Thursday, August 24, 2017. Hurricane preparation begins with a conversation about a small claims court case involving a batch of botched edible underwear. I am on the phone with my mother who is regaling me with her latest round of America’s Court binge-watching, oblivious to the Hurricane Harvey pre-game coverage forecasting Houston on the dirty side of a slow-moving storm. It is now clear to me that I am in the delicate position of convincing my mother, a grown ass woman, to leave the relative safety of her apartment and 200+ channels of cable tv to shelter-in-place at my house with promises of Netflix and quality time with me, my husband, and our bulldog. My mother accepts the invitation without much effort on my part. After all, she did spend Hurricane Ike with us and she had previously acted as host during our exile from Hurricane Katrina when we lived in New Orleans. But by Saturday, she was ready to make a break for it after having had her fill of PBS and playing with my hair. I overhear her asking my husband for a ride home where she can sleep in her adjustable bed with CNN turned up to 11. Begrudgingly, I agree to her release on house arrest, wishing I had the means to electronically monitor her movements – taking her threat to visit IHOP in the midst of an ongoing storm event very seriously. (Spoiler alert: She restrains her urge for stuffed French Toast and stays home the entire time.)
Saturday’s relative calm is subsequently replaced that evening with monster bands of rain that keep circling the city – regrouping, reforming, reincarnating into a bigger, badass rager of a rainfall on a weekend bender. My ears now expertly attuned to the distinct sounds of precipitation from a light drizzle alerting us that it’s our chance to walk the dog to the steady hum of raindrops falling in unison and then working their way up to a balls out deluge with hammering punches mirroring the moves of the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight going down.
By Sunday, my ears are also now accustomed to the grating buzz of cell phone alarms announcing flash flood alerts and their inevitable extensions. And then our first tornado warning. My husband and I dutifully march into the downstairs closet and shut the door. But this is no seven minutes in heaven, especially with our bulldog wedged between us wondering why we are stuffed in the closet reserved for our massive collection of coolers and dog leashes. Instead, we have 15 minutes until the warning expires and the question that I’ve kept stashed away in my brain spills out of my mouth. “How do we get on the roof?” My husband responds, “We have a second floor outdoor balcony – we don’t have to get on the roof.” Well, according to the instructions on the tv, the roof was the place to be. I press on, “But how exactly are people getting to their roofs during the storm?” He replies, “They go through the attic.” Our attic was a place only frequented by professional handymen who went up there to make occasional repairs. My husband continued, “You take an ax with you and cut your way out.” An ax? We don’t own an ax. Not even a decorative ax. Even our flotation devices are limited to two life vests with the ominous brand name of Black Sheep. Nor do we have the right size of canned goods for propping up furniture to rescue it from the threat of water coming into our house which has become our newest concern given that I-10 three blocks away is now filled with eight lanes of water rather than bumper to bumper traffic.
And these are just some of the reasons why I don’t mark myself safe on Facebook because this isn’t a static situation. Against the backdrop of pop up floods and high water marks appearing all over the city, I am only capable of nowcasting, as our local meteorologists say. Furthermore, I feared labeling myself safe would jinx me. Clearly, my mind was not a safe space either. I curbed my social media diet – eliminating my Twitter feed where once pithy remarks now read like last words. Television coverage was limited to local news stations with reporters who knew our massive swath of neighborhoods and roadways.
So to take the edge off, along with numerous glasses of wine, I forced myself to sit still and write. Even though writing seems thoughtlessly self-indulgent as I sit across from my laptop while thousands of my fellow Houstonians stand in front of volunteers with nothing but a garbage bag filled with their most valuable possessions. Again, like during Hurricane Katrina, I am on the observation deck of this disaster. An insider whose reality is vastly different than the one unfolding on the television screen. However, this time, I am actually in the city while this natural born killer alters Houston’s landscape and the lives of our citizens. I am thankful for my family’s safety and well-being but grief-stricken for those who actually went through the nightmare scenarios playing out in my mind.
Thanks to my dual citizenship as a gulf coast resident of both Houston and New Orleans, my list of weathered storms reads like categories from the Craigslist Personals section: casual encounters and thankfully missed connections with Andrew, Georges, Lili, and Rita to name a few. All my exes apparently live in Texas and Louisiana too. The time has come to cross another name off the list – farewell Harvey – you clingy motherfucker although that’s no consolation for the cities now facing the storm’s sloppy seconds.
With the sun making a brilliant appearance yesterday, more stunning than last week’s solar eclipse, a new song has formed in my head. It’s a recovery anthem from another Third Ward native, Johnny Nash, whose 1972 hit, I Can See Clearly Now, seems tailor-made for these trying times.
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Right now, recovery rests on those of us, like me, who are fortunate enough to focus on rebuilding the city while others are still being rescued. For those wanting to help from afar, there are ways to donate but better yet, please consider paying us a visit in Houston. Whether you come to volunteer or just spend your cold hard cash buying a beer at our icehouses or a taco from our trucks, money spent in this city not only helps on a monetary level but normalizes life for us all.