Alice's Voice

This Is Just Another Storm 

A storm came through the other night. Things can move fast here. There’s one  type of Florida storm that crops up in the afternoon, in the middle of a perfectly blue sky that will leave you surprised and stuck. Most afternoons though, it’s a sprinkling of rain, a fleeting gray cloud and the gentle shush, shush of the palm trees. When that happens, I pick up my magazine, sit under the roof of the porch and wait. In ten minutes, I’m back in the pool, floating propped up on the built-in headrest, reading from where I left off. 

There are on occasion storms you can see coming. Then I keep my eye on clouds that are heavy in the sky, black-bottomed with fluffy white columns reaching beyond my sight. There may be no rain for hours, then in the distance, maybe by Disney World, a rumble of thunder. The tall sabal palm tree with the short fronds, the kind that children carry down the aisle on the Sunday before Easter, starts bending from the crown. My neighbor’s long-armed buccaneer palm waves and dances. When that happens it’s time to run. 

The heavy storms don’t usually come until later in the year but this year, a solid month before the start of hurricane season, a bad one cropped up. It slammed our house in the middle of the night. I woke at two a.m. choking for breath. The power was out and my sleep apnea machine cut off abruptly, leaving my nose covered in a plastic cup with no air. I ripped off the now suffocating, life-saving machine and jumped out of bed. I don’t think a storm has ever made me jump out of bed. I’m used to storms, but having one drop in and effectively press its hand over my nose was a different jolt than the usual bang of the lightning. That came next and took the power out for the rest of the night. 

I was more confused than afraid. I wandered a moment around the room.I put my hand on the sliding glass door of the balcony off the main bedroom. Was it raining? I couldn’t tell. I pulled the door open and cold air hit me, the familiar updraft that comes from the rain pounding down. It was hot and humid when I went to bed four hours ago. Not a good sign. 

Then, in the dark, I saw it — a long strip of material fluttering. Lighting struck again and confirmed what I was seeing. The storm had peeled a panel of our screen enclosure off like a candy bar wrapper. “Oh no,” I said to no one. Now, I felt sad and lonely. I was alone in a storm in the middle of the night. My husband was across the ocean at his father’s home in Egypt. My parents were across the country, having just left that morning for my dad’s childhood home in the Pacific Northwest. Just my son was home, sleeping his room. I didn’t dare to wake him, since the power being out and the impact to his iPad use would lead to a dramatic, angry scene. Best just to watch as a piece of my screen porch waved at me. 

A good day on the porch.

I love my porch. It’s my favorite place to be. It’s where I spend most of my day, even when I’m working. I take my computer out and write all day, watching the osprey, the egrets and the lizards from the corner of my eye. It’s where we eat big family dinners and where we sit for morning coffee. 

The rest of the week I called every screen repair place I could find online. “No, we don’t do two-story screen repair.”  Everyone gave me the same line—not right now, there’s a shortage on everything: labor, screen, railings. I felt sad and lonely again. It was fine, of course. Just a screen over the enclosure of a pool home. Who can complain? Bonus, the bugs hadn’t really even noticed yet. 

I’d taken off work for two months to help my parents move from their two-story home into a retirement community so I didn’t have much room in the budget for a house project. At least not one that wasn’t causing immediate danger, but sitting on my porch watching this length of screen’s daily dance was making me sad. I wanted it to be whole. 

Two weeks later on my morning walk, I saw a team scaling a neighbor’s screen. I grabbed my phone to take a photo of the van’s sign “Screen Repair and Replacement,” then decided to run into the neighbor’s back yard. I met the owner of the van and the company. Yes, yes, they would come by and look that afternoon. 

I continued on my walk and when I got back home they were pulling up. They headed to the back yard and surveyed the tear. He wrote a number on a piece of paper. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Every cost has gone up.” It’s ok. I had that number in my account. I wrote him a check. 

I don’t really make financial decisions without talking with my partner. This wasn’t a big one, but because I hadn’t been working it was something to be considered. I still regularly check large purchases with my brother, who’s in banking, or my parents. Numbers aren’t really my thing, so I like confirmation from multiple sources. 

But this felt good. I felt empowered. I’d made a decision based on my desire. I figured out how to fix something that seemed unfixable. I was taking something that was rent and making it whole. 

For the next week I felt so satisfied sitting on my porch enjoying my coffee in the morning. In the early evening I took a book out, sipped a hibiscus cocktail and felt even more satisfied. 

That Saturday, just one week from the visit by the repair team there was a boom. Then a shaking of the house and the sudden drop in temperature. I rushed to grab the cushions from the outdoor chairs and I saw it. A different panel snapping in the storm. 

“Goddammit,” I yelled. This time, not to no one. I went back inside and sat at the window watching the storm while I gave God the side-eye. The rain lifted and I could see that this panel was in a more prominent spot than the last tear. Gnats were already diving in. “Really?” I said aloud. 

I started down the road of regret and anger. I shouldn’t have spent that money. I should have waited until I had another job. I’d wasted my time and my money.  

Sunset and the second torn screen, which is definitely not winking at me.

Then I stopped and pulled my mind right off the road. Wait. Just wait. Had I wasted my time and my money? I had been proud of my decision. Pleased with it even. I enjoyed every moment on my porch since it was fixed. I had a full week of pride and joy. I was glad I spent that money. I took a deep breath and made a choice — to remain pleased with my decision. This is just another storm. 

This storm was not a comment on my choices. It was not even tied to the previous storm. The last storm had no idea this one was coming. Neither did I. 

I am enjoying my porch now. I added a standing fan to blow the bugs away and some OFF spray to my sunscreen regimen. I won’t fix this one for a bit. My husband is home and we decided it’s best to wait until the end of Hurricane season. It seems foolish to try to fix something when more storms are almost guaranteed. Better to wait. 

But who knows? Who can know when the next storm will come and what it will bring? Best to enjoy this now. Even the day the squirrel missed the screen panel and landed terrified into the pool. We waited to see if he would find his way back to the open panels. After an hour of running around, he stopped and clung to one panel, not moving except his tiny heart beating a bass drum. We went out and opened the door to the back yard. We waved pillows from the porch furniture, moving closer to him and he rushed out the door. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed having him as a guest, but it didn’t cause me stress or regret. 

Many times in my life I’ve chosen regret, anxiety or stamping around angry. After all we’ve been through in the last three years, I just couldn’t see spending everyday until November 30 when hurricane season magically ends being mad at…who? God? Nature? Myself?

The secret truth is, I am not sorry that I had the screen fixed the first time. I’m not sorry that I spent time and money on myself. I’m choosing now to sit in this feeling of pride and pleasure albeit under an open sky with dragonflies dropping in to skim the pool.  This is the key: the first storm is not tied to the second storm. They are not a sequence of events designed to teach me better behavior or to wag a cosmic finger at me. There was a storm and a repair. There was another storm. That’s all it is, the next storm. My choice is to be hopeful, to persevere even. When the time is right I’ll use my stored resources to fix what is broken, despite the storms. 

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