On Monday, September 11, An Open Book posted the first in a series of micro essays by participants in Inprint’s nonfiction workshop led by poet Cait Weiss Orcutt. She says, “Each piece serves as a proof of our city’s resilience—you can give us rain, wind, uncertainty and days of isolation, but as soon as we can find a pen, we will turn that into art.” For her full introduction and the first essay in this series, click this link.
“On the Brink of the Storm” by Stephanie Gunther Vaughan
The sun was burning the dry pavement under my bare feet as I stood at the mailbox. I was cautious not to step on the tiny camouflaged chameleons that leapt around the lower leaves of the vines that curled endlessly around the gate, where the mailbox was hinged. The competing green and brown lizards scurried by my freshly painted toes, seeking a new refuge. I stared up at the reaching arms of the once young oak tree that stretched above me, its protective branches covering most of our front yard. Only 13 years in this house, a chapter in mine, a short lifetime of my oldest daughter.
Out she comes on the porch, squinting in the glow of sunlight. “So can we go out to lunch? Obviously the storm isn’t coming today,” she says with disappointment and the declared authority of her new teenage status. I nod. “Give me a minute to check on things out here,” I say. Just give me a minute has become a personal motto, a predictable response…just a minute to stand still, to observe, to realize, to embrace. No, I think with the wisdom of a seasoned Houstonian, the storm will come; the sky deceives us, the singing birds, the floating carelessness of the butterflies, and the sound of people moving on the street all deceive us of the impending rain, deepening waters, threats to our homes, neighborhoods, our very proud city, determined not to be torn apart.
Yet as I stand with the stack of mail under my arm, I hear the jingling of dog tags, the laugh of children down the block, the groan of a lawnmower. I continue my brief surveillance of the tree, harboring two…no three nests, cradled in its strong embrace, the vibrant purple blooms on my wisteria, and the browning white ones on the magnolia. Despite the sensationalized warnings on the now non-stop news and its alarming red and yellow radars above our coast, it is easy to believe in our immunity, and the permanence of this day.
But tomorrow, my feet will stand in two feet of dark rushing water and no mail will be in the mailbox; random recreational boats and debris will glide collectively on the bayou only a few streets away, and the swollen ditch only feet from our door foreseeing the faint smell of mold and death. For the people watching the water creep into their homes the minutes will feel like hours, watching as it claims their possessions, knowing it may claim lives. The lizards will have fled upwards or drowned, the sun hidden behind dusty yellow clouds, and the shops and restaurants will be closed, locked indeterminately.
For days we will watch the looming shadow of uncertainty, wait for relief, and the assurance of a storm that has passed. Yet I stand here in the glow of a beautiful day, next to a home that is made of memories, and I wonder, when tomorrow comes with its promises of fury and loss, will my daughter still desire the adventure of anticipation, the thrill of being vulnerable to forces beyond her control, held prisoner to the allure of danger and its magnified media coverage, or will she want to go back to the careless serenity of today.