Things are different with me these days.
I have changed quite a bit over the recent past due to two distinct reasons.
Growing up, my family escaped the worst of nature’s wrath. As a child I watched a neighbor’s tree get ripped from the ground but nothing really happened to our house. We had various flooding events as I grew up but again nothing really impacted us.
Tropical Storm Alison flooded my apartment but very few of my possessions were destroyed. We only had about 8 inches of water and it came in so slowly that I was able to get my valuables off the ground. My car needed a good washing. That was about it.
Katrina and Rita didn’t directly impact us either.
Ike knocked out another neighbor’s tree and destroyed part of their house and both cars but we were only out of electricity for about 6 hours. We had a little water seep into one room.
My parents were without power for about 2 weeks but they sat on the patio and grilled, came over to do laundry, and everyone was relatively ok. I had other friends who lived in a cul de sac full of outdoorsy folks so they had a huge block party with everyone emptying their deep freezers and firing up the grills and smokers.
Then the Tax Day Floods came. My parents were not flooded out of their home but they were flooded in. It was impossible to reach their door without a boat. It took over a week for the water to drain. Getting my dad’s medication was a bit of a challenge. I was worried about what would happen if I needed to get to them or get them out in an emergency.
Just like that, things were starting to hit much closer to home and it seemed as if these events were experiencing a crescendo.
Still, afterwards everything went back to normal and such concerns faded to the background again.
We are closing in on one year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. It’s amazing to think about that because of how much the storm still seems to linger over so many of our lives.
There are homes yet to be repaired. There are people yet to determine what to do with their houses and where they’ll live. Some kids are still waiting for their schools to reopen.
Before the storm, a new strip centering being built meant everyone wondered if there would be a Starbucks or a Kohl’s but now then news of a new real estate development project is greeted with questions about flood mediation. Citizens that never once thought about things like how an empty patch of grass helps control water flow have become comment thread activists on the NextDoor app. We’ve all gotten a crash course in city planning and civil engineering.
Looking back Harvey does not seem like an isolated incident. Rather, it seems like the most recent in a series of ever-building events.
Reality hit me at about 4:00 am on the morning of the storm when I left the house looking for batteries and a flashlight. It was the first in a flurry of shots I would receive over the coming days and weeks.
The experience of trying to provide and protect my family during and after the storm, of trying to manage the logistics of things like finding pharmacies and grocery stores that were both open AND accessible, of finding gas, of finding something to put the gas in, of learning how to use a generator, of trying to keep Oliver cool and entertained…all of that has changed me.
Before Harvey I had some tools in the garage, a couple extension cords, a decent drill, an old roll of duct tape, and that was about it. I had a couple flashlights, one broken, and another in need of batteries.
Since that Saturday morning, I’ve amassed a generator, a dozen cords, fans, a stack of power bricks, flashlights of every variety, batteries, cases of water, half a dozen gas cans, and I just invested in a freezer. I have a pair of thick tactical boots that served me incredibly well throughout the storm and afterwards.
If I see a sale on water, I grab it. If I see a clearance price on a power brick, head lamp, batteries, I take it.
I pay closer attention to things like how much of my medication I have at any given time and try not to wait until the day before to call in the refill. I keep tabs on things like how much paper towel, water, and batteries I have. I have a full tank of propane and now I have a smoker…as much for the joy of outdoor cooking as for being able to cook without electricity. I’ve always been a bit of a weather buff but now even more so.
Of course all of this “prepping” may be for pointless. Let’s face it, Another will come and when it does there will only be so much we can do. The storm could flood my house wash away my precious stockpiles.
Yet, I do these things because I’m different now.
So too have I noticed a sharp change in myself for another reason.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, the Sikh Temple, Sandy Hook, Boston, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, 2-inch bulletproof glass at the bank, metal detectors at the ballpark, “see something say something” and everything in between have chipped away any sense of comfort I had when out in public.
I am different now.
Mind you, I was not raised in a fantasy world where crime didn’t exist. My comfortably middle-class upbringing did not obstruct my view of reality. People got shot, robbed, raped, stabbed, and beat up. A schoolmate’s father went into a rage one night and murdered his mother as my classmate watched.
But I was never so aware or alert as I have become as these events have occurred one after the other. Much as with Harvey, the Santa Fe shooting seems like another step in a seemingly endless progression, one that keeps getting closer.
So now when I get out of the car I look in all directions. I go inside and scan the room. Where are the exits? Is it crowded? Does anything seem “off?” My ears are wide open listening for shouting, loud pops or bangs. I try not to focus so much on my shopping list that I lose track of where I am in the store, who is around me, and whether or not I can move freely and quickly if the need arises.
I like to take Oliver shopping with me. We have a ball describing things we see, singing, greeting other shoppers and store employees. Best of all, we usually come home with a toy.
On such a day out we found ourselves at the local Wal-Mart.
This particular visit began much like any other. I got out of the car; glanced around the parking lot, and pulled Oliver from his seat. We danced our way into the store and got as far as the frozen food section before we heard a wild alarm and people shouting. It was much louder than the ones heard when a customer walks out with a shirt that still had the security tag on it. It was scary. People around me ducked for cover, one woman fell flat on her stomach, hands over her head.
Oliver shouted, “Daddy! What’s that noise!?” Instinctively I grabbed him tight and turned my head towards the source while also slowly walking in a direction from which I could quickly make a dart for the exit if things went south.
I made a game of it by telling him it was the “Wal-Mart Police” who must have “arrested” a little boy for being too crazy in the store. (Everywhere we go has its own police force. There’s McDonald’s Police, Kroger Police, Target Police, Zoo Police. They all arrest crazy toddlers who drive their fathers bonkers. That’s how I roll. Sue me. Haha)
Whatever it was turned out to be nothing but for a few moments I thought things were going in a different direction.
That moment reaffirms my insecurities about letting Oliver out of my sight as much as it does my concern of taking him out. I don’t want him to go anywhere without me. Granted, a big part of this is because I want to spend every second I can with him. He’s my son and beyond loving him, I really do like him. He’s three years old and already my best friend.
The other side of that is the fear of something bad happening and me not being there for him. The idea of sending him off to school is nerve-racking.
And it isn’t like I could necessarily “save” him from anything. What am I going to do? I don’t carry a gun. I’ve never even held one and despite having memorized every training montage from every Rocky movie I have yet to “eat lightning or crap thunder.”
I have a hard time swatting a roach. (What? They’re freakish creatures. Some of them can FLY! Did you know that?! Evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.)
The fact is that if something is going to happen to Oliver then it should happen to me. If he’s sick then we’re sick. If he’s happy then we’re happy. If he’s frustrated then we’re frustrated. If he gets to go to the zoo then I get to go to the zoo.
We’re in this together.
And just like that, Reality comes back to throw another stiff jab.
I can stockpile all the AAs and water bottles in the world and I can keep Oliver in my arms 24/7 but I can’t really keep anything from happening can I? I can’t really prepare for anything can I?
I couldn’t have prevented Harvey from flooding my house anymore than I was able to keep it from happening to my parents down the street. If my house was going to flood it was going to flood.
If someone had shot up that Wal-Mart then all I would have been able to do is scoop Oliver up and try to get the hell out of there. Maybe we would have. Maybe I would have tripped over my own feet and fallen into the display of value size Heinz ketchup while dozens of people trampled us on their way out. Maybe something worse happens.
And so I am different now.
I am different because while I always accepted that I have no control over any tragedy that life may bring I had never truly allowed that feeling to get deep inside of me. I pushed all that aside, tucked it away deep in the back of my mind and as such my lack of preemptive action didn’t really mean much.
Now? I wallow in the ironic futility of so much preparedness.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some constant state of fear. I’ve not spent the last ten months stockpiling arms and MREs while researching how to capture rainwater and fashion gas masks from Downy dryer sheets. (Gain smells better, don’t you think?)
There are no plans to build a bunker beneath The Cathedral.
It just makes sense to always have an extra box of AAs around, mostly so I have enough to keep Oliver’s trains chugging.
Why wait to run out of water or anything really, and have to pay full price when you can stock up during a sale?
I can’t wait to get the new freezer on Saturday. It was purchased as much for being able to take advantage of sales as anything else.
I’ll be able to stock up on Oliver’s Eggos du jour. My dad can buy all the Digiorno frozen pizzas he wants and come Thanksgiving, I’ll be able to grab an extra one for later in the year!
But reality is never so far away that it’s truly in the back of my mind. The freezer, like everything else I’ve collected over the year, will come in handy when the next storm arrives.
Every generation debates whether or not the world has changed, whether things were “different back then.”
The world might be different. It might not be.
But I am different now.
Be Well and Kind,