Hurricane Irma: Uproot, Recover, Repeat.
Written by Mara Strobel-Lanka
I’m new to hurricanes.
Growing up in Michigan, the snowstorms of a weather man’s dreams never did much more than keep me indoors, wrapped in warm blankets, reading books and out of school. But as last week’s forecasts for Hurricane Irma grew ever more ominous, butterflies flocked in my stomach until a small zoo of nausea followed me from my happy yellow apartment in Jacksonville to our last-minute BWH evacuation hub of Tallahassee.
On the night before our fleeing road trip, I’d packed an over-zealous survival kit, stress-eaten a pint of ice cream, argued with family members over our questionable evacuation route, spilled gasoline on my sofa (don’t ask), broken up with my long-term boyfriend, made some overdue phone calls to old friends, enjoyed a good hard cry, and held my people (and my Pumpkin) close. All ‘winds of change’ analogies aside, Irma was approaching my city alongside some major life breakthroughs for me, and as I closed the door of my charming Jacksonville life, I wasn’t sure what or who would be waiting for me when I returned.
With the BWH family in tow (Chelsea, her boyfriend Matt, myself, and of course my orange tabby Pumpkin), I headed West on an empty interstate and hit the shuffle button on a carefully curated hurricane-themed playlist. As we left our homes behind to weather uncertainty without us, Irma looked down on our travels, brewing visible threats of change. Ignoring the constant cache of text messages from panicked family up North reading, “You need to take this more seriously,” “Tallahassee isn’t far enough away,” and “your life is in danger,” I held Pump in my lap and feigned composure as Chelsea and Matt did their best to make me laugh, soothing my worries of whether or not Tallahassee was the right place for us. The further we drove from boarded gas stations and the chaos I had left stranded in my apartment, the more the knots in my shoulders began to loosen. Each mile marker measured the evident revolution that was taking place inside of me.
Leaning on the reliably therapeutic power of exploring a new and unfamiliar place, Chels and Matt welcomed me into their college stomping grounds, and subsequently into their inclusive, funny world of adulthood. From breweries to pizzerias, coffee shops to dive bars, I ate more than I wanted to, drank more than I needed to, checked out from work longer than I meant to, and laughed harder than I remembered I could. But while our indulgence fought off some of my weary nerves, it couldn’t deter the force of the storm, the weight of the news headlines covering our state, and the fact that our world had certainly been rocked. For the BWH team, the aftermath lasted only for a long weekend, but for so many, the devastation was much more than a compelling chance to regroup. Scrolling through endless photos of devastation and stories of impossible displacement and devastation, we began to view our fortunate circumstances and cherished company with more of a profound appreciation.
We are incredibly fortunate to have suffered minimal damage, to have evacuated to a cozy airbnb, and to have gained a greater knowledge of what and who feels like family. News coverage of our beloved state underwater and masked in storm debris showed us how close our everyday lives really are to the edge of disaster; how, for so many, this weekend was not a chance for a carefree escape. It was a perspective I expected to follow me back to Jacksonville as a new woman, ready to conquer this foreign land of adulthood, singleness, and disaster. But as I unlocked the door to the ravaged world I had left behind, I rediscovered my messes on the floor and my resolution to recover packed away in my survival box, somewhere between a life jacket and a box of mac and cheese.
The epiphanies I’d experienced across our evacuation felt foreign and awkward, settling into my shaky hands, unsure where to begin their work. I sat in front of empty word documents, lingered in bed ignoring nagging snooze buttons, and floated through my cumbersome routine. I had wanted to rise from the chaos as a stronger and more spectacular version of myself, and instead I was exhausted from treading water in my existing life. The week trekked on and slowly the skin suit of composure was scraped away to reveal not only the strong and spectacular I’d been expecting, but also the shaken and vulnerable self I’d been fleeing with each highway mile marker.
As Irma buries herself further in our past, I’ve rejoiced in the opportunity to rebuild my stress-packed, Irma-proof world one day at a time. Slowly but surely, I’ve returned my paintings to their walls and hung my independence back on the mantle of familiarity. I’ve counted my blessings, thanked my stars, and have started to understand what it means to be a part of a community, paired with the bravery to start over. Maybe this hurricane was an excuse to uproot my world and recover, or maybe life just has funny ways of balancing itself out, one hurricane road trip at a time.
Mara is the Babes Who Hustle executive assistant as well as the content creator for Momni. When she isn't managing all-things BWH, styling photoshoots and writing for The Boutique Next Door, you can find her sailing, dancing, or sprawled out on a beach blanket with her latest read.