It was 2005. I was 13 years old and had been living by the bay my whole life, so hurricanes never meant too much to me. “It’s just rain,” I would always say, “but it gets me out of school for a few days.” Anything that kept me outside, playing in the summer air, wet with possibilities, could never be that bad. We lived too close to the water to ever stay at home during the storm, even though nothing ever happened to it, so we would go inland and stay with family or one of my dad’s bandmates or friends.
Growing up on the beach was never a con for me. It was a crackhead version of a beach, the island was tiny and full of old people, and it was 45 minutes from everything, but it was always an adventure. All the houses were stained with salt water, all the ponds were thick with swamp grass, and there weren’t any chain businesses for a few miles. There was just open road, old shacks by the shoreline, and mom and pop stores every mile or so. It wasn’t a sight you would see in films or magazines, but it was mine. I couldn’t ever imagining it hurting me.
On August 29th, my father and I took our two dogs and set out for a friend of my dad’s named Captain Jerry. My father’s dog, Little Girl, was a black lab and always excitable by the opportunity to ride in the truck. My dog Jojo, a dachshund-chihuahua mix, was very nervous to make journeys outside of our little yard and would frequently crawl under a seat during car rides. So we set out away from the shoreline, windows boarded and sandwiches packed. There was, of course, some beer packed for my dad but I wasn’t part of that cooler decision.
Morning became late afternoon and the skies became dark as if it was already evening. As the winds started to blow harder, I stepped out into the middle of the empty street and lay myself against the wind, prevented only from falling over by the quickly changing air pressure. My father didn’t seem to mind that I was literally playing in the street in the middle of a storm. In fact, I think he found it quite amusing.
Eventually the weather became too severe and I was made to come inside and sit by the candle light, away from the windows. Something my father and I would always do in power outages during storms was play Rummy. He always won. That never kept me from fervently insisting that we play again. After the card games came my father playing guitar and singing his favorite tunes from days long passed. Into the night, I would sit with my dad and his friends, watching them play music and drinking cans of beer, until finally it was too late for a kid to be awake. In the pitch black dark, rain hitting the roof like drums, I fell asleep.
The next morning, the first thing I did was open the front door to see what the storm had done. I had never seen the street so full of trees. I was the only soul on the entire block, as if the rain had stolen everyone else away in the night and left me completely alone with only the howl of the wind for conversation. Finally my father and Captain Jerry woke up, so my dad started getting things ready to go home and thanked The Captain for letting us stay with him during the storm. The radio wasn’t saying good things about our area.
As I turned the corner to explore one last nook of the house before leaving, I saw Jojo on the backside of a couch, licking something on the floor. My immediate reaction was disgust and I ran to tell my dad that Jojo had done something gross on the carpet. I didn’t look closer until he came back with me to the spot behind the couch. Jojo was still there, licking what she had left on the floor. It was a puppy. Apparently in the night, she had gone into premature labor and gave birth to a stillborn baby which she was still trying to wake. I didn’t even know she was pregnant. My heart filled up with something sad and wet and it came out of my eyes in a frenzy.
Captain Jerry helped me bury the puppy in the backyard. It was so hard for me to get back in the truck and go home after that...
Upon rounding the corner back to my house, I saw that many of our pine trees had fallen down. None of them hit the house, thankfully. As I went into my room I saw that the rain had knocked my ceiling fan to the ground. Glass was everywhere and my carpet was wet. I was numb and for the first time as an adolescent, I could not find comfort by hiding in my room. So my father told me to leave the pieces of the overhead on the ground and not to try cleaning it up. Carefully, and with shoes on, I stepped through my room to grab something to write and draw in and I came back out into the living room. Dad and I sat in the living room for quite awhile before one of us spoke. Finally, as it started to grow dark again, we lit a candle and started to play card games together. We didn’t talk about the birth. We didn’t talk about the storm. We just sat with each other, like a normal Tuesday night at home, only he let me win one game of Rummy.