As January took its leave of us, February promised good fortune. So much of the world was fresh, even aside from the nascency of a new year. It felt open for the taking, absolutely ripe for the picking. I was sure that February was the month in which so much that was burgeoning would truly begin. But February brought rains and then the rains gave way to ice that bided its time once the snow fell.
I remember when homes started to lose power. I felt so removed from the land across the highway. I was, after all, attached to the grid that powered the city. Too sure was I that I would be spared. I remember the morning I woke up to messages of concern. Did I still have power? My home was warm and my wifi connected. Still I had been spared. But I was too lush with my time, too unappreciative of it. It was only once I moved to brew my coffee that I realized I’d lost my power too. I would crave that cup of uncomplicated coffee for eight days.
Outside, six inches of snow separated me from the Texas pavement I knew like kin, cracked and faded from eons of beatings under the southern sun. A certain omeny befell me at a sight I once colored pure magic. Still fresh and untouched, the snow laid like satin ribbon across the world. By the fifth day, it would be packed and darkened under the feet of weary people trying to stay alive. It wasn’t until night fell that I knew my place in the world. So certain of my concessions, here in my downtown-grid powered apartment, darkness fell and yet much became clear. I don’t own a candle, I don’t own a flashlight, and the temperatures are rapidly falling.
You’re not even aware of how much light exists in your world until they are all silenced like bereaving callers. When the sun abandoned us beyond the skyline, leaving us to the inhospitableness of night, nothing provoked the darkness that fell. I couldn’t see my animals, I only knew they were packed under throngs of blankets on the couch as I lay in my bed for lack of anything else to do. I began to cry as the temperature inside approached the forties. I’d only known then that I had miscalculated.
Not my downtown-grid powered apartment, myself. It was the first time I allowed myself to admit that I was scared. I was hopelessly afraid and my eyes grew heavy as the temperatures approached the thirties. It was only 7:30, it wasn’t the age of the night that beckoned sleep. Text messages disturbed my crypt. My phone only had 12% of its battery left. We’re coming to get you, it said. I knew they must, I knew that I couldn’t take care of myself. It’s an admission that claws at me still. In truth, my bark is far worse than my bite. I am such a small bird, counting on the steadiness of the jet stream not to crush me so. But I knew that the people I loved were out there, that they were moving through a world that blustered against their tires. In the end, it took them over an hour to make a twenty minute drive.
I cried again as their call came in and their headlights tore through the obscurity outside. I see an ambulance. Turn right, do you see the oak tree? I’m here. I saw the snow fall through the door in the beam of their flashlight before I saw their faces. The frightened animal cowering in dark corners scurrying towards the possibility of survival. Hastily packed bags, frightened dogs, the most valuable of valuables, carried out into an unforgiving night. I closed the door on my downtown-grid powered apartment and left the snow on the floor, my crypt devoid of dreamless sleep tonight.
It took another hour to make it to safety. Our tires jolting and sliding across roads too untamed to commit to rubber. And once we arrived, the deafening sound of the generator that would become a lullaby and a nightmare hammered against my throbbing head. It had been hours since I’d eaten, days since I’d been warm.
And there we stayed. For four days we cowered in a small room with every space heater we collectively owned attached to a generator that wasn’t merciful in its demands. I remember when my brother crawled in the backdoor in agony, having fallen on the ice when he went to fill it with gas. I remember the voices drifting up the stairs at 4 AM as my father filled it again so that we could sleep in warmth. I remember waking up with cracked lips as the room swam with stale air; we couldn’t spare the water. For four days, we sat in wait of news in one room, our only employment to survival.
I’ll never forget foraging for our own food buried out back in the snow. I’ll never forget huddling for warmth in front of desolate forecasts. Another storm is coming, and then another. A world already devoid of hope as another morning brings fresh ice and snow. I’ll never forget the lengths we had to take to keep our poor cold-blooded turtle alive. I’ll never forget my sister returning in tears from the daily gas station runs that had to be made to keep the generator running; the world was menacing and relentlessly angry and it wouldn’t let us forget it. So easily we could fall. What a reminder; how effortlessly we can be shaken from this great Earth like a flea.
And it didn’t stop once I’d arrived home. The roads had partially thawed and my power had returned. But my water was shut off and it would be for four more days. For everything that required water – drinking, flushing, washing, bathing – you had to walk a quarter mile to a community spigot and then you had to boil it. Perhaps it was this final measure of austerity that broke me. All I longed for was the feeling of being human again. Of creature comforts. I so desperately ached to feel safe. Hard truths were delivered just as I thought the worst had passed. Somehow, other storms found wiggle room in the already cluttered airspace. I wondered, in wild animation, if all that January brought would wither at my feet like the ferns choked in ice. I hadn’t for a moment stopped being afraid since the sun had set on that Monday.
It’s been more than a month. Water flows freely from my taps. Power flows steadily from the downtown grid into my apartment. My kin pavement is dry and free of peril. The air is warm and spring is loitering in our doorway. And still the fear is a part of me. I think of it when I fill my bathtub with warm water. I think of it when I accidentally flip off a light switch and my heart twists. I think of it every time I am sure of anything. So easily I could fall, a slight bird who has grown far too accustomed to the dependability of the air stream. I think of the people who risked their lives for mine, who sacrificed their comfort to keep me warm and fed. I think, with a swell of gratitude and undeservingness, of the loveliness that refused to allow unfriendly odds to lord over me.
A natural disaster, that’s what they’re calling it. And I trust the people whose jobs it is to know these things. I survived a natural disaster, but not on my own volition or of my own good graces. It’s been more than a month and there’s something about that fact that jeers and hollers at me from an unwelcome place. What we call a disaster is what others on this planet would consider good fortune. My circumstances are not my fault, and yet, it’s not lost on me how inhuman I feel when I am forced to assume the humanity of too many others. I am soft and uncalloused. I am coddled and lucky. Profoundly lucky. It’s a lot in life I spill endless gratitude over and feel an abundance of unworthiness for.
It’s been more than a month and still this world of ice and darkness is a part of me. I won’t ever find a way to separate it now, I merely have to find space for what it left. And maybe that is just by clearing room with the acknowledgement that I make little impression on this world I found myself upon. I am small and I require much tending. As much as I wish I were an oak tree, I am just a supple clover. As easily clobbered as the vines I sacrificed for safe passage. Perhaps what I do with what the blizzard brought is pour gratitude over my good health and live in full exposure of the knowledge that I am but a slight bird that can fall out of the sky as it wills it.