I was fourteen years old and my first year of high school had barely begun when Hurricane Katrina came through Miami and did relatively little damage except for pulling down power lines and leaving them that way for ten days or so, long enough to make life in the house uncomfortable to the point of painful, and so my dad decided to splurge, in the final days of our area’s blackout, and take us to a hotel. I think it was a Marriott near Dadeland Mall. My brother had a serious girlfriend at the time, whose parents adored him, so he was able to stay at her place for three or four days while I sat in a hotel room with my parents doing homework as they watched CNN.
Everybody knew, days in advance, that Katrina was gonna fuck up New Orleans and so there was a cloud of doom over all the reportage, all the assurances from local officials that precautions were being taken, that things were under control.
Then, as the storm came in, there was footage of the levies being flooded.
Water water everywhere.
Two or three days later we were back at our house in Pinecrest where the power had been restored but the whole place still felt stuffy and wet and the cockroaches acted very much like squatters who knew they had rights, if not quite what they were, and I remember thinking the bugs were weirdly slow to react whenever I turned on a bathroom light and, rather than scampering into a crevice, they stood around as though waiting for me to realize it was occupied.
But still, on local and cable news, the only story was New Orleans. The ravages of Katrina, horribly photogenic: the looting, the families stranded on rooftops with little dogs in their arms, people of all ages wading hip-deep in black water with stolen TVs on their shoulders. My dad tearing up at the story of an old woman drowning alone in her bedroom. George Bush seeming to appear before the press only if he was wearing something other than a suit.
Right now Hurricane Ida is hitting Louisiana and it’s looking like the damage will be just as bad as Katrina’s if not worse. My dad’s watching the coverage but I can’t bring myself to look at anything about it because the storm is steering my attention toward the huge existential fear that, as a Miami resident, I’m always trying to put out of my mind, which is the dread of this exact thing: The Big One.
In the days leading up to a serious hurricane it seems that the immediacy of life is thrust into your face.
On a daily basis I’m picking up shifts at the restaurant and budgeting myself and planning for things that’ll presumably happen a week from now, a month, a year.
Then there’s a stillness over the city and everyone is polite to each other because those plans are gone. Nobody knows how bad the damage will be. Nobody knows if they’ll have a house this time next week. Those of us who need an internet connection for our jobs are inconsolate, frantic, trying to do enough work to put us ahead of schedule.
The overt terror that I feel as a hurricane approaches is about discomfort, disorder, chaos, the cost of repairs, the lost income.
What I never tell myself I’m afraid of is dying. Though I am. Of dying or of having my whole life shoved to an indefinite halt because I suddenly have no roof to live under.
It’s days like this, when a hurricane in some other part of the world is showing exactly what my city’s up against, that I get to thinking I can’t possibly go on living in Miami.
Florida? Maybe. But not a coastal city.
I’m thinking of Louisiana today in that jittery hyper-awareness of a fact that’ll eventually turn itself around and head right here to roost: there, but for the grace of god, go i.