Staying #NewBernStrong in Exile

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Better days.

I haven’t updated this blog in almost a week. And the past two weeks have been the most emotionally tumultuous I’ve ever experienced.

During these two weeks, we’ve prepared for what looked to be a historic storm. We took all the accumulated junk from outside and got it inside our house or tied down somewhere on the exterior. Lawnmowers, barbecue grills, trash cans, outdoor furniture—our outdoor furniture is now in our downstairs, cobwebs and all.

While my husband and son concentrated on that, I tried to figure out what was most precious to me. What couldn’t be replaced if we left and our house was flooded or the roof ripped off. If you’ve never had to do this, it’s emotionally exhausting. Because nothing you own can ever really be replaced. The sofa the cats clawed, the coffee table the kids ruined by never using coasters, the half-broken rocking chair you nursed your daughter in when she came home from the hospital eleven years ago—you can get newer and better and less broken, but you have these things still because you actually love your animals and your kids and the memories make the faults more beautiful.

We wound up packing our kids, our dogs, our cats, our bearded dragon, some photo albums, my mother’s charm bracelet, a necklace and earrings my son saved up to give me for my birthday when he was ten and a few other odds and ends into our two cars, finally, and trekking to an Airbnb in Charlotte. And then the anxious waiting began.

In the midst of it, I found I couldn’t even finish a sentence. I would start to speak and drift off mid-thought. My favorite pair of glasses (the only ones I brought) broke in half. The dogs don’t like being confined, and I’m constantly worried the cats are going to break or claw something. There’s a stray cat outside our Airbnb who has fleas and I’m worried about my animals getting them. I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee since I left home. And none of it matters.

The worst was hearing of friends waiting for rescue.

The best was when my oldest texted me from his college dorm. I’m so glad you guys left.

Our house made it. We’re some of the lucky ones.

My husband went back home a few days ago, but the kids and I remain in self-imposed exile. We’re watching news and trying to grasp that this is our home. Boats and docks that were peacefully moored when we left are no longer there. Some have been washed out to sea. Some sank. Some are now on dry land. Hundreds of people were rescued from attics and rooftops as they saw their homes flooded, their belongings and memories ripped away.

And in the midst of it, there are rainbows. I hear of neighbors collecting for those who lost everything, businesses giving food to first responders and power company linemen, neighbors organizing to help each other clean up, volunteers at the shelters which remain open while those who lost all look for permanent lodging. These are the lights in the darkness.

We want to go home more than anything, but our power is still out and my husband says stay. At least until the weekend. By some miracle of hard work, our city managed to protect the water so we do not have to boil it, but the sewage pumping stations were flooded and are in the process of being restored.

I know the work will be long when we get back, but I’m eager to begin it, whether it’s volunteering to help others, throwing spoiled food out of our refrigerator, picking up branches or running the book fair I had to leave behind at our school. No matter what, I’m happy I’m still here to do it.