I’m on what’s called the “dirty side” of mammoth Hurricane Irma, the one where you don’t want to be, and only about 105 miles from Marco Island, expected to take the hit after the Florida Keys.
But I’m grateful. How could I not be? We were expecting in Miami a catastrophic direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane.
I’ll take a Cat 4, hopefully tired and winding down.
Here we are, turtle & I, riding out Irma, the only creatures in this big, sturdy house. I’m the little pig who built with bricks; not a stick of wood around here to blow. I’m counting on that now. I’m not afraid. But I say I little prayer to go with the Cachita and Papa Diós collection of Miami-made votive candles: “May my house stand like the responsible pig’s in the children’s story.”
Last minute, just in case, I turn the Christmas closet under the stairs into the emergency “safe space.”
“There’s Santa looking at you, kids,” I tweet with the photo. One perk of connectedness is relieving anxiety with humor. But, after my next tweet about a power blip, it’s poof, and the internet, cable — and with them the company of readers and friends — are gone.
I have a house full of books to read, I console myself and my little $99 antenna TV is holding up well. I fall asleep watching Irma crawling closer.
3:38 a.m.: Howling wind and what sounds like tiles or debris shifting around the roof wake me.
6:48 a.m.: Lost power. The little beeps of smoke alarms reverberating throughout the house wake me. In total darkness, I knock off my small flashlight and glasses. Can’t find them. I stumble to the bathroom feeling for furniture to light the safe candles I left there. I use them to find my glasses, get downstairs to find the big flashlight.
Can’t go back to sleep. I’m glad I brewed my decaf coffee last night and left it in a thermos. Room temperature coffee is better than no coffee. I move all the items I can to the freezer where I have oodles of bags of ice.
I soothe myself drinking coffee in my living room turned “secret garden” surrounded by the jasmine, the gardenia, and all the other perennials I brought in. Lots of empty containers, too. I make a note to get therapy for garden pot addiction.
9:48 a.m.: There’s a constant dull sound for a while as if a distant plane was hovering above. Strong gusts of wind. Feels like Wilma. I peek through the peepholes on my back door shutters. Not too bad. I venture out the front door and take video, bolt when the wind picks up. I remember that my father used to do this and we would all scream at him.
12:30 p.m: More tiles moving above, same area. The sea grape tree is now down, gracefully, on its side. My late father planted it so that it would remind me of our Varadero beach back in Cuba. I’ll bring it back, I promise myself.
12:50 p.m.: I talk to my daughter in Orlando on landline and ancient Radio Shack phone. I hear the baby singing. Landline is now dead, too.
12:56 p.m.: Unable to send text messages. Now I’m really cut off from the world.
I think of all those people on the islands who endured worse than these scary winds with so much less than me.
I peek outside in a lull. The palm trees in front of my house are almost bare, their fronds strewn on the sidewalk and street, now turning into a creek with the rain. Turtle is restless in her tank.
What an alien feeling to be totally disconnected from the world.
I entertain myself looking, by candlelight, at the Apple photo book titled “Había una vez” that my daughter made with old Cuba photos. It starts with my mother’s childhood, runs through my parents’ courtship and ends with the birth of my little brother and our early childhood. It fills me.
3:15 p.m.: Now you’ve got my attention, Irma.
The slam of wind on the southwest corner of my bedroom wakes me up from a nap. It feels as if the wind was trying to lift the roof. I wait for an encore to make sure I hadn’t dreamed it. I didn’t. I grab my flashlight, my useless cellphone and iPad and bolt downstairs.
5:27 p.m.: Hurricanes are about living in darkness in stuffy quarters. Tapiada, that’s how I feel. Shuttered in. Boarded up. Imprisoned. I pace back and forth around the house like a prisoner in a yard.
Several lizards and a mosquito have found refuge here, too. He zooms by my ear. I can’t see in the darkness to do anything about it. He scores at some point on my foot.
6:30 p.m: I hear a siren. Hate to say it, but it’s a sign that we’re close to being out of the woods if police are out there. I get my first text message from Orlando telling me that Irma is in Naples and headed north. First I know of the hurricane’s location in hours. I say a prayer for lovely Naples, where I just spent two heavenly days.
Time for a glass of pinot grigio, still cold enough. The house is not; the heat is now Enemy No. 1. Wind bands reemerge and a bizarre sound. When will this be over?
7:06 p.m.: I hear the sweet sound of a bird chirping, and then the wind again menaces. But the worst is behind us.
9:24 p.m: Wishful thinking. Irma has more howling in her. To distract myself, I read on Kindle “Daisy Miller” by Henry James, and with all the time in the world, I find the 1878 novella as fascinating as “Game of Thrones.” What the hell is this storm doing? I wonder all the way to the kitchen with my flashlight. Steak and potatoes last night. Cereal & milk for dinner now.
Back upstairs, it’s so darn hot and stuffy. I go buck naked.
11:22 p.m.: The sound of generators and the whistle of wind — tropical storm winds still, but they seem like nothing by now — is all I hear.
Midnight: Power is miraculously restored.
Adiós, Irma. ¡Solavaya! Good riddance.
Battered and bruised on the dirty side, Miami, but we made it!