Friday, December 7, 2012
Last July, just before the 2012 summer residency session began in Alaska, Ian and I quietly began our long move South, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina where we'd bought a home. There was the usual relocation frenzy and furor that we have become familiar with since we married 18 years ago: the endless sorting through and packing up of all our worldly goods into brown boxes, renting a U-Haul truck and trying to squeeze everything into it, and I was also finding out odd and interesting historical facts about Kill Devil Hills that were sending me me spiraling into a dream of life in a place with that kind of history, life in a place where that kind of history is admitted and lauded, where it becomes a delightful part of the stories retold at bonfires on the beach at night. Pirates. Lanterns hung from the horses' heads to lure passing rum ships into the barrier reef. Murder and mayhem. The din of iniquity. The rummy hills. . . .
While Ian went back to our old farmhouse in the North to pack up another load of household goods (and to prepare our two travel-reluctant cats for the move), I flew off to Alaska for two weeks, to teach, still breathless with the anticipation of moving to warmer climes and to making a quiet life as a writer at the edge of the Atlantic: toes in the sand, head in the sunsets, a dreamy fool easing into the "next" phase of life.
In August and September, we finally got everything moved in – including the two spooked fur-balls – and the next few months were spent painting walls and trim, unpacking, putting a household together again, re-carpeting, putting wood flooring in my studio (it was raw plywood before), and endlessly trying to devise new ways to lure the cats out of all the new hiding places where they were hunkered down in deep denial of the move. I was eager to get on with the toes-in-the-sand-head-in-the-clouds part of the writing life. I was missing too many sunsets on the sound and sunrises on the ocean, too many walks on an emptied beach. I wanted to stand with my feet in the roar of the Atlantic again and be at peace, for once, with who I am and where I find myself. I worked and dreamed. Worked and imagined. The words came as a wild tide in me while I painted walls and scrubbed floors and bathtubs, while I ripped up old carpeting, scribbling things down on whatever was at hand: sometimes the lid of the paint can, other times a part of the wall I would paint over soon as I'd had a chance to copy it all out into my daybook, sometimes a torn corner of an old brown bag or paper towel. My life in scraps. Words floating from every corner, hidden in every pocket.
Being near moving water has always had that effect on me: it sends my logical brain out on errands and invites my imagination to the party, that little jezebel in silks, where it moves into my inner ear and starts doing its crazy little word-jig, starts up its vaudevillean song and dance with memory, turns up the stage lights and throws open the doors.
Come one; come all. . .
And I am always the first one in the door, waving happily, ticket stub in hand. Who needs popcorn? Who needs reserved seats? Who needs anything more than a wicked little strumpet of an imagination starting to dance with a life that has been filled with experiences no one ever told you would be out there in the world waiting. As the play is about to begin, the theater amicably darkening, the imagination clears its throat and puts one hand on its ample hip.
It seems ironic now that, in all my imagining, I had neglected to imagine hurricane season.
It isn't as if I don't know first-hand about hurricanes; I grew up in Florida, in Jacksonville, and we experienced a few. I vaguely recall eating "hurricane food" – melting cheese over Sterno can flames and slathering it on Saltine crackers – and the old dog being allowed inside the house during the worst ones, and the candles and Coleman lantern we lit when the power went out, and the bathtub filled with water and stoppered just in case, and the wild gray rabbit my older sister brought in once from a storm that bit us and bit us in its terror. I remember school was closed. And I think we missed Sunday services - oh rare event. And that's about it.
So long ago. So far away.
Just as hurricane season here seemed to be going out "with a whimper," all the meteorologists suddenly became highly-excitable, pointing to the double meteor-swirl of clouds on their charts, babbling about conditions being ripe for a hundred-year superstorm. Where landfall might be. And when. It dawned on me that there was Something doing a little two-step shuffle near the stage-door of that theater in my head that I might have overlooked: Trouble. Trouble named Sandy.
Isn't that how it goes with an imagination like mine? She stands there – the sassy tart, the little bejeweled jezebel – urgently insisting that I consider the fine detail of some elegantly-made costume or prop, drawing my attention to stage-right and all its sparkle so that I miss the storm brewing at stage-left. Before I know it, the proscenium is ragged with wind and water, the plot has thickened disastrously, the curtains heave, the lights flicker, the fly system is rattling wickedly overhead, all sixes and sevens, and the ticket-taker is rowing off in the last yellow lifeboat.
By the time I did notice what was approaching, I had little more than a day left to fill old plastic jugs with potable water, to dig the candles and matches out of moving boxes and place them strategically around the house, to figure out where the small propane grill and tanks were going to be safe – just in case – and to bake sweet loaves of storm bread and get them to the neighbors. By the time my imagination had receded again, that fickle floozy, and my wits had returned, the rains had descended and the streets were flooding. Avalon Pier was knocked from its timbers. North of us, Kitty Hawk was being evacuated. To the south of us, the webcam at Jennette's Pier went darkly down.
We were all left to our own devices then, forced to lie quietly in the beds we had made for ourselves, in the dark – with our sweet breads and old milk-jugs filled with water near at hand, with our little candles and matches, with our somewhat soggy dreams – ever at the mercy of that other old jezebel, the sea, who had come calling, in her wet overcoat and sandy heels, ill-tempered, a distraction, dragging herself to our doorstoops and porches.
Welcome to paradise.