Hurricane shutters on the author's childhood home.
Thank you for the kind words about my last column on alcoholism. A few of you were assholes, but I’ve been an asshole enough times to deserve it. I’ve been sober for roughly a month now, and the seismograph of my detox-induced ups and downs has started to balance out, leaving me with appreciation for Kurt Vonnegut’s words:
“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.’”
After all that talk about death and addiction, I decided I would write about something cheery this week, mainly Hurricane Marilyn, the ’95 storm that destroyed my home and left 11,000 people—including my family—homeless on the island of St. Thomas. I was seven years old, so my memories of the storm are fragments clouded by childhood trauma.
My family had survived Hugo of ’89 and several smaller storms. Back then—at least in my mind—tropical storms and minor hurricanes were an excuse to miss school. We reacted to hurricanes the way many New Yorkers reacted to Irene in 2011. In other words, we were not prepared for Marilyn.
I don’t remember the hours of the evolution of the storm, but my mind is rattled with memories of the worst. We spent the day boarding our two-story house with hurricane shutters. Thankfully, we chose to spend the night of the storm downstairs, while the storm blew off our neighbor’s roof and slammed it into the first floor of our house, causing the deck and rooms to crumble, burying my family in so much rubble that the next day a neighbor had to hack my family out with an axe and pull us out through a hole.
Damage from the storm.
Hurricane Irene made me realize Hurricane Marilyn traumatized me, leaving me with a time bomb ready to (literally) projectile vomit repressed memories. When Irene crept upon the city in August 2011, I was working at MTV Networks. Most of my friends and coworkers didn’t take the approaching storm seriously, but I was in a panic, drafting and then deleting crazed emails to friends warning them of the possible destruction. Hurricane Irene would only inflict minimal damage on New York City, but I was picturing Cloverfield type shit in my head.
On the Thursday before Irene hit, my boss took my team out for drinks. Since this was before I became sober, I tried to drown my nervousness with bottles of wine. Afterwards, I stumbled into a cab and collapsed into my apartment, waking up at 5:30 AM still wasted, experiencing horrible cramps in my lower abdomen. Because I turn into a fucking nutcase when I drink and use drugs—getting sober was the best thing I’ve ever done for my country—I became convinced I had an UTI, freaked the fuck out, and got back in a cab to go to an emergency clinic.
I had been to this emergency clinic before; I liked it, because every time I left with a prescription for Xanax or some other opiate. “Your pink eye looks uncomfortable? Here’s a morphine drip.” I peed in the fucking cup. I didn’t have a UTI or anything else, but the doctor agreed the cramping sounded painful, so he sent me on my way with a nice big bottle of Percocet.
Of course, I popped two (as directed) immediately, and by the time I got to work, the Percocet introduced itself to my stomach full of wine, causing me to projectile vomit. Because it’s pretty hard to work while recreating scenes from The Exorcist in a handicap bathroom, I told my boss I had to go home, which I felt super bad about. It was a really important day, and she needed me.
I had thrown up before during Hurricane Marilyn, but this was when I was seven years old, and drugs and alcohol were not the cause. Rather, it was the sounds of my childhood home crumpling on top of my family as we huddled in a closet that made me vomit. We listened to a radio that played interrupted calls of farmers whose goats had allegedly been swirled up and blown away by tornadoes. At one point, urged by Marilyn’s winds, my family’s SUV attempted to smash through a door and join us in the closet. I had visions of my father darting out of the little closet we were hiding in, trying to form some blockade to prevent the SUV from tearing through the room, and I was worried about my kitty, Rosa, a wild island cat, who had long since disappeared into the jungle to find her own protection. She survived. Animals are smart about this shit.
The freakiest part about a hurricane isn’t the noise of the storm: winds so loud you can’t hear yourself cry, bangs and booms of destruction that may be a landslide or your parents’ bed being ripped out by a small tornado. It is the bone-chilling silence of the eye of the storm, a brief intermission before the various sounds of death resume.
Compared to victims of natural disasters in Haiti or New Orleans, Hurricane Marilyn was just an annoying summer drizzle ruining my hair in New York City. We lost a lot, but we survived, and as mentioned in my previous column, thanks to Eddie, we found a new home. Months after Marilyn, my father found my mother’s favorite belt made of concha shells on a tree by our old house, dangling like a snake.
After losing most of your material wealth you learn how unimportant things like accessories are, but every now and then little tangible presents from the universe work miracles. The other day at work, I received some rather personally unsettling news and was unable to breathe. To gather myself, I stepped outside and took a walk. Old coping mechanisms entered my brain; I thought about chomping pills or having wine for lunch. Then I noticed a little gold peace bracelet on the ground. It was just a cheap bracelet that likely slipped off someone’s wrist, but it made me smile, so I picked it up and put it on. I walked some more and the thoughts about chemicals began to slip away. I didn’t stop in a bar, but went back into the office and kicked some ass, thinking to myself, If this isn’t nice, then I don’t know what is…
P.S. If the previous owner of the peace sign bracelet is reading this, I'm sorry, but I'm keeping it.
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