Like a Hurricane

We just climbed Mount Whitney, and there’s so much I want to say about that, I’ve created a new tab on this blog — where I can provide a recap of the experience and a bit of a how-to.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, a word about the hurricane.

In the nearly ten years I’ve lived in Washington and New York combined, two hurricanes have landfallen the Megalopolis that stretches from Washington to Boston: Isabel and Irene.  I was on the west coast for both: during Isabel, I was in California for my cousin’s wedding; during Irene, I was in California to climb Mount Whitney.  At both times, Mercury was in retrograde and I was at a crossroads in my life.

This is what 2003 looked like:

It was before the war; before anything had happened: prior to my dad’s open-heart surgery; back when I was still with George.  That’s me with my dad, above — my dad with the bad heart that was about to smother him, and me covering up my breaking one with an evening gown. 

My parents were silently praying I’d catch the bouquet that night.  But I was out back smoking with the ne’er do wells, wondering how I was going to get myself out of the jam that was George Meredith.  I didn’t love him.  I didn’t want to marry him.  But he was inside exploring the possibility of the future with my father.

The next day, on the San Mateo bridge, driving between the wedding in Belmont and George’s parents’ house in Martinez, I turned to him and told him the things I was feeling.  That none of the stuff he had planned was an option for me; I would not move to San Francisco.  Shocked, he left California; went back to our house in Virginia, and I stayed on another week with his parents.

Back home, Hurricane Isabel raged/  I missed it.  I had nothing at stake in Washington; nothing to lose, nothing that might be damaged in the storm.  Worse, I knew it.  When I finally landed at Dulles sometime later in September, the District and environs were different — angrier, more exposed — and needing cover, I immediately left George for Andrew.  My parents’ hearts broke.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward to the present, and I found myself on the West Coast again with a hurricane anticipated at home.  Being older and more established (i.e., having now acquired two law degrees; two bar admissions; having married and divorced; etc.), there was something terrifying about a natural disaster that I couldn’t feel as if I could control. 

So, this is what 2011 looked like, eight years later, almost to the day:

I wonder if these pictures each are worth 1,000 words; if the contrast between 2003’s fancy dress photo, and the 2011 post-22 mile hike/climb snapshot sums up the experience of these years better than I have (and ever could have) in words.

How could so much have happened between the storms — and had the hearts of both of us really been changed in such fundamental ways?  The doctors at my alma mater had taken out my father’s heart in 2004, just six months after the 2003 snapshot above; filled the organ with mechanical parts.  Two years later, I had my own heart troubles, brought on by my eating d!sorder.  In our family, we’d been propelled into chaos by one hurricane, and now down from the mountain and into the arms of another…we had, nonetheless, survived, and had the worst of our damage repaired.

The hurricanes were bookends, maybe.  Two furious storms beginning and ending a chapter in my life — one that roared in with the unpredictable frenzy of Isabel, where there was nothing to lose; and one that slipped out with the calculated fury of Irene, when I had so much at stake.  But what I didn’t know during that first storm is that while I thought I had nothing to lose, it had in fact shaken me loose of my bearings; it had kicked off a shuddering that would last for eight more years because I didn’t properly batten down the hatches, as the local newscasters had admonished me to do before I travelled to the West Coast.

This next chapter does not appear to begin with me heading off into the clear, autumn sunset with my future husband, the way that life began after Isabel.  And I do not know much of anything else.  But I do know that eight years’ wisdom and a much stronger heart make for a likable protagonist.

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