Growing up in Florida, hurricanes have always been a part of my life. Growing up in the Bradenton/Sarasota area, hurricanes have always tended to avoid us at the last minute (I personally like the legends of being on ancient Native American burial grounds protecting us). Hurricane Charley in 2004 was the only time I have ever felt as scared as I did about Irma, but I was 12 and it was a completely different experience. I’ve grown from being scared of losing my snow globes and American Girl dolls, to being scared of losing a roof over my head. So let’s go through my Irma timeline, as a way to cope for myself—selfishly, from start to finish. Through this storm I have experienced and witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Sunday, September 3, 2017:
I requested this day off work right before my restaurant closed so I could help my friend Kaitlyn move into the open unit in my crappy lil house. Her house mom (long story) said to her to watch Irma closely because she told her our house was frail and if it’s coming here then Kaitlyn needs to go to their house from the storm. I remember I said “its almost 100 years old, so think of all it has survived.” I then text my dad:
Me: do we have any idea where Irma is going?
Dad: -insert nondescript generic photo hurricane path too early to really know a thing- And it looks like after Friday it may take a turn North but its too early to tell for sure.
Me: Hopefully it doesn’t come this way. Bc idk if my house would sustain a storm to this level.
I’m fine on Monday, nothing phases me of this storm. I hang out with my friends and we have a traumatic Sonic adventure. I know I’m scheduled to begin house sitting and pet sitting for my bosses the next morning so I go to bed.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017:
I wake up seeing posts all over on Facebook about places that don’t have water and how this storm could take out Florida. I still am remaining calm. I go to my bosses’ apartment and get situated. We talk about the storm a bit and I mention I’m going to go on a hunt to find water later just to be safe. They tell me to contact them if the storm becomes bad and they leave for Ireland. I then proceed to enjoy some puppy cuddles and decide to change to Bay News 9 to watch the weather reports on Irma. I get nervous. Two hours later I’m trying to find water and go to multiple stores including peculiar stores like Staples that people sometimes don’t realize sell water. Nothing. In Kmart, customers have bought every storage bin, every cooler, and every kind of water they sell. I’ve already been informed Publix, Walmart, and Winn Dixie are out. I start to panic. I have an anxiety attack in the parking lot and then go see my friend Sarah to make a hurricane prep list.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017:
This was the last night I slept. I found water this day, I felt secure, and the weatherman was saying it shouldn’t be bad for where I live. I was worried about my friends who were in a more direct line of the storms projected path, but it was also too soon to really tell. I calmed some of my out of state friends explaining to them that nothing bad will happen, and I hung out with some doggos. I had an excellent Benadryl nap, and life was fine.
Thursday, September 7, 2017:
My family decided that maybe staying home wasn’t the best idea, but we weren’t entirely sure yet. We spent the day hurricane proofing my parents neighbors yard since she lives part time in Illinois and did a little bit of work here and there on their house. At this point in time, I started watching the news around the clock and I stopped sleeping. I wanted to see every path update when it happened, and for anyone who follows storms, you know that the different paths are released at a staggered time that doesn’t really allow you to sleep. My squashed anxiety over hurricanes was back. I let my boss know we might be evacuating to Tampa but weren’t sure yet, but the animals would be fine to come with me because it was just a precautionary measure.
Friday, September 8, 2017:
I’m growing more nervous over the storm, but life will be okay. We are going to go to Tampa. My mom helps me pack my records up and some of the more important things I wouldn’t want to be destroyed at my apartment. We moved my TV and my piano away from windows just in case. I moved my plants away from windows just in case. I want us to get on the road that night, I had my car packed up with my hurricane food, my bottled fluids, and I had my backup batteries for my phone charged. I had clothes to last me a week. I had Orange Baby and my baby blanket packed up. I go to my parents’ house and my dad is saying he isn’t sure if he will go with because he still has too much to do. I push through the pain and finish their yard. Mind you, I still have a slight break remaining in my almost healed broken foot. I’m in excruciating pain but I don’t care. I want my family to stick together. I want us to get out of there. I don’t trust my house, I don’t trust the island, and I don’t want to deal with a storm alone.
Saturday, September 9, 2017:
The track that is released this morning terrifies me. My calm and collected weatherman, Denis Phillips is now worried for the area that is my home. When he’s worried, I’m worried. I wait until 7:20 in the morning before I finally decide it was late enough to call my mom. It’s coming right for us and it’s going to be intense. I’m in tears. The news is saying how it’s too late to leave. The whole state is virtually dry of gas. My dad calls me back a few minutes later and tells me I have to call my boss’s dad and have him take the animals because we needed to go far away and we didn’t know how long we would be gone. I’m no longer calling the shots in this scenario. He tells me I need to meet him at my apartment and that he’s on his way and has two suitcases for me. I can’t get ahold of my boss’s dad. So I call my boss. I’m trying to stay calm but calm was gone. I was scared. My dad didn’t think either of us would have a home after this storm passed. He told me we were going to try and make it to our house in Jersey. I can barely breathe; I’m overcome by fear and crippling anxiety. I get to the apartment and he tells me I need to pack as much of my apartment as possible. I had to pack smart. What can’t be replaced and what will I need to start my life over. Clothes are the most important he told me. Because I might need to interview for jobs, have clothes for jobs, and have clothes for an indefinite amount of time to wear. Then he tells me he’ll see me later. I whimper. In this moment of panic, I didn’t understand and comprehend that he also needed to go do the same thing I was doing in this moment. I realize this now, but in that moment I wanted my dad to hold my hand through the scariest time of my life. I’m almost done packing and my best friend since middle school and downstairs neighbor texted me to tell me that she’s evac packing as well and whoever finishes first to go to the others place. When I finished and we hugged in her living room, it felt like there was a possibility we could be hugging for the last time. I hadn’t told anyone yet, but if I lost everything, and I mean everything, I wasn’t coming home. I went and situated the animals I was pet sitting with there new temporary furry caregivers, and I went to my parents home to get the ball rolling in motion. We were already evacuating after the point where the news said it was too late. The house still had so much left to be done and my dad said that my mom and I should just go—he won’t be far behind. Panic. No. Don’t panic. Mom can’t see after dark so I agree. My mom and I go. We hit the traffic we have been seeing about on the news all week. My dad leaves over an hour after we did, it might have been close to two hours. Somehow he makes it beyond us in Ocala. We had difficulty finding gas, as did everyone, but we manage to all meet up at the same gas station. It’s sunset. We still have over six hours to go to get to our destination in South Carolina. Because of my mom’s night blindness, we ended up needing to find a place to stay after a bit more on the road. Thank God, and I mean really, the big guy upstairs is working for us here, we were right by the summer camp I used to work with. One phone call to my beloved camp mom, Miss. Sarah, and we had a place to safely stay for the night. True Christianity, a phone call late after dark, and I have a place to stay. I don’t sleep still, my third night of not sleeping, but I pray hard.
Sunday, September 10, 2017:
We wake up before dawn, we clean our room we stayed in at camp, and we leave a donation out of gratitude. As soon as the sun is up, we continue our journey to South Carolina. We have to drive through some of the worst weather I have ever driven through on our way out of the state in Jacksonville. They were being hit hard with a nor’easter that morning and a mix of the outer bits of this ginormous storm was already hitting the northern part of Florida. We are literally being chased out of Florida. The second we cross over the Florida/Georgia line, my heart nearly stops. I can breathe. We make it out of Georgia and into South Carolina. I finally have my appetite back… well somewhat, but enough that I finally can eat something. We make it to the cattle farm we are staying at until further notice and I feel relieved but I’m still obsessively checking all social media. I have so many loved ones who are waiting out the storm in boarded up homes or in shelters. I’m still so worried. We see new tracks. It’s looking like it might not be as bad as we thought, but anyone who knows storms, knows that these storms can change whenever and you should never feel false safety until it has fully passed. I’m safely out of the state, I know I will get some tropical storm level weather the following day in the area of South Carolina I am staying in, but I can live with that. I continue to pray that everyone is okay. I end up needing medicinal assistance to sleep that night, but before bed I text one of my oldest friends who’s family stayed on the island for the storm, it hasn’t been that bad. I fall asleep feeling hope.
Monday, September 11, 2017:
It’s my dad’s birthday; we wake up with word from most of our friends and family telling us how the storm wasn’t as bad as it could have been. How there still isn’t power but it should be fine all around. We wont know about my parents’ house for a little bit longer because the island is still closed. I’ve been awake for a couple hours now, I’m checking Snapchat to see the videos and the photos of the storm, and I see one from one of my downstairs neighbor. There is a tree collapsed on our home. I run and show my mom and then I cry. My home. My first house. Has a tree in it. I don’t know the severity of damage. I just know a tree fell. My dad says he’s going to drive home right then and there to try and get however much of my stuff as he can out of my home. I talk him out of this. The storm is still active and it’s his birthday. I want us to stay together as a family. I had to hold myself together to make sure he didn’t feel compelled to leave. Sarah calls me to tell me there’s a tree in our house but it looks like my unit could be fine to get my stuff out. I call Kaitlyn to let her know we have a tree in our house but that we can’t get upstairs until further notice. I break my six-week sobriety over lunch because: tree in my house. I consider not going home. We finally get word that my parents’ house is fine. My coworker who lies behind them had her son go and walk our property as well and send us photos and videos of how it looks. Before I fall asleep, I finally get word that my basically sister and her family down in Naples are okay. The worry I had all day for them is relieved. I sleep without medications.
Tuesday-Friday, September 12-15, 2017:
There isn’t a lot I can do at this point. My family every day monitors gas levels on our drive home and traffic. We need to make sure we can make it home in one go of things without getting stranded anywhere from running out of gas. So we decide to make the best of this. Our host family is by far the most amazing host family we could ever have. I get to go out on a 4wheeler and meet over forty cows. We bond. We enjoy country living. Nothing more we can do than make lemonade from lemons. Newberry, South Carolina stole a piece of all of our hearts.
Saturday, September 16, 2017 – Present:
I have to get a storage unit; I have to move all of my stuff out of my second story apartment that hasn’t been inspected for safety; I have to start over. Since doing all of this, I have gotten barely any to basically none shifts at my job. Literally starting over. I have no money. I have no home. I feel humbled and I feel broken. But I’m trying to remind myself every day that something good will come eventually. I have my family. I have my life. And I was able to get my belongings out of my apartment. I had amazing friends help me all throughout the week even though there are definitely better more exciting things they would have rather had done. I have cried, a lot. So many tears have shed. I have had countless mental breakdowns. I overcame losing my job that was my primary income and having to make the best of my secondary income and managed to stay up on of all of my bills without losing my house. Despite overcoming this major set back, a storm takes out my home. I have to fight with my landlord to get us our security deposits back. I have to face reality that I won’t be able to live alone anymore and that I don’t have anyone set in stone that can be my roommate. To say I feel like I hit rock bottom is an understatement. I have to believe everything is going to end up better than it was before even. I know this could have all been way worse. My heart breaks for all of the islands in the Caribbean. My heart breaks for the Collier and Lee county areas where I spent my college years because they took more damage than we did. But I can’t help but selfishly still ask why me. Why did I have to lose my home? Why do I have to find a new job so I can maybe have a shred of hope in finding a new home? Why do natural disasters have to happen in general?
I’m not writing this in hopes of gaining sympathy or anything like that. I’m writing this because I firmly believe that putting your feelings out there will help relieve your worries. I don’t have a therapist to talk to anymore, so that leaves my blog I share with my best friend. Everyone experienced this traumatic super storm differently. Everyone handles the storm aftermath of exhaustion differently. I think this storm broke everyone a little bit, and I think it’s healthy for us to talk about how it broke us. It’s important to be able to say, “hey, I’m going to be okay, but right now I don’t feel so okay.”
To anyone who extended your graciousness to me and my family before, during, and after this storm. From the bottom of my heart: thank you. Your goodness will forever hold a special place in my heart.
For my Caribbean neighbors and my fellow hurricane season effected states, I hope and pray that from here on out we get cut a break from these storms. I know it might not happen, but I still hope and pray.
Stay safe and stay dry my friends.