Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cincinnati Windstorm (or My Life in the Dark) part 1

The storm had come on Sunday, in huge whipping bursts of wind through our fair city. By the end of it over half a million homes and businesses were without power.

As we sat on our balcony in the silence of the evening, staring out at the pitch black horizon of our new city, James smiled at me, a little weary, a little drained by the excitement of the day. I squeezed his hand and returned an encouraging grin and then got up from my chair and walked inside. In the darkness, in this cavernous room I walked and turned and slowly sat down. I lit a candle and picked up my guitar and began to play, singing light and airy versions of dark and worry-laden songs. It's all I could do. The quiet was unbearable. The silence and darkness and stifled air of this day had to be overcome. I brought but little sheet music with me when we moved and was bored with what lingered in my memory (mostly Red House Painters songs) so I turned to a book of songs by REM, the piano book for Automatic For The People. "Find the River" became a waltz, "Try Not To Breathe" a quiet bossa nova, "Nightswimming" a climbing clumsy jumper, and "Everybody Hurts" (a song I'd never had much use for) turned into a loud and lovely twist of blues. James walked in, pulling his beard with a twinkle in his eye. "I think the whole city is feeling this song right now. Nice."

I love our apartment, with it's huge fireplaces and dark woodwork. I love having my things about me, all of my family heirlooms, the cream and gold of french provincial, the straight lines and dark stain of my grandfather's craftsmanship. Illuminated by candlelight that first evening, they became ever more so dear to me. Our apartment became a home, a refuge, and it was beautiful.

We were afraid to open the fridge. I called my brother for consult and text messaged Morgan "How long will it stay cool if we don't open it?" No one quite knew the answer. What we did know was that reports thus far had said that it may take a week to restore power. I sat in the kitchen and stared at the refrigerator, thinking of the incredible amount of produce just on the other side of that insulated door. I thought of the bright colors, the red of the radishes, the yellow of the spaghetti squash, the green of the serrano chili peppers. I thought of their brilliance slowly diminishing. Ice. I needed ice. Then I could save my poor produce from a terrible fate, if that could be the fate at all, for in truth we had no idea. The state of things inside of our fridge could only be guessed at, theorized with furrowed brows and the forceful wringing of hands. The next morning, James went on to school (UC had power) and I ventured across the east side of city in search of Ice.

"WE HAVE POWER. WE ARE OPEN." declared the handwritten sign on the glass door of the Meier's General store. I parked my car and walked inside to find but little light coming from an occasional security lamp and the Check-out Area. Otherwise, the store was completely dark. And it was comparatively busy for early morning. People were walking swiftly past me. I followed, scanning the aisles as I headed towards the back. Little glimmers of light lit the shelves. I stopped and stared. Every person around me held up a flashlight. They were all shopping with mag-lights in hand and it wasn't as if they were foraging for supplies. I turned to my right and up the aisle in Womens Clothing, a woman stood perusing a rack of shirts, holding her flashlight up with one hand, checking the size and price tag with the other. Maybe she had run out of clean clothes. But she sauntered down past a shelf of jeans and a display of dresses and touched them almost whimsically as she walked by, as if it was a normal day and she was just getting out of the house, as if the stoplights down the street and across the entire city worked just fine (and people weren't driving absentmindedly and dangerously straight through every one), as if every grocery store within a 20 mile radius hadn't yellow-taped their rapidly defrosting frozen foods section, as if every gas station on every corner had a huge refrigerated room full of ice. No one had ice. Not even dry ice. Nothing. I went home to play my guitar.

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