In mid-September 2018, Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas, causing widespread damage from floods, rains, waterspouts, and more. My hometown of Newport, North Carolina, was no exception. A waterspout from Hurricane Florence ripped the roof off of part of my house, flooding my family (who had stayed behind) and my home with rain. My parents and siblings spent hours upon hours emptying buckets full of rainwater out of our upstairs office, but there was no lack of damage done. Our home was unlivable due to the missing roof, as well as the effects from the rain (mold, soggy carpet/bubbling up wood floors, holes in the walls adjacent to the office), so my family had to move into my grandfather's cottage. They still have not been able to return home, and our insurance adjuster said that our home could be unlivable for up to three years post-Florence.
Despite this, I count my family among the lucky ones. They had to grab everything and evacuate, but most of our personal belongings were salvaged, and are being stored with my grandfather. No one in my family was harmed -- the roof caved in on the room where my puppy normally sleeps, but by a stroke of luck, she was sleeping with my sister that night, safely in a room down the hall. My grandfather lives a mere 10 minutes away from my family and had plenty of space to accommodate my parents, two siblings, and dog, so they have a place to stay that is much cheaper and close by than any other options. My siblings remain at their pre-hurricane schools, my mother her pre-hurricane job. And though the hurricane destroyed an estimated 85% of my father's merchandise that he sells for a living in an online shop, this allows him to work on restoring our house each day. We are lucky that he is such an able-bodied man with a background in construction, and that he can dedicate his time to fixing our house instead of letting the mold and soaked floors stay as is.
This has been my first semester off at college, and thus this situation has been even more difficult and jarring for me. The week that Florence struck, I was unable to sleep or eat, constantly checking any weather or news outlet I could find and waiting for my family to text me back when they were finally able to risk a bit of their phone's battery. I have gone home three times since the hurricane -- once for fall break, once for a family member's funeral, and once for Thanksgiving break -- and will soon return for the holidays. Though it has been less jarring to return to a home that is not my own each time, it still pangs me to take that turn to take me to my grandfather's instead of to my home. I haven't seen my bedroom, laid down in my bed, sat at my desk and looked at the notes that were on my bedroom wall since August. I am homesick for a home that no longer exists.
This year, the holidays have been and will be, different. For Thanksgiving, instead of gathering around the eight-person table that has been passed down from my father's parents and that I have grown up eating nearly every meal at, we travelled to my cousins' home, where instead of my father and uncle taking their usual places on the couch and my grandfather in the recliner to watch the football game, my cousins and I sat on a relatively foreign couch and watched reruns of Friends. Instead of chasing my brother around our living area, around that half-wall in our kitchen where he could poke his head around one end and I could sneak behind him from the other, he was confined to a smaller area chasing my cousin's three dogs. Instead of pulling my mother's apple pie -- my favorite -- fresh-baked out of the oven, we wrapped it in tin foil and I held it in my lap on the drive over, the cooled pie a reminder of the way things had changed so much in so little time.
This Christmas, money is tight. I don't know how much money my family has to spend, considering the less-than-adequate amount given to us by insurance and the lack of payment from our renters. I don't know if there will be fresh-baked cookies and fudge as in years past, or if my mother will pick up cookies from Walmart, as she has had to do for most meals since my father has been working 20 hours per day at the house and she has no time to cook or bake. I don't know how our annual Christmas morning video is going to look; it won't match the videos of previous years, my siblings and I running down our dark, polished stairs to the fireplace where our gifts were laid out. I don't know what will happen, and if things will feel the same as they have every other year at home.
But an important lesson that I've learned from this incident is that home is not a place, but the people you share it with. Yes, it's tacky. But coming "home" for the past three times, it hasn't mattered to me as much where we were. I was with my family, and that's what mattered. Sure, sleeping on a pull-out sofa isn't the comfiest, and having no desk to study at is a pain. But in the end, the holidays are for family, and I'm going home not to be in a familiar place or receive a large array of gifts, but to be with the people that love me most in the world.