Celia rocked back and forth in the recliner, her toe tapping the floor with each heave forward, a deep amorphous feeling of absentness within her chest.
She stared blankly into space, her mind flitting and floating from topic to topic, the grasshopper that jumped on her when she was seven years old, the family trip to the mountains to stay at a ski lodge, her brother’s negligence when it came to calling and keeping her from worrying. She hadn’t heard from him in well over two months, and it was nearing the longest stretch of time in their lives to go without contact.
Her cell phone let out a long, jarring warning tone: a tornado touched down in her area and she needed to seek safety as soon as possible. She switched her volume off, and continued rocking, tapping the floor and tapping the floor.
The roar of the storm passed her by, and she still didn’t hear from her brother.
Lola woke up to the sound of tree branches scratching against her bedroom window, The wind was kicking up, and a thunderstorm was on its way. She pulled back her curtain to reveal a violet sky. No gardening today.
She stood, toying with a strand of her hair, twisting it into a cats’ cradle around the fingers of one hand. She was lost in a daydream of plans that might have been.
Lightning arced across the sky, and abruptly, Lola was thrown back into the real world. She took a moment to synchronize herself with her surroundings, then threw on a robe and padded out into the kitchen.
Stella the cat slept peacefully on the granite countertop next to the sink. Lola was loath to shoo her off, but coffee was calling. Stella swiftly dodged the hand trying to soother her hurt feelings and ducked into the bedroom to hide among the dust bunnies beneath the bed.
Lola shrugged and dropped a pod into her Keurig. Then she leaned forward, elbows on the counter, watching the stream flow into her mug, miles away from everything.
A year ago we got a large portion of tree in our roof. Ugh. So began the Great Tree Fight of 2014.
A relief, considering you can’t insure a 36 year old mobile home.
Those bitches lied. We went back and forth for months, and they didn’t do anything but cart off the broken limbs–some of them, while dragging them down the side of our home.
When we moved, they had first refusal. We offered our old trailer, and they declined to purchase it because it had storm damage. Ugh. Jerks.
So that’s how my brother-in-law got the place for free, on the condition that he finishes school.
When the same thing happened–a storm brought down more roof-seeking limbs–for the third time, earlier this year, they didn’t take the tree down, but they did have someone remove most of the dangerous limbs. Unfortunately, they also topped the poor pecan tree on the other side, but we don’t live there anymore, so screw it, whatever.
I was born in New Orleans; I’ve lived most of my life in Louisiana. Some things you might associate with Louisiana are Cajuns, gumbo, jambalaya, and zydeco.
Another constant we live with is hurricane season.
The year I spent six weeks in Edmonton in September and October, I was struck every day by the lack of hurricane coverage. I mean, that’s the height of hurricane season! You need to know; you need to plan. Except you don’t, in Canada. Talk about culture shock.
What do you think of when you hear hurricane? Probably Katrina, the costliest of them all.
It’s been ten years since Katrina, and no one seems to think anymore about Rita or Wilma, the two stronger hurricanes from 2005.
We were lucky. We were very lucky.
My family, my parents and my two brothers, 8 and 13, lived less than twenty miles, as the crow flies, from the Gulf of Mexico. They evacuated, of course, but it turns out they didn’t need to; Katrina passed to the east and Rita passed to the west.
We weren’t that worried about the house; the house survived Andrew in 1992 with minimal damage, and he was a direct hit. But it’s still scary. You don’t know what’s going to happen, even if you’ve been hit a dozen times before.
I was here, in north Louisiana, biting my nails and fearing for my friends and family, glued to the weather.
Katrina came, and it was terrible, even up here; we didn’t get the weather, we got the refugees, and where there are refugees, there’s resentment and anger from the locals. We’re not New Orleans, but we are still dealing with the aftermath. And it was the first time I saw gas over four dollars a gallon.
It was also the first time Ian and I had planned to go to Morgan City for the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival, and we would learn that every single year we planned to go, that meant landfall in Louisiana. We had to do it on the spur of the moment, or the festival would be postponed or cancelled. Superstition can be a deadly thing.
We didn’t get much wind and rain from Katrina; that came a couple weeks later with Rita. That was bad. But we made it okay. A tree limb grazed the front of my truck, but nothing hit my house.
Ian and I took advantage of the eye and risked a trip to town: it was deserted, every window taped, every traffic light flashing or out. We quickly returned home to finish waiting it out.
And then it was over.
Over the next few weeks, I would notice damage here and there, as I went somewhere I hadn’t been since before. The twisted remnants of a long-closed gas station on the middle of nowhere stick in my mind.
It’s hurricane season now, but I haven’t watched the weather this year. My parents live here with us now, and one of my brothers is in Lafayette with enough sense to evacuate. My other brother would probably host a hurricane party in Morgan City. He’ll learn one day. Maybe.
Okay, okay. It’s an overly dramatic title. It’s more of a steady drip-drip-drip in multiple spots.
We had a severe thunderstorm Thursday night. You know, the capable of producing strong winds in excess of whatever, seek shelter in a sturdy structure kind.
I got home from work to a driveway full of leaves and branches. No big deal, it happens. They’re mostly small and pesky. I had to clear the porch to get the screen door open, but it wasn’t raining too hard right that minute, so I wasn’t worried about the electronics in my purse.
But when I got in.
No cats to be seen. They’re usually practically foaming at the mouth for attention when Ian and I have both been gone.
Cracks run the entire width of the living room. Where the hallway meets the living room, I can see insulation through the ripped and warped ceiling.
I dropped my purse, kicked off my shoes, and peeled back my sweater. I followed the panicky mewling to the kitchen, where Amarillo sat in the middle of the floor, freaking out. I pet and reassured her, and asked where Kitten was.
I received the lack of answer that I expected and began my initial damage assessment, calling for Kitten the whole time.
When I made it back to our bedroom, I took my dress off and put on a pair of shorts to go brave the wind and rain and lightning outside.
The visible damage is confined to the living room. I still hadn’t seen or heard Kitten.
I texted Ian to call me; he was still at work. When he called back, I told him a branch had hit our roof. He agreed to call the office manager while I went outside.
I dug a flashlight out of the coffee table and, barefoot, went to check the backyard.
The flashlight I had wasn’t meant for this. Lightning lit up the sky brightly and often enough for me to see three branches, ranging in diameter from four to eight inches, a dented scrape on the wall, and a large divot on the corner of the roof.
I recognized the hollow feeling inside me. Of course I recognized it; I’ve lived in fight-or-flight mode for most of the past five years. Panic tempered with acceptance. Fear and depression and calm. Letting the situation wash over me without actively acknowledging it. Giving up, but shrugging it off to keep slogging through the crap.
I couldn’t do anything about this.
I cleared the driveway so Ian would have somewhere to park. I freed the rosebush and tomato plant from the cages of downed branches. I collected our things that had blown into and across the street.
I went inside and stripped my wet clothes off, dropping them to slap on the bathroom floor. I don’t know why; my next step was to dress again before going back into the rain.
Ian called again. Our neighbor was bringing a tarp, and if it wasn’t big enough, the manager said there was one at number thirty-seven (in a row?) big enough to cover our entire roof. I answered our neighbor David’s knock as Ian was telling me that his wife said they had a ladder in their shed. David denied it, understandably: his wife was on the phone in her hospital room, doped up on pain medication after her knee replacement that morning. He agreed to search, but no ladder was to be found.
I decided it would be a good idea to put on socks and my old, ugly pair of sneakers before I did any more wandering around in the dark, on shattered, wet branches.
Since we didn’t have a ladder, I stood on one of our outside chairs on the porch, but it wasn’t tall enough for me to see on the roof.
I realized something at that point. I’m an idiot. My best friend and her husband own and operate a painting and drywall business. They have ladders galore.
I called her, and she and her husband agreed to get dressed and come immediately. I texted Ian the news, and four minutes later, he was on his way home from work.
I waited in front of the open door for someone to show up.
My friend and her husband made it first. He had just made it onto the roof when Ian got home and parked across the street.
He called down for pitch, and I held the ladder while my friend handed it up to him.
He called down for rags, and Ian grabbed ours from our truck.
He came down with black, tarry hands, and reported that the large gash was patched.
Ian helped him clean his hands with starting fluid, then he had to clean that off.
I stayed behind while they all took a field trip to see the branches in the back, then caught my friend up in the latest news of the custody dispute while Ian and her husband investigated the ceiling.
We thanked them profusely before they left.
Ian and I locked up and went to Subway for dinner, because fuck cooking just then, you know?
We came home, ate our sandwiches, watched America’s Test Kitchen, and went to bed. I had to get up and go to work, and Ian had to get up and start our fight with the park owner.
It has not gone well so far, even though she has on more than one occarion insisted that it is their tree, and if anything were to happen to our property because of their tree, they’d take care of it, no problem.