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HURRICANE IVAN: THE EXPERIENCE

FOUR

The wind was pleasantly cool and refreshing. A wonderful distraction from the unbearably sweltering heat that had settled like a thick molasses on these three land masses known as the Cayman Islands, covering everything in a blanket of suffocating stillness. Summer can be brutal in the Caribbean. Even the breezes that floated in from the ocean were more teasing than cooling. Nature’s cruel joke. Another method of sending a sane person over the edge. On this night in September, the high anticipation in the air chilled to the bone. This wind was welcome only for the brief interlude that it provided from the fire of summer. Not as the prelude for the enormous storm that hovered on the outskirts of these tiny islands, eyeing his prey with lip-smacking hunger. Ivan was coming – Ivan the Terrible – and he was intent on devouring these three islands with an appetite as voracious as any malnourished lone wolf, ribs protruding, flanks sunken from thirst, seeking a meal long overdue. They sat on the porch of a neighbour, this small family of four. Des, the head of the household, was a quiet and unassuming man of more than 6 feet in height. His wife, Michelle, 34


HURRICANE IVAN: THE EXPERIENCE easily shorter by a full foot, was irrefutably the backbone of the family, yet she always knew when to gracefully yield to his authority in their home. They were blessed with the arrival of twin boys two years into their marriage. Dylan and Demitri were now handsome young boys who enjoyed an equal mix of their mother’s looks and their father’s temperament. They intended to ride out the storm there at the home of their good friend, Jackie. Not because they were uncertain that their own home was able to handle the force of the winds, but simply to have company, conversation, perhaps enjoy a reprieve from the nervousness of the unknown. Sitting there, the tone was calm and relaxed, but there was an underlying voice of uneasiness, a sense of urgency to flee; leave before it was too late. As the night pressed on, uneventful, save the constancy of the wind, they sought to keep their minds occupied with the talk of work, their children, anything that would not involve discussions of the weather. As they sat there in the glow of the streetlight, the rain began to fall in lazy sheets, dotting the bone-dry pavement of the driveway. The plants and trees jumped to attention, with the drops dancing on their surfaces causing their limbs and leaves to quiver and bow. Des and Michelle corralled their boys and pulled closer to the walls of the building to avoid the droplets that sought to possess bare arms and legs with their icy chill. Within moments, the wind that had persistently pushed through the empty 35


HURRICANE IVAN: THE EXPERIENCE streets with driven determination, like a doomed spirit on the prowl for a soul, suddenly raised its howl to a new level, and threw dust and pellets of rain at all who were in its path. The conversation ended abruptly and they raced inside to take shelter from the storm. He had arrived. “Whew! Looks like the time has come!” Des announced excitedly. He quickly did a head count to ensure all were accounted for. He was a strikingly tall man of slender build. Broad shoulders carried an endless supply of hugs and breadth to comfortably nestle the sleeping head of either of his twin sons, as they were often called to do. His face was youthful, disguising his true age. It was difficult to believe that he was approaching his 35th birthday. Des was a gentle spirit who found pleasure in the simple things in life. Now in his tenth year of marital commitment to Michelle, he was fine wine in an open bottle, breathing. “Okay boys, we are at the point of no return now! Ivan is almost here.” There was a playful tone to his words, but inside he was suffering from the tautness of that vice that clamps your chest tightly, unrelentingly constricting with every exhalation. He was so very wary of the hours to come. Looking at his babies, he could not help but feel that surge of emotion well up in the back of his throat at the prospect of the unknown. Michelle had been in a panic for the better part of the week. She had been glued to 36


HURRICANE IVAN: THE EXPERIENCE the weather channel and the hurricane websites, and insisted on tracking them herself. She also compared them to other hurricanes that had come their way, and was resolute in her belief that this one was different; it was going to be worse, much worse. All week she had been nagging him to put the shutters down, to clean up the junk that had been accumulating around the house and properly store everything in the shed. All week he had been promising to do just that, but just never got around to it. Man, would he hate it if she were right on this one. Now on the very evening that the hurricane was to hit, Des was happy that she had nagged him. She had of course done much of the work herself, with the help of their sons, Dylan and Demitri and their nanny, Gela. Eventually her persistence struck a chord and he realized that she might be right. Now they settled inside with a nervous laugh. The expectancy of the birth of Ivan was short-lived, only one week’s notice. Enough time to prepare materially, but until the day came, until the very moment had arrived that you knew there was no escape, that your fate was sealed at the instant that you felt his presence, there was never enough time to prepare mentally. The fear was ever present, its cold, bony fingers icily running down their spines, rapping at that inner door of their minds that only opens when Fear knocks. Opens to admit thoughts like visitors, thoughts that pour through in ceaseless flood. Will you die? How? 37


HURRICANE IVAN: THE EXPERIENCE What would it be like to drown? Will I feel it? Will the roof blow off? Will I be sucked out? What about the children? Oh my God, I can’t do this! How do I get out of this? Is it too late to leave? What was I thinking? The knots in your stomach that accompany fear are as ruthless as bad Chinese food, tearing through your gut like shrapnel, ripping you from the inside. That churning low in your bowels that becomes stronger the more rampant your emotions become. It is this fear that can cause your death; that can paralyze you at the very moment that you need to be running, fleeing. The “deer in the headlights” syndrome that has brought about the end of so many lives by the inability to get your body to react in motion with the screaming in your head. When your feet remain fixed to the spot, unable to move while your brain cycles through every possible route of escape. Yet, this fear can also cause you to perform feats of amazing strength. Triggering your adrenaline to flow like molten lava, hot through your veins, releasing power of unspeakable measure. Mothers able to fend off vicious animals to protect their young. Men capable of lifting objects that would have otherwise been unthinkable to heft, in order to rescue trapped loved ones. What do you do in fear?

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Hurricane Ivan  

Hurricane Ivan strikes the Cayman Islands in 2004.

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