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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Flashback 12 years

For days we had been half aware of a tropical wave somewhere off the coast of Florida. No point getting excited yet, these things pop up all the time. It very quickly turned into a hurricane and continued on a due west path, so we paid slightly more attention. Sleepless, on August 23, we waited for the critical update from the National Hurricane Center in Miami that was due at 3:00 AM. Turn. Turn, damn it! No advisory, wait until 5:00 AM they said. Finally, at 6:00 AM, the Hurricane Center made their call. This was a monster Category 5 storm, still moving due west with no probability of changing course. It was the big one, the one you always worry about in the back of your mind, and it was headed straight for us. I was five days overdue with my first child.
We flew out of the house. There were supplies to be bought, buildings to be boarded, bags to be packed. We lived in a mobile home, so there was nothing to do but take a few valuables, leave, and hope for the best. All women in their third trimester were urged to check into a hospital. Everyone was urged to be in their safe place by 7:00 PM that evening.

At 7:30 PM, we were still driving around trying to locate and take down all his mother’s real estate signs. Decapitating someone with a giant metal sign, especially one with your name and phone number on it, can be a liability. When his shiftless brother-in-law called asking if we had any extra plywood, and could we go over and help him board up his house, I lost it. I had a little temper tantrum, slamming and splattering a large iced tea across the dashboard of G's truck, and demanded to be taken to the hospital immediately.

In addition to the bag with all the Lamaze junk and mom and baby’s home-from-the-hospital outfits, we had been advised by the hospital to bring blankets, pillows, flashlights, radio, batteries, and drinking water. We checked in and they directed us to an enormous conference room filled with pregnant women and their families. We promptly left, and found a spot in a hallway, which was no less crowded, but its smaller dimensions seemed less overwhelming. Until the teenaged girl and her boyfriend seated across from us cranked up their boombox.

We escaped to the spacious front lobby of the hospital where I hoped to stake out a bench or chair to call my own. No luck, but there were only a few other people who had discovered this haven. No amount of cajoling by the security guard was going to make me move. G’s sister showed up and delivered hot sausage and pepper subs to us before she was kicked out. We spent another sleepless night, this time on the concrete floor listening to continuous weather reports. The eye of Hurricane Andrew, now Category 4, had shifted direction by just a degree or two toward the south and was passing below us, making its way into Dade County.

I couldn’t bear sitting around anymore, so as soon as the coffee shop opened, I jumped up to find some orange juice and call my mother, to let her know that she had not missed anything and that we would be going home as soon as they’d let us out of here.

Oooh. What was that? Must have been the sausage and peppers. Oooh, there it is again. Ohhhhhhhh...

They made us walk the hallways, apparently half of the 700 or so women there were experiencing some sort of contractions, to be sure this was for real. While I hobbled around from lobby to lobby, we watched live broadcasts of people calling into television stations to say that their roofs had blown off and wondering if they were about to die.

When they determined that I was truly in labor, like I had any doubts, and finally allowed us upstairs, we were surprised to see our good friend, Connie, head of labor and delivery. “What are you doing here?” we wondered, “You're supposed to be sailing around the Bahamas!”

She, just as surprised to see us, replied, “They called me in for emergency duty, what are you doing here?!”

Well, duh, Connie.

As I’m watching the spikes peak on my monitor, everyone else is glued to the television as the first reports of major damage start to come in. Who cares that the bloody planes are flipped over at the airport?! Look at me, I’m having a baby over here!

Thank God for Connie. She realized we had been up for over 36 hours and gave me something to sleep. The next thing I’m aware of, she’s in my face, telling me to wake up, it’s time to push out that baby. Beautiful S was born at 2:56 PM.

The hospital was in crisis mode, officially no visitors, yet my mom still managed to slip past the security guard with an emotional plea about seeing her first grandchild, and my brother and his fiancé entered through the morgue with a flip of his police badge. I was happily hallucinating from the Stadol, opiates are wonderful things, unable to recall much more than that.

We arrived home two days later to find our mobile home miraculously undamaged, we hadn't even lost electricity, even though the park next door to us recorded gusts up to 136 miles per hour before their wind gauge blew away.

S’s first few weeks of life were accompanied by the non-stop sound of CH-46 helicopters flying over our farm, delivering supplies to our desperate neighbors down south.

If you weren’t there, you might not be aware of how close to anarchy things were in southwest Miami. It was a desperate time. Anyone remember Kate Hale? Floridians love guns and own lots of them, so when several panicky days passed before the government got around to taking any decisive action, people were ready to use them.

G waited a few days until all the scammers and unlicensed contractors were finally chased out of town before he went down to begin repairing people’s property. That was the silver lining. Up to that time, we had been struggling with our finances as the construction business dried up in the recession. Business boomed with the flood of insurance money and he has never wanted for work since.

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a Belizean guy exactly nine months prior to Hurricane Andrew, while we stood atop the vistors’ gallery of Belize's Philip Goldson International Airport, waiting for the plane to arrive that carried my husband, who I had not seen in several weeks, and the local guy's friends. He wanted to know why, after seven years together, my husband and I didn’t have any babies yet.

“We can’t afford to.”

He laughed, “Jah provide.”

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