At sometime around 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 14th, the wind abated, the rain subsided, and I had made up my mind. I was going to return to my apartment and face the, ahem, music (please, spare me the Ike-Tina jokes this time, yeah?). Mind you, I live in a garage apartment built sometime in the 1200s. Everything in it and on it is most likely the original, and for all intents and purposes, my landlords are slumlords with just a touch of infectious Southern hospitality.
Thus, I feared the worst. I expected the worst. Visions of roaches setting up shop in my apartment mixed with the blood-like stains of water damage on the walls danced through my head. I knew the outlook was grim and that the odds were against me. Hell, for once I was thankful that I still hadn’t gotten around to unwrapping the plastic from my couch.
I figured, I’d already scurried away from the city in a hurried fourth-down field goal attempt to seek frightened refuge in the suburbs; I’d shamelessly shaken uncontrollably in my borrowed Tony Hawk bed while the eye of the hurricane approached and retreated, rattling me and the house in its wake; I’d subsequently fled the suburbs when the bayou threatened to crest, thereby stranding us all; I’d recklessly driven through beyond flooded conditions to seek shelter once again. What was one more Ike-induced obstacle, truly?
So I went. Down Montrose Boulevard, I hurtled past a waterlogged Allen Parkway and a bursting Buffalo Bayou, I whizzed over a soggy Studemont Street and a waning White Oak Bayou and up the tousled Studewood Street, turned the corner onto my war zone-replica thoroughfare, and parked my car amidst the Heights equivalent of a broken heart – litter upon litter of fallen tree limbs everywhere.
I crept up the stairs, hesitant and wary. I turned the key in the knob.
By “nothing,” I mean that, evidently and to my naked eye, nothing in my little slice of world had gone wrong. Nothing. My apartment was left entirely intact by the terror that was Ike. No colonies of roaches, no immediate visible damage (although there would be minimal water stains discovered later), no puddles or pools, no danger. Even my electricity, water, and gas were fully functioning! I almost fell to my knees and wept. How did I get off so easily after such a devastating and crippling natural disaster? The tides of my luck never turn this way!
I know I am lucky.
Monday itself was a blur. Okay, to be straight, the last thing I really remembered with any sort of respectable cognizance was being sent home early from work on Thursday, and feeling incredibly apprehensive about what the future was about to bring. So could it really be Monday already? Yes, yes, ’twas certainly Monday, mind you, and the heartaches cultivated from the weekend’s events began to emerge in full force left and right. Numerous saddening tales of punctured homes, burning landmarks, and destroyed dreams complemented the continuing epidemic of dwellings without power or water. Was this really happening? Did it really happen?
Still, I know I am lucky.
Tuesday, it’s back to “normal.” Well, it’s an attempt at regularity, no matter how futile. In reality, it is nowhere near successful. “Normal” is a place void of that pervasive worry that you cannot move about as you please or that you may run out of those very essentials that are so necessary to existing fruitfully in Houston. And I see nothing about Houston as of late that even suggests a degree of normalcy.
For example, back in high school, I had a curfew. “Be home by midnight, Fayza, or else.” I heeded those menacing words then, as a adolescent that still had yet to figure out right from wrong. In post-Ike Houston, I am yet again required to heed those words now. Glaringly obvious public safety reasons aside (reasons I completely understand, mind you), a curfew? Yes, a curfew. It is both stifling and alarming to be instructed as to what time you must be tucked inconspicuously into your home at night.
Adding insult to injury, I have just under half a tank of gas left, and I’m unavoidably on edge. But not because I’m irrational. For all intents and purposes, half a tank is a good thing, and the clear indication that someone was a savvy pre-hurricane preparer. However, that doesn’t particularly alleviate the fact that by the end of the week, I may very well run dry anyway. Especially now that rationing gas has become the utmost priority, and wait times for fuel are averaging two hours at best.
Or take food, on yet another hand. Procuring foodstuffs is no better, as the stores that are operating feature shelves that are next to bare. And those lines for sustenance? Well, they’re vying with gasoline for top wait times.
But I know I am lucky.
“Stupid spoiled American,” you mutter disdainfully under your breath.
I heard that. And perhaps your point has some merit. But you’re not really listening, are you?
After a day of work that felt insignificant in light of the affairs of the past few days, I went to Home Depot to buy a few of cans of paint for my living room and bedroom. If I couldn’t be useful, I might as well be resourceful, right? I cornered the nearest salesperson and asked how I purchase the paint. She told me regretfully that there weren’t enough employees to mix the paint; all human resources were being dedicated to assisting people with getting their homes back on track.
Indeed, I know I am lucky.
Last week, I could’ve driven down the street to fill my tank, purchase food, procure supplies. It was my way of life, and the way of life for the majority of residents in the Texas Gulf Coast region. There are countless others in this world that have never had that opportunity, for certain, to exist on this earth the way we do. If there’s any sentiment you take away about me, it should be that I am the last person that would fail to empathize with the plights of others. Nor would I ever take my own good fortunes for granted.
Because I know I am lucky.
But this weekend, in what felt like a single, incredibly long, excruciatingly trying day that spanned lifetimes, my way of life changed profoundly. Berate me for the privileges that being an American affords me, but when your sense of “normal” is toppled – no matter what your way of life – and you can no longer function in “normal” mode in your very own sphere of survival, it creates quite a sense of incomprehensible upheaval. It is dominated by a form of dizzying grief. My face smiles, my mind connects, but behind my eyes, I’m very much the shell of a lost soul.
But I know I am lucky. I know I am lucky. I know it could’ve been much, much, much worse.