There are very few times in my existence when I’ve been legitimately scared for my life. In fact, I can really only think of two instances: Once on an extremely hairy and bumpy plane ride somewhere over the Lower North Shore in Quebec where we were told by the captain to assume the “brace for impact” position so as to keep our bodies from flopping around; and again when I was in Africa and mere feet away from an adolescent “teen” elephant who was standing directly in front of our open-air Land Cruiser on safari, staring and flapping his ears in a “warning” manner as we all held our collective breath and waited for him to pass.
Otherwise, any “scared for my life” moment has just been an overly exaggerated experience where, sure, I was afraid for a short time and likely felt my pulse quicken and my palms get sweaty, but all in all deep down I knew I was safe the entire time.
Then I went to the Bahamas for a weekend getaway.
I count myself extremely lucky to live the life I do. Sometimes, I take a moment and reflect on what I’ve accomplished, where I’ve been, who I’ve met, and the things I’ve been able to do and experience and I take a deep breath and think, “Wow.” I am so very, very thankful for it all. I know it’s not all luck, as I work so very hard to be where I am and do what I do, but I’m still thankful. For everything and everyone in my life.
So, when I had the opportunity to fly down south to not only spend some time in the sun, but to spend it with someone I love and who I only get to see every few months, who was I to say no?
So, I went.
As a Canadian, I’ve experienced my fair share of winter storms. Howling winds, blowing snow that makes it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you, and treacherous icy surfaces. I’ve also driven, walked, taken the bus, and flown in all of those conditions without hesitation.
Ask any 30-something-year-old or older Canadian where they were during the Ice Storm of ’98 and they’ll likely have a pretty awesome story to tell. With month-long electricity black-outs, destroyed buildings and cars due to downed trees (from the sheer weight of the ice caked on), the Ice Storm was a doozie. Personally, we only lost power for 5-6 days from what I remember. And while my parents and I were decidedly stinky and cranky from lack of cooked meals and showers, plus we kept running to generator-run malls for heat, I never feared for my life.
I thought I was OK with bad weather.
I thought wrong, very wrong.
Halfway through my weekend getaway down south, and a few days before I was due to leave the Bahamas and head home, the boyfriend suddenly burst into his apartment where I was prepping myself for our dinner date and simply stated, “You need to leave. Now.”
A multitude of thoughts rushed through my brain, first of which was: Oh God, what have you done, Miranda? How did it all go downhill so quickly? I knew you’d fuck it up. Figures it would happen while you were here. What did you say? Did he say something? Did you miss something? WHAT’S HAPPENING?
My brain really isn’t the best place to be most of the time…
Instead of asking him a question that would have undoubtedly thrown us into an unnecessary conversation as nothing was the matter with us, I simply tilted my head to the side in the typical inquisitive puppy-dog style.
“Hurricane Matthew is headed straight for us in the next few days. We need to get you off this island. NOW.”
The thing is, we knew the hurricane was in the “area.” Well, when I first landed on Grand Bahamas he hadn’t even touched Haiti yet. We knew he was large, and we knew he was moving slowly, but we weren’t sure where or when he would turn. So we took a chance.
At the time it seemed like a good idea. But when I think about it now, the risk truly was great. The days leading up to that, we’d watched Hurricane Matthew build in size and intensity via various weather apps. We’d even joked about me being stuck on the island and how horrendous the storm would be when it hit. It was a fantasy, a that’ll-never-happen-to-me thought.
Fuck, I should have known better.
From the airport to the phone with the airline carrier I was to fly home with, we desperately tried to arrange for me to leave the island as soon as possible, to get me home with Owen and safe from the storm.
Truthfully, I was upset at having to leave early. I didn’t understand how dire the situation was. I felt like we were overreacting. Like, if Canada could withstand the winter storms we do, surely a hurricane would be OK.
Looking back on how I was those days leading up to the storm, I was so god damn naive about it all. And while I was due to fly out on an early morning flight the day before Hurricane Matthew was to hit Freeport, GB, my flight home connected through Miami and they shut their airport down in anticipation of the storm and so screwed me out of an escape.
I was trapped.
I went to the grocery store to collect provisions (food for the next few days when we’d undoubtedly lose power and running water, but had access to a BBQ). I felt like I was in some sort of end-of-days movie. The parking lot was teaming with people, and inside the grocery store there were even more patrons. Shelves were stripped bare. It was difficult to navigate aisles, and finding stuff in a store I was already unfamiliar with became damn near impossible.
Like a deer caught in the headlights all I could do was stumble up and down the aisles looking at food I knew not what to do with. Fruit and veggies seemed like the right choice, but without a fridge and in 30-degree+ weather and no AC, how long would they last? Protein is necessary to stay strong and healthy and survive, but meat needs to be refrigerated, too.
With my cart holding only bottled water, eggs, peanut butter, bread, bagels, and bananas, I felt like a complete idiot. And as I stood in front of the granola bar shelves trying to choose the best “hurricane survival flavour” a light tap on my arm made me jump.
“I coulda snatched ya phone and ya wallet. Ya don’t wanna be leavin’ them there like that, miss,” said a decidedly very tall, very muscular and very tattooed local in a basketball shirt and shorts as he walked passed me, gesturing towards my belongings I’d left in the top part of the car while I gazed stupidly at useless granola bars.
I’m often surprised by the kindness of strangers. And with well over $500 USD cash, and various credit cars etc. in my purse, he could very well have made off with all of it, along with my iPhone6. But he didn’t. I think he saw the fear and confusion on my face. I’d like to think he pitied me in that moment. And I will be forever thankful I looked as pathetic as I did in that grocery store aisle that afternoon.
With my absolutely useless groceries acquired, I made my way back to the apartment to make sure I’d packed up all our belongings properly and entirely as we would not be staying in the ground-level, close-t0-the-beach location when ocean swells were set to hit 15-20ft in height.
Earlier that afternoon as I’d folded all our clothes and placed them in their respective suitcases, it still hadn’t hit me what I was actually doing. It kind of felt like we were simply going away for a weekend. When I thought about how I was packing to keep all our belongings safe from the hurricane destruction that would ensue, I felt silly. I may have even chuckled at the thought; again thinking it was all a bit extreme. All a bit too much.
The morning before Hurricane Matthew was due to hit, I was on the beach. Blazing sunlight, clear blue skies, and a gorgeous turquoise ocean lay before me. As I waded into the ocean, floating on my back, face turned up to the open sky I thought, “Is this really going to be the last time I experience this beach like this? Is it really all going to be gone by tomorrow? Disfigured by the storm? Is that what nature is really like?”
And as a wave engulfed me and I spluttered on salt water that burned my nostrils and eyes, my immediate thought was, “Yeah, nature can be a bit of an asshole sometimes, especially when you’re not prepared.”
I wasn’t prepared.
I mentioned the kindness of strangers above, and it is indeed that kindness that got me through my first hurricane. Not strangers to my other half, but to me. The couple we shacked up with to stay safe from the storm are very much the reason I made it through the experience the way I did. I will be forever in their debt and grateful for them and how they opened up their home to us.
A home with fully boarded up windows. Plywood covered every opening of the second-story condo unit, save for the door. When I first saw it, I found it almost comical. And theirs was the only unit with such precautions taken. The only one. Again, I found it all a bit much. Come on, it was just going to be a bit of wind and rain, right?
Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti as a category 4 storm, and as it passed over Cuba it downgraded to a 3, however, as it moved up to hit the Bahamas it intensified back to a category 4.
These numbers meant absolutely nothing to me a few weeks ago. In fact, I never considered hurricanes if I’m honest or tornadoes for that matter. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Perhaps naive or ignorant of me, but I felt more concerned with how many feet of snow might fall during any given snowstorm or how hot a summer day was going to be. Nothing more. Silly Canadian.
There are only 5 stages to a hurricane, and a category 5 is complete annihilation. Decimation and leveling of homes, trees, land, and people. You do not come out of a category 5 hurricane unscathed. And a category just below that was baring down on us.
This all became glaringly true the evening before the storm hit. As I sat in a bar drinking entirely too much beer to drown an ever-growing fear of the storm I was trying desperately to ignore, I’d just said good night to Owen via FaceTime.
And it hit me.
My little boy is miles and miles away from me. I’m trapped on this island. There’s a category 4 hurricane coming. I don’t know when I’ll see him again. Talk to him again. Hug him again. This shit is real. This is no joke.
Cue hyperventilation and crying. In a bar. With a beer in my hand.
I told you, being in my brain is not at all a fun place to be most of the time.
Again, the kindness of strangers “saved” me in that moment. The owner of the bar we were excessively drinking at is owned by a Canadian. He immediately swooped in, took me to his office, sat me on his couch and talked me down.
“Listen, I’ve been here 17 years. I’ve seen plenty of storms and a few hurricanes. We always make it through. Nothing major is going to happen. You’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine. Sure it’s a big one, but you’ve got a safe place to stay. It is what it is.”