the blackout

It began as rain. By dusk, the garbage cans had blown into the neighbor’s yard, scattering empty bottles all over his grass. The last time I checked on the rabbits, they were still safe.

The storm picked up just after dark. There was a sad moaning at the doors and windows as the wind tried to find a way in, growing incessantly louder as the night wore on. Outside, men scurried past our house after evening prayers, anxious to get to their homes or their cars. A stranger knocked on the front door; our basketball hoop had fallen onto our car.

At 7:30, the exterior of the house was lit by a violently vibrating blue light, accompanied by the buzzing of a million angry bees, and suddenly, the lights went out.

In frightened voices, the kids called from the upstairs bedrooms, and we called back them to wait where they were. We lit candles and climbed through the inky blackness of the stairwell, led them down into the living room. Jon lit a fire in the fireplace, and we sat in a circle of safety, listening to the crackle of the flames and the howl of the wind raging all around us. Only now did we become aware of the constant wail of sirens.

The text came a few minutes later. “OMG,” it read. “Mussafi’s father is dead.” Gabriella’s friend’s father had been killed by a falling tree on his way home from prayers. She burst into tears.

The next call was from Raphe. The house he was sleeping at had no power. No, we shouldn’t come for him. They had just received a call from the police. We were in a state of emergency. No one was to leave their homes.

People still had to eat. By candlelight, I made sandwiches for hungry, scared children. When I went to wash peanut butter and jelly off of my fingers, I discovered there was no water. That night, we all slept together in the same bed.

The next morning, we awoke to a changed town. No water, no electricity, no phone service, the skies dark and glowering, threatening more rain.

Our neighbor’s blue spruce lay like the carcass of an enormous furry prehistoric animal across the lawn. We gathered around it to stare. As I drove down streets I take every day, giant trees loomed suddenly before me, as large and as wide as dinosaurs, fallen wantonly across the middle of the road. Whichever way I turned, there were blocked streets, police tape, orange cones, people gathered in hushed silence. Houses were hidden beneath snapped 100 foot tree trunks, power lines snaked across sidewalks and streets. Webs of tree roots rose ten feet into the air, pulling up pavement and driveways. Telephone poles leaned at crazy angles. Smashed traffic lights hung useless and dark.

We’re so accustomed to banishing shadows with the flick of a switch, running water, indoor toilets, hot showers, email, telephones, traffic lights, refrigeration. By now, I can’t write without a computer. The kids can’t do homework without the Internet. The familiarity of civilization. In a flash of blue light, it is suddenly gone, you don’t know when you will get it back, and the man working on the power lines doesn’t know either.

But you think about the man who lost his life the night before, and you are grateful for what you have–you are alive, your house is undamaged, and all you really have to do is find a store that has bottled water and batteries.

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