A year of disasters
This has been my year of disasters: in the fall an earthquake, a hurricane, torrential rains that caused a flood, in the spring two uterine surgeries, being told I probably couldn’t have children, being told I might be able to have children, getting pregnant in March, losing my child at 9 weeks in May, and now this past weekend we had a “land hurricane” (a severe storm front called a derecho) that knocked out power to 2 million people and sent us scrambling for shelter and power. The storm itself was terrifying – intense lightning and 80 mph winds – but that plus the combined effect of a year of disasters have left me very jumpy about any perceived threat to myself or my family. As soon as the power went out, I went into planning-and-survival mode.
By the next day, as the heat was rising to almost 100+ degrees, I knew we couldn’t stay at home. When I went out to put gas in the car and discovered it was an hour-long wait to get gas at the one station still functioning, I started to realize things were bad and we needed to get out. But we couldn’t go to any public cooling centers, because we have a dog and it was absolutely unacceptable to both of us to leave him behind.
In a way, our dog has been like a surrogate child the last year. He knows, somehow, that things are harder for us lately, and he seems to provide just an extra amount of affection. If he goes on a walk with either one of us, he always comes back in the room and heads straight to the one he left behind, giving a quick kiss of reassurance on whatever exposed skin he can find. After my miscarriage, he spent a lot of time in bed with me, and even if he went for a walk or went in the other room to be with my husband, he would routinely come back to check on me, almost like a nurse would check on a patient. To be perfectly blunt, he’s been more help to me than some of my closest family members, and I am not about to leave him in 100 degree temperatures with little food and water.
So instead, we packed up the car and left town. We had no idea where we were going or if we were going to find a place to stay. I figured if we headed down the highway and stopped at every hotel we found, eventually we’d find one that accepted pets. It took us 3 hours, but finally we found a hotel that allowed pets in every room and had one last room available. I didn’t even ask them how much it was – I was just so grateful to find a place with air conditioning where we could stay for the night. Many times over the next few days, I broke down in tears of gratitude, so happy and relieved that a hotel was available where we could make sure our dog was looked after. This is a direct result of my terrible year – I’m now emotionally undone by the idea of my dog getting basic care in an emergency.
Our power came back on Sunday, and we started the drive back home in the car. While we were on the road, I cried again, telling my husband how much it meant to me that my little family was kept together and safe during a crisis, that we made it. I shouldn’t even have said anything, because right in the middle of that conversation, our car started to stall. We pulled over on the road and my husband turned the engine off, letting it cool down for a few minutes. He re-started it carefully, as I tried to keep myself from panicking. After a few minutes of agonized waiting, we got the car started and got back on the highway. We’re still not sure if something is now wrong with the transmission, but we managed to drive the last hour home without incident.
But during that last hour, I lost it completely. I was so freaked that something else would happen that I would barely talk to my husband and if he looked anywhere but at the road, I snapped at him. I would barely let him change lanes to pass other cars on the highway, and I frequently made him slow down, even to the point of being below the speed limit. I was rigid with fear that we’d break down or have an accident.
When we made it home, I finally let myself relax a little bit and guess what happened? I broke down again. I’ve been crying all morning – crying when the power flickered, crying when the cable came back on, crying at the idea of getting back in that car to run errands today. I even cry when I look at the dog, thinking about how relieved I am that he’s ok, that we’re all ok and maybe life will get back to normal this week.
This is what the last year has done to me – I sometimes just come undone, when all the smoke has cleared and I have a moment to think. I never used to be this easily spooked, but a combination of natural disasters and personal tragedies has shaken me so badly I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same again. I know it could get much, much worse (and just thinking about how much worse it has gotten for other people actually makes me cry again — for them), and that idea has me shaking like a leaf. I know I can handle it (I’ve handled it so far) but I don’t want to. I just want it to stop. I want a little space to get myself together again and feel normal for a while. I want peace and quiet, but at this point, I can’t remember the last time I had any.