for it here now, expected tomorrow night. They are saying class 3, maybe even 2, but everyone is taking their boats out of the harbor.
So absolutely thankful you are safe and well Vanessa. Your words are always fitting, I am so glad they have returned to you.
Vanessa, we're so gratified nothing more serious that what you describe had to happen. My wish for you is, it will always happen the same way, with relative ease by comparison with the alternative.

Also, your wording just sends me! Witness the following:

"Prince is blaring away on the speakers about purple bananas and dying. There is something so gloriously ridiculous in stocking up to this song, I wish I had a raspberry beret on."
I can't gush enough! What a touch of brilliance! Humor in the face of preparing for a nightmare of worry. Beautifully done!

I've been waiting for someone to describe the hurricane as enemy and as muse -- you've done it. It all seems so familiar to me, living for all my forty-three years in a hurricane zone. I hope your cooking muse sticks around...
Glad you are okay.
When I was living there I had to ride out a hurricane on Vieques--that was not fun!
Stay safe!
Catherine: Thank you. You are so kind.
Joan: *blushing profusely here* Thank you, my dear.
greenheron: I do so hope it just goes away. Click my red-sequined shoes.
Sparking: I am thankful for the words. Thank you for yours, they are very kind.
PoorWoman: I am glad my words touch you. And strangely enough, I would not have been able to make that one up even if I tried. Life is stranger than fiction.
Bellwether: When I cook well you always come to mind. Thank you for your words.
MJchywa: You're braver than I am. Vieques is so open to the elements! Glad you made it out okay.
Bonnie: Thank you for that. I'm honored.
Vanessa! I am glad you have surfaced with this piece. As I was reading it the word exotic came to mind, where I am this is so foreign. I am so interested in every word of the experience, my mind makes many pictures. I try to imagine where you are and how it all is going. Be safe, R
Every time I see a weather map showing that giant circulation hovering near Puerto Rico, I think of you and your family. I'm so glad you dodged this one, at least.

Sheila: I've learned to make peace with the word exotic. Now, I accept it gladly, my friends at OS have taught me to do so ;-). I was thinking that I need to make a picture post and I've seen a lot of very interesting houses (interesting textures) to do so. Unfortunately, those same houses will probably not stand up to a hurricane or even a storm. Thanks for your words.

Lezlie: That is exactly what it feels like, playing dodgeball. But one plays knowing one day you're gonna get hit.
Somehow, I find it hard to worry about you.

I figure if anyone can survive.....

Plus, you have had experience. It is the novices that get themselves killed doing stupid stuff.

Anyway, glad to hear about your experience.
Nick: Thank you. I truly appreciate it.
Looks like your worries are over for now. Fiona went pfft and Gaston is still trying to get it up, but it doesn't look too good for it. R
Trudge164: and thank God for that. Keeping a steady supplies of candles and batteries just in case next week sees another storm parade.
Beautifully conveyed, as always. The picture you paint is a familiar one. I too thought of you as I watched the storm pass. I am glad that you are ok, that you now have power.
A fascinating window into the reality and nitty-gritty of an encounter with a hurricane. Enjoyable reading and glad you've got your energy back.
sophieh: Thank you. We have been extremely lucky for over 10 years with hurricanes just skirting us. But the season has just started for us and we wait and see.
Dear reader: Thank you. If anything, a hurricane shows islanders perspective. And what matters.
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