September 6, 2017
What Didn’t Kill Me
Chapter 6: 11 Weeks, about the size of a lime
Grief is not linear. I’m jagged. I finally make it to July, but based on my cycles, it turns out to be August before we can try to get pregnant again. I take a test and wait three minutes for the negative. Getting pregnant now would put my new due date exactly at the week of my miscarriage in April. My body knows, and won’t have it.
September taunts as my November due date approaches—I’m not pregnant, I’m not pregnant, I’m not pregnant—and our window for trying this month gets sabotaged by, of all things, hurricanes.
Frances is coming, and it’s a monster, projected to hit nearly the entire state of Florida. Wayne and I hang shutters, stack plants and patio furniture in the garage, and tie down our boat. Then we pack photo albums into the car and evacuate to Naples, the southwest corner of Florida, the one little tip of the state falling outside The Weather Channel’s Cone of Projection. We stay with family friends and watch the TV fretfully for two days as the news reports declare (over and over and over) a Category 3 direct hit on Stuart, and helplessly wonder what we’ll return home to.
We return to a mess. Our yard is destroyed—the fence is in pieces, trees and bushes are naked and mangled, and our enormous maple tree has been ravaged, huge chunks of it hurled throughout the yard and crushing our boat. Debris is waist high throughout the entire backyard, and I have to fight my way to our little lime tree, ripped branches and bougainvillea shredding my legs.
“You made it,” I pant.
Roof shingles are literally everywhere, sticky, black palettes strewn throughout the demolished vegetation. Our roof is stripped, but the inside water damage is confined to the garage. We lose power for eight days. We are lucky. So is my mom, who is just days away from moving from New York to a house here that is seemingly, miraculously, untouched by the storm.
The clean-up is broiling hot and back-breaking, so when I feel a twinge in my abdomen, it registers as just another sore muscle instead of ovulation. By the time I realize my mistake a few sweltering, exhausted days later, we’ve blown our chance for the month, and a new flame of rage ignites.
“I can’t stand all the bitching anymore—at the office, Publix, on the radio. All I hear is, ‘No TV! No air conditioning!’ Big fucking deal. I wish everyone would just shut the fuck up already.”
“Some people had it worse than us,” Wayne says. “I don’t think there’s a roof in town that doesn’t have a blue tarp on it. You should have seen the line at FEMA.”
“Whatever. This was no Hurricane Andrew. Our town is not lying on the ground in toothpicks. Nobody died. Why the hell is everyone is so freaked out now, while they just carried on when the worst thing happened five months ago?”
Three weeks later, power trucks from all over the country haven’t even left yet when another hurricane approaches. We turn on the Weather Channel, and Jim Cantore is coming back to Stuart. “You have got to be shitting me,” is all I can say.
As Hurricane Jeanne looms, Wayne and I decide not to evacuate, as much out of laziness as anything. “I really don’t want to do it all again,” Wayne says.
“I can’t,” I agree. “I don’t care what fucking happens.”
When Jeanne finally hits, we sit in our shuttered house with my mom and her husband, who have moved from New York. It is ink black and roaring loud. We initially talk and play Yahtzee by flashlight to distract ourselves, but eventually we give up and just sit in the dark wincing, trying to guess which sounds are snapping trees or hurtling projectiles and which are just the ferocious, whipping wind.
Jeanne makes landfall in Stuart, in nearly the exact location as Frances, and as the eye of the storm passes directly above us, it becomes eerily quiet and calm. We break the seal of the house, and the four of us go outside to assess the half-time damage.
I go straight to our lime tree. Since we planted it in May, I’ve visited with it every day after my run, and there is one lime in particular that I’ve been rubbing for weeks as my heart rate slows. This lime somehow, incredulously, remained hanging after Hurricane Frances, but now it has fallen. I pick it up and am suddenly seized by melancholy. I go back in the house without a word to the others, place the lime on my nightstand, and climb into bed, my chest aching.
Wayne comes in and kisses me in the dark. “You okay?” I just roll over, my sadness as thick as the night. The storm picks up again, the second half more vicious than the first. I don’t care. It sounds like a freight train is barreling across the top of our house, like the roof may fly off any minute and carry us to Oz, and I don’t care. I think about my Limey and sleep through the second half of a Category 3 hurricane.
Our lime tree makes it again. We lose power for another week. Generators scream. I want to kill people.
I keep my fallen lime on my nightstand until it starts to shrivel. “We need to do something with it, H,” Wayne says gently.
“I know, but I can’t just throw it away.”
“Come on,” he says, reaching for me. “We’ll put it back.”
Together, we bury it at the base of the lime tree, and each time I go there I think about it and hope it enriches the soil, helping the tree grow and blossom with new fruit. Other people have their prayers, I guess I have my tree. It’s been so long since I’ve felt happy.
For the next month, I drag myself to work each day, slap on a fake smile, and feel relief only when I close the door behind me at home again. Wayne stops asking if I want to go out or do anything. I wish friends would stop asking too. I try to at least talk on the phone a bit, but soon all I hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher, bwam-bwamp, bwam-bwamp, bwam-bwamp. Sometimes I hang up on someone mid-sentence, and finally, I stop talking to anyone altogether, as I live life in two-week increments from period to ovulation to pregnancy test.
No marathon was ever this exhausting.