Tuesday, August 4, 2020, 7:54 am
The morning after Tropical Storm Isaias
Atlantic Beach, NC
Weather: sunny, windy
During the day yesterday, I was happy we came on vacation, despite Tropical Storm Isaias. This morning, I’m glad we came. But last night, as the storm passed through in the dark of night, I was scared. When the wind first gusted and rammed itself against this tall skinny condo, barely better than 3 Lego bricks stacked one on the other with no stabilizing base, I thought my husband was tossing and turning in the bed because the bed kept shaking. But my husband slept soundly, without movement; the bed shook each time a gust buffeted the house.
And that was just when the storm began to make itself known, around 10pm. The full force wasn’t predicted to arrive until 2am.
The sounds of the storm filled me with anxiety. The rain on the windows sounded like gravel thrown at glass. The slap and rattle of wet palm fronds outside was constant, and wind swooshed as it pressed against the house and around its hard corners. The storm filled my ears, as did mechanical sounds inside the house, like the whir of the air conditioner and the hum of the dishwasher. The sounds all seemed thunderous, and they blended together so that I couldn’t tell one from the other as the bed shook in the dark. The maelstrom of noise built until it sounded like a train chugging towards us, and I imagined a tornado slamming into this matchstick condo, ripping the roof (and maybe even the sides!) off the building, and sucking our kids out from their third floor rooms into its funnel of wind and garbage cans and palm fronds and timber from houses it had already torn apart. But it was dark out, and I couldn’t see, and this was only a tropical storm, right?
To stave off a panic attack, I named US cities in alphabetical order in my head: Anchorage, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver… I must have gone through the alphabet six or seven times during the night. Around 11 or so, I smelled something burning, as did my husband, as did our son. We smelled it all over the house, top to bottom, after the air had cut on. We could not locate the smell’s origin. My husband went outside to check the heat pump, and while he was out there in the dark of the stormy night, a neighbor raced to their car with their luggage. He and I both wondered, where would you go? There’s nowhere to escape to. You’re going to drive in this? Drive over a bridge in this?
We turned off the air, the smell went away, and we all tried to go back to sleep, us on the ground floor, our son back up on the third floor. At some point my husband got out of bed because he couldn’t sleep. I must have drifted off because soon I was startled awake by someone in the room: our daughter. My husband was moving them down from the third floor. It was about 12:30am and the house was really rocking at this point. If I could feel it flexing with the wind on the bottom floor, I can’t imagine what it must have felt like on the third. Our daughter climbed in bed with me and I started again with the cities because at this point, everything was shaking and slamming, and I expected some sort of projectile to come through the window at any moment, shatter glass everywhere, and I needed to be strong for our kids. In the night I wished for home and wished for the storm to be over and wondered if we had made a stupid decision, and I thought, we’ve weathered plenty of tropical storms, and none of them felt like this. This isn’t even a hurricane. Imagine adding 20, 30, or 60 mph of wind! It probably feels worse than it is because these places are built to flex in storms; they’re built so that we’ll feel the wind. Lord have mercy.
I finally fell asleep. I remember looking at the clock around 3am and thinking, uggh, it hasn’t abated; I thought it would be better by now. But I woke later and it was better; the house wasn’t shaking as much, and I could still hear the whistling onslaught of wind, but it no longer sounded like it was trying to push the house over.
I woke around 7am and came up to the middle floor where the living room and kitchen are to look out the window and assess the damage. There was none. Not even a twisted stop sign. Not even a palm frond down. A bunch of sand had blown into areas it hadn’t been yesterday, and a few garbage cans were on their sides, but I didn’t see so much as a missing shingle from a roof.
My husband was asleep on the chair with the ottoman stretched out before him for his legs, and our son was asleep on the couch. The tall floor lamp lay on the carpet, and the Dutch ceramic jars that had been displayed on little shelves above the couch were also on their sides on the carpet, deliberately placed there. The lamp and the jars had rattled and swayed so much on their perches, my husband and son feared they’d crash to the floor, so they preemptively laid them down.
I walked out to the beach and the Atlantic Ocean was white breaking surf as far out as I could see. The early sun shone bright on the white froth, and mounds of sea foam scudded across the beach in wind that pressed my clothes against my body and threatened to blow my hat from my head. The lenses of my my glasses were coated with sea spray in minutes, and my heart thrummed with joy at the sight of the stormy sea. The rest of our trip was glorious.
The day before Tropical Storm Isaias
The day after Tropical Storm Isaias