Hurricane Nicholas hit Surfside Beach directly, his eye wall hitting us with gusts up to 100 mph. He was a small storm among hurricanes, but we are a small community on an island barely nine feet above sea level on average.
The surge clawed away at the dunes that had begun to heal from last summer’s five surges from more distant storms. In Nicholas’ wake, dunes are completely gone in many areas, and vastly foreshortened in others. Streets are rivers of sand. Fences and signs are driftwood.
The sea and her inextricably linked partner, the weather, have tried to claim the island as their own yet again. They have taken considerable human detritus with them and left even more in great piles and streams along roadsides and in ditches.
Many of our belongings will, no doubt, appear somewhere along the intracoastal waterway’s shores or other beaches in the months or years to come. Some Surfsider’s surfboard, kayak or cooler, battered and discolored, will wash up in Sargent or Galveston. Bits of the beachfront home that collapsed in Nicholas’ wrath will continue to show in our cleaning efforts as chunks of flooring, sheetrock, and porcelain. Little reminders: Nicholas was here.
The dunes will recover somewhat over the next three seasons. Steady waves and wind will lift and sling sand against the crumbling dune walls that are there now.
We humans are already rebuilding crossovers and digging out the sandy layers under our homes. My coworkers and I have picked up bags and bags of trash and roof shingles. Bottle caps! Thousands of renegade bottle caps. Where do they all come from? More plentiful than seashells, it seems.
We humans will rebuild our scarred coastal communities whether we should or not.
I spent the night listening.
All of us who stayed, we listened.
We listened to that horrific roar and whine of constant wind and waited for who-knows-what to break, slam, or shatter. At some point, the roar became so loud and wild that I let fly a storm of profanity while talking to my brother over the phone. A second later, my neighbors’ windows popped out with a frightening crash.
Some with powerful flashlights tried to peer into the maelstrom through rain-lashed windows as if watching the sea rush under their home would somehow reassure them that the ground still lay somewhere beneath it.
Maybe for some it was reassuring. For me, it was all the more frightening to watch that water flowing two-feet deep at life-ending speed under my little home some four blocks from shore.
I expected at any moment to see my precious truck, Betty White, slip free of her tires’ tenuous grip on my carport concrete and float away into the darkness. The hundred-pound, metal animal crate next to her did float and after an hour of bashing itself against my pilings, made its escape and settled onto the gravel driveway.
I half expected the earth to soften and take some part of my home with it.
Nicholas was merely a Category 1 hurricane.
The damage was bad enough. The power and water outages were miserable and widespread, but his horror for those of us who stayed largely came in his surprise.
He was a small blip on our emotional radar a few days before the 14th of September. Many of us barely knew anything was going on. A friend of mine in another state expressed concern and I had no idea to what she was referring. My daughter in Dallas didn’t know anything was happening even while Nicholas was on top of us. The weather forecasters were still calling it a tropical storm as I heard the winds growing stronger outside my windows. My brother must have heard me say five times, “That’s not 40 mph!”
If he was frustrated with my melodrama, he didn’t let on. I was scared without really knowing I was scared. I was just going through it as I always just go through things. It’s only when I am on the other side that I process my emotions of the prior moments/hours/years.
I am, after a year, still processing my divorce following a 29-year marriage.
I am, after three months, still processing the loss of a friend and feel that will be ongoing for months as I recognize the emotional investment I had made.
And now, I’m realizing how much emotion I invested in those hours listening to Nicholas’ rainy rampage.
These events appear to represent a somewhat linear progression; the marriage may take longer to process than the friendship which may take longer than the storm.
I’m not convinced, however, that the human heart understands linearity. Or trauma. Or scarring. Maybe no amount of processing will fix some of these things.
We clean up. After storms. After dead friendships. After divorces.
There will be “cleaning up” for me as well, my home and my heart. There will, I hope, be rebuilding for my heart as for my village.
Whether there should be or not.