By BG © 2004
I don’t know why they do it. Floridians, that is. I don’t know why they insist on living right in the paths of turbulent and destructive storms that cruise through and demolish everything in their wakes.
It just seems so easy to move to San Diego or Reno or Duluth, or just anywhere that can’t be touched by the angry winds and torrid rains of these hurricanes.
It just seems so easy.
“Easy,” somehow, is never the easy answer.
I’ve never lived in Florida, and would never want to. But I did survive Hurricane Jeanne. Barely, by the skin of my teeth, with the clothes on my back, with nothing left to show but what was left of my sanity and bank accounts on the tail end. Her winds were punishing, her downpour relentless.
And I’m here to tell you that the worst part of it all is when you’re right in the eye.
It’s a ridiculously powerless feeling to have known the rage, having fought through the initial push of the storm, and to all of a sudden be in an eerily calm period of sedentary serenity. You can still sense the uproar and turmoil all around, threatening to crush you from any side, but she’s quiet, cool, collected. Waiting for you to blink.
The screaming and wailing stops in the eye, but so do the whispers and insinuations. It’s the prolonged uncomfortable silence where she just waits for you to catch your breath before thrashing you mercilessly with everything she has left.
The calm, in and of itself, is its own form of attack. As any boxer can tell you, dealing with fury is the easy part. Put your guard up, don’t let go until she’s too tired to swing anymore. You’ll end up bruised, beaten, and bloodied, but still standing, still consciously aware of the fight that’s yet to come. When she withdraws however, you catch yourself looking over your shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop, preoccupied by the thought that there is another battle left in you, in her, and it could come at any time.
In the eye of the hurricane, it’s every man for himself. Rationale is useless against primal rage and I had few options against this storm that was either surging into her purpose and resolution, or menacing herself free of anything that could possibly have been holding her back. This is what keeps you looking back, keeping watch on the horizon behind. If she had just given a hint, a small clue of her intentions, I would have been much more able to prepare myself for the onslaught.
This is the unpredictability of nature at work. At her core, Jeanne’s uncertain course is what defined her. What initially looked like a narrow escape, a thankful pass off the wide side, instead turned directly into everything I had, everything I with which had been secure and comfortable. She decided, somewhere mid-course, to choose the path of chaos and destruction rather than to let a hard rain be a simple hard rain. And I was completely unprepared.
In retrospect, I can remember seeing the flags offshore, red flags with that ominous black square, but I continued happily unaware. Even when the rains started, and the wind moved from breezy to unstoppable, I always felt like things would calm down, that the sunshine would return, and that life could be shifted back to blissful normalcy.
It wasn’t until halfway through her first push that I started to get confused.
I was out of my element. Darkness descends quickly when the clouds are spinning and collapsing into themselves, and I was driven into retreat by the powerful bedlam crashing and gusting in every corner of my world. It’s not difficult to find a place to hide from the storm’s obvious fury, but the windows in my bedroom still rattled, and I lived in constant fear that the roof might at any time collapse under the sheer strain of her unrelenting power.
That’s how she raged, with absolute will and power. And it was in that first night, under the covers, crying uncertain tears, that I lost my power.
I closed my eyes, pulled the covers over my head, and pinched what remaining tears I hadn’t spent in the hours before out of the corners of my clenched eyes. It was dark, and I was in darkness, and there was no one by my side to reassure me that the lights would someday come back on.
The storm heaved and seized, gusting through with enough clout to topple oaks and uproot entire lives. And I lay in my room, quietly, eyes safely shut, waiting to hear something, nothing, anything other than the madness of the storm’s swath.
”Let’s go get tattoos.”
She was serious. There was barely a hint of a smile on her face as we drove through Saturday afternoon traffic, and I could tell she wasn’t remotely close to kidding.
“You know how I feel about needles,” I said, “I’m not getting anywhere near one of those joints.”
“But you can get my name tattooed on you, and I can get your name inside my other tattoo. I’ve been saving that space for you.” She was eager, and imploring me to reconsider.
“No. Nuh-uh. Needles freak me out, he’ll poke me once, I’ll run out of there screaming, and we’ll be out $200.”
“Why? Is it because I asked you to get my name tattooed? Is it me?” Was she panicking? I wasn’t close to being able to understand what was going on in this instant. It was as if I flipped a switch in her somewhere. Deep in her eyes, there was this inexplicable fear, or maybe it was just uncertainty. Either way, I was confused.
“I can’t... I mean I won’t do it,” I was treading lightly, I knew I was in a delicate situation, but why? “I just can’t stand the thought of being poked with a needle. You know I’m a wimp. I don’t like tattoos anyway. We could go to dinner instead...”
Instantly, she became at once furious and deeply wounded. “You NEVER want to do anything fun. You’re so fucking lame. All I want is to go get fucking tattoos, and I want to do it to show you I LOVE YOU. And you can’t even return the goddamn favor.”
She was huffing back what threatened to be more serious tears, and was staring straight out in front of the car, desperately trying to appear less hurt than she obviously was.
I drove another couple of blocks, completely bewildered at the range of emotions I had witnessed over the last three minutes. Where was this coming from?
“This isn’t about tattoos, is it?” I was trying to throw her an olive branch, trying desperately to understand what it was she was really talking about.
“It’s ABOUT the tattoos, and it’s ABOUT every other fucking thing too.” The tears were raining heavily, but still were unable to flood the spite and anger from her eyes. “It’s about you being NO FUCKING FUN anymore. Remember when you were fun? When we were fun? Well, I don’t anymore. You’re an old man Tony, an old man.”
We drove in silence for a few more moments, the tension heavy as she debated whether to play her final card.
“I don’t even fucking know why I’m still with you.”
And then the eye, calm. Dead, silent, calm. It’s as if she’s looking at you, but right through you, concentrating intently on anything but you. By this point, you’re past the point of action, well beyond any feasible solution. But still, you try to make sense of the storm. Try to understand how to ride her crest, well out in front of whatever doom she’s threatening to lay down in her next go-round. Try to divine how to buttress what was left of what might have been before irrational disaster crushes everything that remains.
Try to figure out how to get out, flee.
It’s useless. I cursed the storm, threatened the elements that had brought her into my life. I gave offerings, penance to the driving forces, trying to even her keel.
I took the extended silence she offered as hope, and began to believe she wouldn’t rage in my world again.
But all the while, I was looking over my shoulder at the horizon behind. Storm clouds were looming again, and this time I understood that promises in the light mean nothing against purpose under a veil of clouds.
“He’s coming. I didn’t ask him to, I swear to god.”
In the past two months, I had finally figured out what the late nights on the computer, and the refusal to come to bed at a decent hour meant. It meant that she was on the phone, or chatting over the PC with Mick.
I didn’t actually catch on fully until I put a piece of software on the computer that tracked her keystrokes. I saw a one-sided conversation between my wife and some English guy named Mick on the Instant Messenger, and I was stunned to see phrases like, “I love you,” “You’re who I’ve been waiting my whole life for,” and “You make me feel whole again.”
My wife. Mine.
I tried every angle I could when confronting her with this infidelity. I played nice, I offered my love and support, I wailed with sadness and screamed in tortured anger.
She wouldn’t blink, and she wouldn’t fight anymore. The girl I spent countless nights telling every secret I had, talking about everything and nothing to ensure I wouldn’t miss a single moment, had almost completely shut me out.
And it’s not as if there was nothing more to say. Each moment we spent silently sharing space was thick with every problem, every issue that remains to this day unspoken.
“He’s coming. I didn’t ask him to, I swear to god.”
“Who’s coming? When?” The first question was almost rhetorical.
“Mick. You know who. He’s flying into Detroit the Thursday before Halloween. I don’t even know if I want to see him.” She couldn’t have played this any better at the time. Very matter-of-fact, extending that ray of hope that I needed in order to not leave her, which was what she needed to gather time to turn her fantasies into realities.
I was tired. During those times, I was always tired. I didn’t have the strength to challenge her advances, so I faced these circumstances with quiet resignation, and always just a little bit of hope. “If you see him, I’m going to leave you.” I’m not even sure I convinced myself.
For the first time in what seemed like months, she seemed to open up and gave me the smile I had fallen in love with in the first place. “Honey, don’t say that. I don’t want to leave you, and I don’t want you to go.”
“Then I need you to cut it off with Mick. I can’t take this anymore.”
“I’ve got a lot I need to figure out, and I’m sorry about that. I asked Mick not to come, but he bought his ticket. I won’t see him if you ask me not to.” She seemed sincere, and every instinct I had told me to take the deal.
“OK, I’m asking you. Don’t see him.”
She didn’t come home the Thursday before Halloween.
Or the Friday.
She spurned every advance, every peaceful hand I tried to extend. She brought the darkness back swiftly, and drove me back behind the walls, into the blackened house, under the covers. She pounded on the doors and windows, threatened to lift the roof off and throw me out homeless into her fury. I stayed silent now, as a man who shouts into the wind is unlikely to recognize his own voice in return.
I let her punch and rumble and shake my foundation with constant pressure. It was in this darkness that I knew I could rely on no one but myself. She was going to pound every inch of my life flat if given the opportunity, but she would also blow over at some point. And it was in the genesis of that thought that I knew I could no longer live in her wake. Trapped, as it were, alone in my house, powerless, unable to bring myself to shed a single tear further, I relented.
“I need some time, a break... I bought the ticket today.”
She had told me she wanted to get away. At first, it was a weekend, then a “week or two,” and eventually it bubbled over into “a few weeks.”
I didn’t want her to go, but if she was going to leave, I only had one condition. Anywhere but England.
“You bought the ticket with what money exactly?” With rent and two ridiculously big car payments, we were already well behind in bills.
“I have some money due from some of my contacts.” Self-employed, I didn’t have a grasp on how little or how much. “I bought it with my business account.”
“So you bought the ticket to where? Tell me you’re going to Denver. California. Where are you going?”
“England. I’m leaving two days before Christmas, and I’ll be back in mid-February.” She paused to let that sink in. “I really want you to be here when I get back. I want to make this work.”
“If you want to make this work, don’t go to England. You can go anywhere else you want. You’ve got friends all over. Why does it have to be England?”
“I have to see... I just have to see.” She got that wistful, faraway look in her eyes, as if she was already nibbling a scone sitting on the banks of the Thames in her mind.
“Fuck you and your ‘have to see.’ If you want me here when you get back, you’re not getting on a plane to England.” After nearly eight months of living outside the center of my wife’s world, I had one simple request. Take a break if you need to, but don’t expect me to stick around if you are factoring Mick into the equation.
“Don’t you care at all about me?” Her voice was starting to rise, trying to make the emotional plea while keeping her obvious frustration couched behind. “I have to do this FOR ME. Maybe I was too young to get married, maybe we aren’t supposed to be together. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we ARE meant to be with each other forever. I don’t know any other way to find this out than to see what’s in England. I have to go, and you have to understand that.”
I wasn’t understanding.
“You need to let me find this out for myself.”
I was livid. Absolutely fucking livid. For about a month following her disappearance during Mick’s visit, she seemed to be trying. On the surface, she was doing everything I asked of her, or so I thought. I didn’t catch her talking to Mick, and I started to see glimpses of the beautiful and vibrant woman I married instead of the sullen girl that could only find her sunshine outside her spiral of depression.
She had played me for a sucker, planning her next steps in seclusion, giving me almost no time to react and plead my case along the way.
“Here’s how it’s going to work,” I started, with venom lacing each word for full effect, “you get on that plane, I pack my shit and leave. I don’t give a fuck about the rent, about the car payments, anything. If you get on that plane, everything we have here is fucking over. You understand that?”
Tears came quickly for her, and for the first time I think she understood that she was at a point of no return. “Don’t you trust me?” was the only thing she could muster.
I started crying. Lightly at first, still trying to feel more angry than anything, but then was bawling with a purpose. I took her around the waist and pulled her close. “How can I trust you with everything that you’ve done to us, everything you’ve done to me?” I was sobbing, and for the first time I really knew she was leaving.
And for the first time, I think she really knew I was leaving too.
“I’ll call you every day out there, and I won’t do anything to ruin our marriage, I promise.”
“I’m not going to take your calls. If you go, you can do whatever you want because you’re not going to find me here when you get back.”
Less than two weeks later, when her father came to take her to the airport she pleaded with me one last time to let her come back to our house, our life, and what love we might still have left together. It wasn’t the last time we would shed tears together, and certainly wasn’t truly our final separation, but that night is marked in my mind as a point of closure, the night I knew with absolute certainty that I had to be the one to leave. I didn’t have an airplane, a European destination, or anyone waiting for me on the other side. I was the one whose future was obscured by clouds, and on whose shoulders the rebuilding would ultimately begin.
I let her go, and never have regretted keeping my final promise to her.
I rode out the storm and watched her carry herself out over the ocean, surveying the damage left behind in her path. As I look over what’s left, my life was not littered with true rubble or visible scars and bruises. Where Hurricane Jeanne took her toll is in my inability to see the light. Because of her, I keep one eye always over my shoulder, looking and squinting into the horizon, doing everything I can to fashion storm clouds out of thin air. She took that away from me. The serene and quiet moments of my life are now shrouded by an irrational fear of impending doom and failure.
She created all of this. Jean.
Despite it all, I really do miss her badly.
BG is a blogger from Michigan whose favorite color is blue, enjoys long walks on the beach, and hopes to use this platform to promote world peace and awareness of nut cancer.