Wish yourself into the eye of a hurricane. Search for your home in the sea of red pixels at the center of the storm. See the national news anchor stand where you and your friends took prom pictures; hear him say the coming night will smash it to pieces.
When the storm passes, it’s not as bad as it could have been. Downgraded from a four to a two, Florence sits and spins on the Carolina shores, and when she passes, Wilmington is still standing—but it is an island. Roads look like rivers, skies are impassable and the sea is churning stronger than any time in memory.
This is not a new story—gas lines stretching for miles, power and water lines shut off, nuclear reactors narrowly avoiding crisis, cars flooding, coastlines wrecked. This is not a new story. The litany of names stretches on through the years: Irma, Maria, Katrina, Hugo, Irene, Hazel, Matthew.
But this name—this name sticks like the pine-tar of your home in your mouth when you try to smile, because the thing that is different is you.
The morning of, the sun is shining. The Maine air is cool, and you are a thousand miles away. All you can hear is headlines scrolling, static blasting, snatches of old hymns; all you can do is check and check and check the radar; all you can do is wait for a call.
You know the deluge, know the drill. Once, you’d have dug out board games and books you’d been meaning to read, stockpiled camp-stoves and candles, boarded up windows, filled bathtubs with water and laughed, your parents beside you, the little house you were born in an island with all you need.
But this time there is nothing funny. This time, you’ve chosen a colder shore to seek your future, and it means that all you can do is wait for a call.
Climate is changing, and you are growing up: the storms are worse and there will be more of them, but you are not the only one who has lost things to fire or flood.
Your phone lights up. Not the call from your parents you desperately want—something else.
“I know your family is—we went through Irma—I remember, when the wildfire—thinking of you—we’ll be praying—if there’s anything I can do.”
From near-strangers, distant family, old friends: lifeboats, flares in the dark. Reminders that though adrift, I am never alone.
Home can turn so quickly into a minefield. Beloved ocean, keeper of my sunrise peace, turned monstrous in the space of a September. Golden-hour river, gleaming and twisting beneath sunset pines, devours the cobblestone streets. The Carolina blue skies are relentless with rain.
Changelings, traitors—but of course they are not the enemy.
There is no one to blame, and there would be no change in barometric pressure if I was home. But the truth cannot always penetrate the myths we weave for ourselves. I still wish myself into the eye of the hurricane, though I know it will do no good.
I wish I was dragging away downed trees and sweeping stormwater down pine-clogged drains. I wish I was hugging my friend whose roof caved in, my neighbors losing their livelihoods. I wish I had blisters and my phone turned off and my eyes full of my parents and collapsed roads and the sea, beautiful despite it all.
Instead, I pick at gourmet food from the dining hall and try to send love like radio waves from me to my hurting home.
When the storm is over, morning dawns on the robbery of a dollar general and a prayer circle on the raw sand. The ravaged world is held up by canned goods and chainsaws and loving our neighbors.
The power is back on, and the highways are drying up. It is not as bad as it could have been.
Looking to the horizon of the cold Maine ocean, I can exhale. I can stop waiting for a call.
Wishing myself into the eye of the hurricane, I know this: I cannot stop the winds nor change the rising tide. But there will always be a lifeboat for me, even when I am a thousand miles away.
Brianna Cunliffe is a member of the Class of 2022.