Armageddon indeed. Two female forces of nature would collide on Sunday, August 28, 2011. Barreling north along the eastern coast of the United States was Hurricane Irene.
“I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll shut your subway system down!” she threatened.
I stood my ground in Cape Cod: I am boricua del barrio. One hundred percent urban fury, and I don’t back down.
Our bay front cottage is nestled among ancient trees that sway when my husband B sneezes. No matter. I had strapped on my bike helmet once Irene touched ground in the Carolinas. She was scheduled to arrive in Cape Cod during high tide on Sunday afternoon, but I had zipped on my life vest before I went to bed on Saturday night.
“Are the goggles really necessary?” asked B as he pulled the bed sheet over us.
“Salt water stings my eyes,” I said.
B sighed, kissed the side of my helmet and turned off his light.
Disaster struck Cape Cod on Sunday morning before Irene even left the Jersey shore: We lost power before B was able to grind the beans for my morning coffee. I was sure I’d thought of everything: D batteries for the flashlight, Cs for the radio so I wouldn’t miss weather updates or This American Life. Our coffee bean grinder doesn’t have a battery back-up and I hadn’t thought of stocking up on ground coffee. What use was the list of emergency supplies suggested by The Cape Cod Times if it had obvious gross omissions? I made a note to write and email a letter to the editor as soon as power was restored. I was uncaffeinated, but still polite when I called the power company to report the outage.
“We shouldn’t keep our phones on all the time. You know, conserve the batteries,” B said when I completed my call.
“Ah, good idea.”
“And we’ll need to conserve our water, too,” he reminded.
“Yeah. The water pumps run on electricity. No power, no running water.”
I ran to the faucet and turned the knob. Not a drop.
“Shit,” I said.
“Remember,” B said. “Flush it down if brown. Yellow, let it mellow.”
I sat by the bay a few hours before Irene arrived. There were a few other people on the beach. One couple took a photo of me as their dog barked and tugged on its leash in my direction. A solid grey cloud cover moved slowly north as darker wisps flew like smoke toward the foggy horizon. The water flicked white tips with every gust and churned where it met the sand. The wind combed the grass flat along the dunes and terns hovered in the air. I heard only the water, the wind, the birds, and the barking dog.
I was out in it and it was beautiful.
Irene arrived to Cape Cod midafternoon on Sunday, diminished to a tropical storm. There was no need to evacuate to any of the local shelters on my emergency list. Coffee served in school gyms always tastes weak and dirty anyway. It’s unlikely the shelters provided Wifi.
I spent the storm with B on the cottage’s screened porch. He had a cigar and we each had a glass of port. We watched the tree tops shake and a few limbs fall. There was only a few drops of rain. There would be no light that night to read my New Yorker or work on my Sunday crossword. Water usage was limited to only necessary tasks, and using my green tea facial scrub did not make the list.
With all our preparation, B and I still spent two evenings of our vacation in the dark. We talked. At times we laughed. He may have been laughing at me, not able to see I’d taken off the helmet, vest and goggles. The darkness made clear what does and doesn’t matter.