I didn’t really start to get scared until I walked into the bathroom and discovered that the ceiling was leaking.
Sure, sitting around indoors all day had been dull, and listening to the rain pound relentlessly at the windows had been stressful, and it was worrisome to realize for the first time just what writers mean when they say the wind was “howling,” but I didn’t really know enough of what to expect to find the experience of riding out a hurricane frightening. I’m a Midwestern girl. I know tornadoes, the windstorms that appear and disappear with equal speed, requiring a couple hours of hiding in a basement and a lot of gratitude that my house was not directly in its path. I didn’t know sweeping seaborne whirlwinds that covered entire states, like something out of a disaster film.
What I mean to say is, it wasn’t so much courage that kept me from being afraid of Hurricane Irma until 11:30pm on Saturday night, but ignorance. I didn’t know hurricanes.
But I did know ceilings falling in from dripping water. It happened once, when I was little, in the little room under my parents’ bathroom where I played with my toys in the dollhouse, which we called a “People House.” I remember the creaking sound that alerted my parents, and plaster falling on my dad’s head just after he moved the People House out of the way.
I put a pot under the drips, telling myself that this is why I wanted to be at my apartment during the storm, instead of on the ride-out crew at work or otherwise evacuated: to respond to leaks, rather than arrive later and face the damage. At my parents’ urging – they responded to every text I sent – I took everything out of the bathroom, except the pot, before I crawled into bed and tried to convince myself that the dripping wasn’t getting worse with each gust of wind.
And that was when the smoke detectors all over our building began to sound, and I knew a new kind of fear and uncertainty, because what the heck are you supposed to do about a fire alarm during a hurricane? Going outside was impossible in the current weather. Staying inside went against everything I ever learned in elementary school.
My roommate and I found no sign of smoke or heat, so I took to Facebook, where other Disney College Programmers had been posting all day. Sure enough, other people from our building were posting about the alarms going off. Someone said they had called the service center to see what could be done about it. No one mentioned any actual fire, or seemed to be panicking at all, which helped some.
We sat around, as we had all day but more stressed now than ever, until the alarms finally stopped around 1:30am and we went back to trying to sleep. It took a while. I kept hearing windborne things hitting the wall outside every now and then.
And then I woke up, and it was 10:00am on Sunday, and the storm had passed. The bathroom ceiling still dripped, and the Wi-Fi was down, but we still had electricity and water. There were little branches and leaves everywhere outside, like a strange kind of carpet on the parking lot, but nothing big had landed anywhere near us or my car. We hadn’t had to use the canned foods or bottles of water we’d bought in the week beforehand.
I celebrated surviving my first hurricane by making oatmeal.