I’m going to try not to exaggerate. This isn’t easy for me, because I’m a writer. On a regular day I can spend about two hours and at least 600 words describing that single moment when you open a cereal box and find a lizard crouching on the Cheerios, staring fearfully back at you (although let’s face it, this is a pivotal moment).
However, last Thursday evening I embarked on a twenty four hour journey that was an assortment of moments, most of them terrifying, uncertain and, at times, agonizing. At the end of them there was relief, happiness and a whole lot of adrenaline that I’m still unable to purge from my body.
Perhaps you will forgive me, then, if I come across as dramatic. You see, I live in Puerto Vallarta, and last Thursday the residents were told to prepare for the worst. Authorities advised us that Hurricane Patricia was coming our way on Friday evening and that it was the largest Pacific storm on record. They told us to begin taking measures without delay. Since I had already been through Hurricane Kenna in 2002, I absolutely knew what had to be done.
But the thing is. Sigh. I’m a big picture kind of person. I can visualize the huge garafones of water all in a row, the shelves full of food, the candles perched on the kitchen table next to the flashlights, the packages of batteries, and the car parked in front of the house, full of gas and ready for emergency flight.
But I get bogged down in details like, a) what to do first b) what to do next c) what to forget about in case I run out of time d) where the flashlight and candles are located in my house. I ended up spending a lot of (unsuccessful) time on d) and then realized that my husband was off to work and I would have to prepare the rest once he got home.
To complicate things mightily, I spent a lot of time reading highly charged news bulletins and frightened commentary on social media while he was away. He entered our room and found a wild-haired, panicked stranger, car keys in hand, determined to complete the grocery shopping at that moment (it was 2:30am). He helped me make a list that could actually be read and that didn’t include what possibly said “firewood”, and put me to bed. God love this man.
Ready or not, we were ordered to stay in our homes by 2pm on Friday. We were tucked in safely, with a lot of food, more water than about seventy people would use in a week, several table games, one candle, and a bic lighter.
At the end of the day on Friday, it was apparent that Vallarta had dodged a category five-sized bullet, and we could finally breathe again.
Except that I couldn’t. Not yet. Quite simply, my body didn’t recognize the all clear signal. And, more importantly, my heart still needed time to shuffle through the snapshots it had taken during this long, horrible day and possibly put them together to make a Big Picture kind of sense to me.
A few images I held up to the light:
- Looking in my husband’s eyes and realizing that, right now, we will make a decision for our children that could completely change their lives.
- Physically arranging the features of my face before answering my ten-year-old son’s question as honestly and calmly as I can. Because he’s asking if we are all going to die, and he really needs to know.
- Reading Tweets from those who were judging Vallartans deserving of our fate if we decide to leave/stay/roll ourselves up in a stress-induced coil of fear.
- Watching my daughter sleep, realizing that there were no judges harsher than the parents of this beauty.
- Coming to the understanding that there are parents who are going through this every day. Trying to comprehend that, all over the world tonight, parents are making the kind of decisions that I am making, in spite of the judgment of the world. They will make them again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on. They will hope for an outcome just like mine, one of safety, one of normalcy, one of home. But that outcome, for some, will never come.
And so, in twenty four hours, I have come full circle. Our bellies are full, our candles are buried in a closet again (forever), and we have a house to call home. But now there’s a part of me that knows something that it can’t unknow: That watching over your sleeping children and wondering just what they will awaken to is an awful, desperate thing. That it shouldn’t have to happen to any parent. That, somewhere tonight, it’s happening anyway.