As the hurricane approached, I thought to myself, “Should I have left?” My heart raced, my thoughts and actions were quick, and my speech and texts to friends and family were random and somewhat incoherent.
It was the first moment I was second-guessing myself about my decision to stay on the island or not go to what may be deemed a more secure area on the island. But as the storm continued, I realized the anxiety was based from the social media frenzy, the constant texts from stateside individuals, and many of the gringos who moved to the island acting only in panic and unpreparedness.
This is an island in the Caribbean. We must always be prepared for the unknown; and the unknown is the worst that comes.
No–I wasn’t born on the island or ever experienced a hurricane. But I was confident in friends who were born and raised in Puerto Rico. However, I am a country boy at heart and I learned human behavior. Therefore, I was confident in their judgment. I was confident that if I simply do as the locals did, I would be okay. I did that. But I was not calm.
Pre-storm, I set my alarm on my phone for 3 hours, I took a sleeping pill to calm myself and zone out, and fell fast asleep as the electricity went out.
I woke to a puddle of sweat and my two dogs were still asleep. The storm continued to rage, sounding like a high-end blender. I looked outside the window and there was no sign of flooding on my street. I was safe, I felt.
For the weeks approaching the hurricane, I searched for duct tape and other things I felt I needed as supplies. But to no avail, there was none. I searched for sand bags–again, none. I was concerned that my apartment would get flooded due to it being on the first floor and needed to protect myself and my belongings. I thought outside the box–I ended up using bubble wrap and packing tape and sealed all the crevices and locked myself indoors. I strategically folded bubble wrap into every crevice around the door and then shut it. Then I taped the crevices. Would it work? I don’t know. But it should because all the crevices were visibly sealed. I was locked inside–me, my dogs, 10 gallons of water, and a supply of food.
After the storm, electricity remained out. Days turned into weeks. Time became lost. Time coupled with excess heat and solitude played games, cruel games, with my mind. I battled demons. I resisted. I mourned. I battled life.
I confronted myself, my life, my goals, my inspirations and downfalls. In my head, I confronted relatives who came to me in odd visions and asked them why they had to die or why certain incidents happened. Answers came to me in the darkness, laying on the floor on a sweaty sheet where the room seemed cooler.
Anxiety came first. I was forced to walk away from people during this natural disaster and preparing for it. Walking away from the people or things that make you anxious, sometimes temporarily, solves the excess worry. As hurtful as it may sound, sometimes it’s so much easily to walk away, deal with the current issues on your path and when the time is right for you confront the said problem. I’ve had to let individuals know that their anxiety was feeding mine and it just wasn’t working out during the hurricane preparedness and aftermath. As two unhealed spirits do not make a conducive relation. You must worry about your own spirit first; your own safety and mental and physical health. Let it heal so that you can inspire and help others later.
Much of the anxiety held during the hurricane and post-hurricane was from individuals who lacked preparedness, which could have been easily resolved. If we live on an island, and we have what is known as “hurricane season”, there’s no reason not to be prepared. Again, I was prepared. I had no reason to be anxious. I had to keep re-affirming myself
Later, Creativity set it. Sometimes there’s no words to describe feelings and the only way to emote is through art. Many people will never understand that. That’s okay. Emote any way you feel necessary. I’m recalling a friend who painted his entire apartment in a twisted mixed-media installation as a response to what he, too, saw on 9/11. And that, too, was the moment when I started painting for the first time in 10 years. I didn’t realize these two hurricanes I would experience would coincide with the 9/11 anniversary for me. The timing was perfectly odd. But I created. I emoted. I wrote by hand; I sketched. I filled a notebook with odd drawings, incoherent poetry, and beginnings of stories. Nothing was complete, but still yet, this was how I could emote.
In the midst of the darkness, Loneliness came knocking on my door, unexpectedly, taunting me like an 8th grade bully. The hurricane became my malady and I did not think I could find a cure after loneliness came. Simply because you are alone doesn’t mean you are lonely or vice versa. I’ve lived somewhat a single life and have been somewhat happy about this as well. I always say I’ve designed my selfish life so that I can remain single. But loneliness is different. Loneliness is personal. Loneliness is a part of being an outsider. And, that’s fine too. Most artists are outsiders and feel they are alone, despite all the love they may have surrounding them. And I was left, after the hurricane, with loneliness slowing devouring me like a plague.
My cousin asked me, “What made you into the person you are today?” and instantly I responded, “After 9/11, I felt like I was alone. Not knowing many people in NYC, and stuck at home for a few weeks post-9/11 my mind got the best of me (like with the hurricane). Feeling as if I were alone and no one cared whether I lived or died that day woke me up. I stopped living to please others.” With this hurricane, things were different. I had support from friends and family. I genuinely felt it. But the loneliness got the best of me one night and I cracked under pressure. I truly didn’t know if I were sweating or if I were crying. But eventually I fell asleep.
I woke at 5am, walked my two dogs toward the beach. I rarely walk my dogs on the beach due to the sand and sandfleas. But this day, I had to. I was impulsed to do so. And I sat there on a beach, with my legs half covered with sand and my dogs wanting to play and I waited. I waited for the sun to rise. As she rose from the East, peeking her nose from the mountains afar, I smiled for the first time. I walked East along the beach. The sun continued to rise and beckoned individuals from their homes and hotels. The beach became crowded, and we all walked toward the sun as if we could reach it, yet knowing we could not. At that moment, I knew I would be okay. No one took out their cameras to take photos, no one talked. And for that sheer moment my heart and the ocean became still. I learned that day, that specific moment that I was okay. I’ve always been okay.