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It all started today. The nervous pacing of my mother in the front room, my father sat on the couch, his eyes trailing her. Now was one of the most important questions we had; were we to abandon home to the winds of Hurricane Irene, or stay and suffer the consequences, falling down with it or, as we pray will happen, sit and watch the winds and rain outside as our home sits out the storm. Time was running out.
Already they were issuing evacuation drills. They all said we had to leave, and I knew we would be dead if we disobeyed. But where was there to go? My mother wanted so desperately to stay, but she knew in her heart that it was not possible. Even if the city survived the storm, the flood would surely get to us.
This was the first time I ever felt truly scared. And I already have lived through a hurricane. I knew it was unlikely that our house should survive. Everyone who was smart was keeping track of it. Those who weren’t were those who were leaving, but even they kept an ear to the news.
Everywhere in the house there was a radio or a television on stating the news. All they knew was that the storm was growing.
Mom just told me to pack up everything that I couldn’t bear to leave and to put it in the car. Dad was carefully packing the glass and the pottery displays in a box filled with bubble wrap.
The house echoed. It was eerily empty. The only sound was that of the news reporters’ faint murmurs humming down the halls.
The sun was setting below the horizon, though the only sign of it was the gradual light dip as twilight overtook the cloudy grey sky.
Mom decided we would stay for as long as we could. The sky was getting thicker with clouds. Rain sprinkled down on the earth like a fine mist. That could have just been the roiling sea as well.
I looked out my window over the ocean, watching the horizon, the occasional wind buffeting the window frame, making it vibrate softly. Small waves crashed on the shore, then sweeping back out into the ocean once more.
The ocean was seemingly waving to me. I waved back, resting my chin in the crook of my other arm. I knew it was hiding its power, hiding the destruction it was to bring in the near future.
I spent all day looking out, watching the empty horizon for any signs of life. No boats were out today, for they were all docked as tight as possible, if they were to stay.
The only time I moved was when the hurricane warnings came on, making me jump as they echoed up the stairwell and through the door. The radio beside me gave me constant updates. I learned about the disasters that had already occurred down south. From what I knew, there were very few deaths so far, and I hoped that it would stay that way.
I slowly opened my window, and held it open so it would stay. A salty scented puff of air burst through into my room, followed by a sprinkle of foul tasting sea spray.
I couldn’t get to sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, I jerked up, my heart hammering in my throat. It could strike at any time…
I didn’t even feel tired at that moment. I just lay there, with my eyes open, staring into the darkness, the silent darkness… listening to the wind as it battered playfully at my window shutters, shivering each time as a cool prickle ran down my spine. It was coming…
This was it.
I sat up in bed, woke with a start. I’d only fallen asleep for about an hour, but I was wide awake.
Throughout the early morning, we ran around the house, making sure everything was tight and secure so the wind and the flood wouldn’t knock us out.
The clouds were grey and dull, foretelling us that we should go. A light sprinkle fell down upon us. It was soon to tell us ‘I told you so’. But by then we would be long gone, either dead or far from here. Or perhaps we would survive this… I still didn’t see why we were so worried. Perhaps it is because everyone has left, or most of them. A few stayed, but they were out by the outskirts so they could get away in time if the flood closes in. Of course, we were too stupid to prepare for the worst.
This storm has gotten to our heads, for it’s just a storm. Though the winds were predicted to be near or even over 100 miles an hour… there is no happy spin on that.
The storm hit. Winds buffeted the house, making it sway. The ocean crashed down on the tides so fast you couldn’t walk it out without getting your ankles wet. A few of the people went running out on the streets, swaying and zigzagging as the wind battered them playfully. In their hands there was always a video camera or a camera, for they were only running about to collect their footage.
I was one of them. I went down to the beach and watched as the floods came in, all the way until water wrapped its hands around my ankles and tugged at me, begging me to walk within its depths. But I knew too well to obey, and refused, kicking up its salty water as I ran away, drenched in the sea spray that the winds of Irene threw at me.
I carried no camera, for in my mind I knew what was happening, and my sole purpose of being out there was to experience it head on. I was to live! It was not the scent of death that I smelt, not its arms closing in around me. It was just Irene, a storm that was simply what its name implies… a storm.
I shouted out to the horizon that I was not afraid, that whatever this storm had to throw at me I could take. Irene must not have liked that, for she pushed me to the sand, and the sea once again wrapped around me. Wet sand splattered around me, clinging tightly to my cloths and my skin. The fabric started to stick to me as it became damp in the rains that pelted down on the earth. Water splashed up around me, wrapping its arms around my legs and hanging on desperately, as though trying in vain to escape being dragged back out. I laughed and smiled into the churning grey sky, sea spray stinging my eyes. It would pass. We would all witness nature’s power, and then go on with our lives.
Wind whistled in my ears, singing to me in harmony with the crashing of the waves. I continued to run. What a story this was to make! I looked up at the roofs of the buildings, watching as they swayed with the breeze that pushed me on. The roads were scattered with debris of all sorts, from garbage to parts of cars.
I weaved my way carefully around the debris, the wind threatening to push me down into it.
I got home, and curled up with my family in the living room as we watched the house vibrate above us. But I, I was not afraid.
Irene was headed north. Power was still knocked out, and we had to run around town until we could get any phone service to call family. Winds were still strong, but the strongest was barely enough to move a can along the ground.
Debris was everywhere. The ocean level was abnormally high, starting to run down through the streets. The water was contaminated by the trash that crowded the streets. Thin puddles ran down the street, leaving behind a thin crusty layer of salt as it evaporated away in the weak sunlight. Grasses died to the salt water. The city became dark and lifeless.
The salty scent that I usually loved so much nearly made me sick.
Our house was nearly in ruins.
I was a mess as well.
People were slowly starting to come back, sweeping up the garbage threaded across the streets. A few were crying as to see the destruction of our city, others stolid.
Still adjacent winds were blowing at us, but they were the occasional small gusts. The clouds were starting to break, making us smile.
Writing from experience is always how you make the best stories. I remember it all too well; the ocean trying to drag me away, that adrenaline I felt, how alive I felt. The salty sea spray still stings my eyes, my face still burning with the cold, my nose and mouth still dry with the salt, the wind still whispers its secrets to me in a language I cannot, and never will, understand. It is all clear to me now, the fright that broke me that was too overwhelming to show… the fear that those tall white waves would swallow me whole… I can just feel the water filling my lungs and suffocating me as it crashes down above me.
I had been so scared, my heart had nearly stopped.
That fresh salty air… that is the smell of death… and it had been, and that was what the wind had been telling me. Irene was trying to tell me something, and I had subconsciously obeyed.
And now I am alive.
And now I am not afraid.