Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane
Many years ago, Josh was on a work trip to Berlin and I was at home in our old apartment. For some reason, the government issued an emergency preparedness situation for DC — something tied to chemical warfare or biological warfare — due to intelligence or some pivotal moment in the war.
The news came around noon, and my boss suggested that I head out to the hardware store early to collect supplies since the lines were likely to be long. So I left the school early and went out to a nearby hardware store where the lines were already long. I loaded my cart with painter’s plastic, duct tape, and the infamous pee bucket. I filled an enormous box with all the dictated supplies: manual can opener, food, toilet paper, water.
I was proud of myself for being so prepared, and friends came over to marvel at the organizational quality of our supplies (for instance, I had even packed dry showers and pantiliners so we could avoid that not-so-fresh feeling). We never used the supplies except to dip into the food portion and consume the dry-roasted peanuts when we wanted to make trail mix and didn’t have any nuts in the house. Over the years, the box has fallen into disrepair and kicked to the corner of the storage room.
All other disasters, we’ve sort of shrugged our shoulders and had a few items in the house, but we’ve never refilled the emergency preparedness box.
I spent Friday going around town, collecting things we might need — just the basics this time — for the storm. Batteries, flashlights, food, water. I filled the car with gasoline because the Washington Post told me to fill the car with gasoline. And, of course, I charged the portable Internet. I mean, Internet access is an emergency supply, right?
Here’s the thing: you can’t really prepare. I wrote this post before the storm hit and scheduled it to run while we were in the hurricane. Therefore, I don’t know the outcome; though you do. Isn’t that strange? I’m writing about it, knowing the storm is coming, but it’s still two states away. And you are reading this, with the storm already here, knowing more than I do about its actual destruction.
Like so many places in life, you run around beforehand, trying to prepare yourself, thinking you can prepare yourself, but how can one really prepare themselves? You know what I need right now more than I knew what I would need when this moment came. It’s all the curse of retrospect. I’m sure I’m kicking myself over an item I didn’t think to get or a grill that wasn’t tied down. But how could I possibly know what would happen even though you can see the situation so clearly from the time period where you stand?
We prepared so long for the twins to separate into two rooms: talked about it, cried about it, shopped for it, cleaned for it. And then the first night came and it went nothing how we predicted. Well, yes, it mostly followed one of the scenarios we considered, but since we thought up at least ten different scenarios, that isn’t that extraordinary. And there was also a curve ball thrown into the night for good measure; something we couldn’t have predicted. Life only allows you to prepare so far.
We’ve prepared to return to school: bought the binders and scissors, filled out the forms, met the teacher, connected with the other students. I think that we’ve done our best to set them on a good path. But I’m sure that no matter how prepared I feel in this moment, I will feel the same amount of surprise at some point in the year as I would if the chair legs gave out on the IKEA kitchen set. There is simply no way to know, no way to cover all my bases. I’ll probably kick myself at some point when retrospect kicks in and I say to myself, “I should have known, I should have thought about this.”
Maybe this post is just a reminder that I couldn’t have known.
Even good things; it’s just impossible to know. Parenting, for example, is both close to what I thought and miles away from what I imagined before the twins arrived. I think it can be even worse for infertile men and women because we spend so much time focusing on getting pregnant and staying pregnant, or having a safe delivery, or finalizing the adoption that we sometimes forget to look ahead. And frankly, sometimes it’s just too hard to look ahead. I couldn’t spend my time visualizing myself as a mother when I was in the throes of treatments. I had to focus my energy on getting through the next blood draw, the next injection, the next procedure. It also hurt too much to think too long about myself as a mother when I couldn’t get to motherhood.
And so, when I was finally in a place to parent, it felt a lot like preparing for a hurricane. You read the books and you buy the supplies and you imagine through 1000 scenarios. And then parenting actually happens and it rarely goes exactly as planned. Which is both good and bad. You kick yourself in retrospect and you congratulate yourself for forethought. But it’s all just a game of roulette, with the figurative ball bouncing along the wheel. It could go red or it could go black and there’s just no way to truly know ahead of time.
Even bad things; it’s just impossible to know. Saying goodbye to someone, for example. You prepare yourself mentally and you prepare the logistics and you take off from work and choose the outfit for the funeral. And then the moment is there and retrospect kicks in, remembering the one last thing you wanted to say, the one last question you wanted to ask. There is simply no way to truly prepare yourself, to do enough that you pass through the grief smoothly. There are only things you can do so that you don’t have regrets, but that preparatory work doesn’t scoop the sadness out of a person’s heart.
I don’t know if anyone has really discovered a way to do that.
I was as prepared as I could be for this storm, and it may turn out to be nothing: simply bad rain. Or it could turn out to lead to a loss of power or flooding. I have the last bag of M&Ms that were at the store. We have many bottles of water. We have four different types of granola bars so we can have a granola bar feast if need be. But you know exactly how I weathered the storm because you’re reading this about 24 hours after it was written.
Isn’t that strange — you know more than I do about my own life.