“I am going to die.” This was the pervasive thought in my mind as I prepared my home for hurricane Irma’s onslaught. Coming from the land of fame and excess where celebrity and overnight e-lebrity reign supreme, I am far better equipped to deal with an out-of-focus camera lens than a hurricane.
California’s four seasons are earthquake, fire, flood, and drought, and I have lived through many a force majeure. I can wet down a roof with a garden hose during fire season with the best of them. I can anchor an armoire to a wall like no other so as to avoid being crushed by it during an earthquake. I have detours etched in my mind to avoid driving Pacific Coast Highway and Mulholland Drive during floodslide season. Bottled water in California is more than a fad during a drought, and I maintained a carefully curated inventory of star-studded brands. I survived the Northridge earthquake, several riots, and lived on Sunset Boulevard two blocks south of OJ Simpson during the Bronco chase fiasco. I can attest that the media becomes a disaster of its own making when planting itself on your front easement. I consider myself a seasoned veteran when it comes to warfare with Mother Nature. Yet, until Irma, I remained a virgin to all things hurricane.
Did I give thought to the idea that I was looking to move to hurricaneland? I did.
Thanks to our illustrious insurance industry, I visited the areas statistically-rated least likely to sustain hurricane damage. I drove a scenic route along the state’s entire coastline, discovered where mobile homes go to die, where boats are buried, the sinkhole capital of the world, and learned to love the SunPass. The journey yielded essential information and drastically narrowed my search for a new home: I cannot live on a coast where the sun sets in the wrong place. Being a left-coaster from birth, the idea of the sun rising over an ocean is all kinds of wrong and, while I have friends in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, the east coast of Florida was not for me. Onward, I drove west across Alligator Alley, an adventure in itself, and arrived in Naples only to conclude I had no need to move three thousand miles across the US only to live in a Beverly Hills look-alike. I continued northward, fell in love with a number of seaside towns, but decided my home being at or below sea level was not a good idea. I returned south and, with the exquisite help of Gloria Tate, found a home in Cape Coral. “I am in heaven,” I thought to myself as I sat on the porch and watched the sun set (in the right place) and penned my next story.
Enter hurricane Harvey. My heart broke as I watched the critical devastation as it made landfall on August 25th—and, despite my conscientious research, became stricken by the fact that I now lived in hurricaneland and Harvey could very well have been my reality. Having never lived through a hurricane, Harvey was of keen interest to me and I followed the ensuing days of wrack and ruin with the fierce gaze of a hungry snake on a downed starling—and selfishly thanked my lucky stars it didn’t hit Florida. I developed fixations with the National Hurricane Center, Weather Underground, and various other weather news sites. I watched Irma’s birth and became obsessed with her progress. For ten days, I watched, ruminated, ranted, whined, and cursed any site that didn’t suspend ads and pop-ups in favor of hurricane news, or required that I download their app in order to see what Irma was up to. Hurricane phenomena are fraught with inconsistency and, plainly stated, I found it nigh criminal to grant access to hurricane news without an (implied) waiver and concurrent offering of psychotherapeutic medication.
Between Harvey’s landfall and the time I made a concerted effort to cease my internal mewling—and put forth effort to protect my home, my self, my pets, photographs, literary and film memorabilia, legal documents and… what about my library?—I became a nervous wreck. I tried to think rationally, to no avail. Omertá be damned. I sent a text message to Gloria. “I am terrified!”
Gloria gave me sage advice that I hadn’t the vaguest idea how to implement: “Run from water, hide from wind.” Was I to stay in my home and hide until the water surge came and then run with my three parrots on my shoulders and my essentials on my back? What did that advice really mean? Thoughts tumbled like drunken acrobats in my mind and my internal pule began anew. My only comfort was Governor Rick Scott. His repeated attentive televised addresses provided salient moment-by-moment information, a voice of reason, and became a balm on my beleaguered soul.
At this point we were suffering the effects of a directionally-challenged hurricane that was crossing the Caribbean with all the alacrity of a snail and leaving ferocious devastation in her wake. Did Irma want to massacre the east coast of Florida? The west? Oh, hell, why not decimate the entire state? She couldn’t choose a direction, and she was wide. I’ll spare you the size matters jokes except to say this was one of the few occasions in life where I prayed for small. Wee, even. By then I was certain I had to leave my home. Where to go? Thoughts of becoming homeless following Irma’s total destruction of my life wreaked havoc and exacerbated my current state of fear. In what direction should I travel? West was a bust, south was out, east and north remained. My trusty assistant and friend, Mel, lives north of Atlanta and I thought perhaps I’d drive there. And then I checked the NHC site and saw that Irma was likely headed straight for her, too. I had no friends or relatives within a reasonable drive that weren’t in Irma’s potential line of fire. There was nowhere to hide and that was the most frightening thought I’d endured yet. “Welcome to hurricaneland,” I muttered to myself, livid with Irma.
I checked the news hourly and learned there was no gas left in the state and the highways were jammed with traffic. I despaired—“Yeah, my research was spot on. I have lived in Cape Coral a whopping five months and now have a category 5 hurricane bearing down on me. I am bril. Just freakin’ bril”—and cursed every insurance actuary in existence.
I began to ponder what, exactly, happened during a hurricane? What happened during storm surge? What do you mean, hurricanes come with tornadoes, too? Do cows really fly a la the film Twister? Did Irma’s storm surge contain sharks a la Sharknado? Shut the front door! I have an unbridled imagination and visions of flying possessions and body parts danced in my head only to quell in a final drowning.
I wondered where to find shelter as I dared to visit Home Depot for last minute supplies. I stared in morbid fascination at the patrons wound through four aisles awaiting the next semi-truck bearing plywood. We knew trucks couldn’t make it into the state for a multitude of reasons and I wondered what could be going through their minds. “I am going to die,” I thought as I returned home, sealed windows, covered decorative glass panels, replaced weather stripping around outer doors, and removed everything occupying the lower shelves of my myriad bookcases. Bibliophile much?
I dutifully followed Governor Scott’s advice and downloaded applicable apps to my phone (FEMA, Lee County Information, Gas Buddy) and found a pet-friendly shelter. I researched shelters and learned I would be allotted twenty square feet. My jaw hung agape as I looked at my macaw and wondered if I shouldn’t trim his 24” tail so as to be able to stuff him into a smaller carrier. Mindreading bird that he is, he gave me the hairy eyeball and I quickly moved to plan B: stack three pet carriers in my allotted area and forego the blow-up pool floatie that was to have been my mattress. I had taken care of social media, writerly things, armed myself with every form of hurricane information conceivable—and had no idea what to do with said knowledge as, after all, I was a hurricane virgin.
I had the presence of mind to pack the back of the car with framed photographs and albums. I’d find a way to replace material things if Irma swallowed my life whole. I gathered home insurance information and turned a blind eye to film and literary memorabilia, some of it irreplaceable. In sudden disasters such as the Northridge earthquake or fires fueled by high winds, there is no time to ponder the loss of life’s possessions. The advance warning engendered by Irma’s slow progress proved to be a double-edged sword, and I found myself in mourning before Irma had set raindrop on Florida soil. An excruciating sense of grief pierced my soul. Left with no alternative, I closed my mind to it and put one foot before the other, an automaton in hurricane mode.
Following shelter guidelines, I quickly packed sandwiches, bird food, bottled water, diet coke, a veterinary bill (shelters require proof of animal vaccinations, however, birds are not vaccinated), my electronics, and am unexpectedly stopped dead in my tracks by the question of apparel. What does one wear to a hurricane? Visions of Sean Penn’s post-Katrina rescues bounced off the walls of my mind as I tried to recall what he wore. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t going to rescue anyone. I’d be lucky if I kept myself from harm. I threw on a pair of running pants, a humor-laden T-shirt, and flip flops. Then checked shelter guidelines one more time to ensure I hadn’t missed any supplies. At 6 p.m. on Friday, September 8th, I breathed a melancholy sigh, said goodbye to my sealed home, and prayed it would be standing when I returned. I headed to a shelter, and the real adventure began.
My shelter experience was not a fun one. The personnel of the behemoth known as the Red Cross were the bane of the shelter show. I get that it’s difficult to orchestrate sheltering three thousand people for 48 hours, but it’s hard to have sympathy for the paid staff of an all-but-government-run agency who claims to be nonprofit but keeps 95¢ out of every dollar donated. Yet, when I returned home to find my home in one piece, I gave no further thought to the inadequacies of Red Cross personnel.
The storm surge roared past my home, took the lower three feet of exterior paint away with it, but didn’t stick around or breach my expertly sealed windows and doors. I lost 5 trees, suffered a broken water line, and went 10 days without power. A neighbor not only lent a generator, but the gas too. I am beholden to him. Everyone in the neighborhood pitched in to check on everyone else. We helped each other with downed trees, rubbish, food, and the like.
Natural disasters bring out the best or the worst in people, and I have the awesomest neighbors ever! Irma, and the shelter experience (not to be repeated), are in my rearview mirror. All said, I love my neighbors and friends. Cape Coral, you’re stuck with me.
See you back here on Friday, November 17th!
About Cody Kennedy
Cody is an author who lives, most of the time, on the east coast of the United States. Cody also writes adult mystery thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, and romance as Aisling Mancy.
Raised on the mean streets and back lots of Hollywood by a Yoda-look-alike grandfather, Cody doesn’t conform, doesn’t fit in, is epic awkward, and lives to perfect a deep-seated oppositional defiance disorder. In a constant state of fascination with the trivial, Cody contemplates such weighty questions as If time and space are curved, then where do all the straight people come from? When not writing, Cody can be found taming waves on western shores, pondering the nutritional value of sunsets, appreciating the much-maligned dandelion, unhooking guide ropes from stanchions, and marveling at all things ordinary.
Find Ash on blog, Twitter @AislingMancy, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, Booklikes,
Dreamspinner Press Author Page, and Amazon
and Ash does respond to emails because, after all, it is all about you, the reader.
Pssst. Click on the captioned title of each book to read the first chapter!