A week ago, I was set to attend a long-awaited–and paid-for–writing seminar in the Panhandle. Two days before I planned to leave, weather reports announced that headed our way was a tropical storm on its way to hurricane status. (In case you live in a part of the country that doesn't hold its breath from May to November, the dividing line is about 72 mph winds. Our first summer here in St. Augustine, we survived Tropical Storm Gabrielle, with winds at 60 mph gusting to 75mph. So much for categories. Then there were the repeated tornado warnings. Never again will I live in my utility room for 12 hours straight, I vowed. When I saw the two long leaf pine trees that had fallen across my yard and I later survived two days without power, I re-upped my vow. So call me a wimp.)
Now, TS Fay fanned in a wide arc, promising to engulf NE Florida for two to three days, starting the next a.m. 'Get out now, or you won't get out," my son advised. I left, traveling west toward my ultimate destination.
I left at 6 p.m. All the way down the road, I cried. I'd never left my family in a storm before. I wanted to wrench the wheel toward home. I reminded myself of my goal of finishing my novel. I stuck with it.
Those who know me know I'm not good for much at that hour, so the first night I spent at a Best Western under reconstruction about one and a half hours from my home. Truck stops and fast food restaurants, and little else, surrounded the motel. While there, I saw not one woman, only men in cowboy boots and hats, riding pick-ups or semis. My room opened off an exterior corridor. Again, call me a wimp, but I slept little that night.
The next day, I drove to Tallahassee. Make the best of a bad deal, I said, as I eyed multiple shopping malls. Real ones, not the discount malls we have in St. Augustine. This is how far I've fallen: I used to shop on Chicago's Magnificent Mile (Okay, I coudln't afford to shop there often, but I could get to it if I wanted), now I salivated at the sight of a Macy's and a central food court.
Only now my fibromylagia set in. If you have this painful condition, you know the swelling, exhaustion, and all-over aches it brings. It is for many people, including me, brought on by humidity and barometric pressure changes acting on damaged nerve endings.(I was injured by two otherwise nice human beings who weren't watching where their cars were going.) So I would get inside a store, walk for maybe fifteen minutes, then be unable to put one foot in front of the other without a cascade of pain and fatigue. Back to the motel. I went to bed early.
Next day, recharged, on to my seminar. I was tired and a little tingly with pain, but happy to see writing pals and eager to share manuscript critiques I had rushed to prepare, and happy to receive those done for me. Luckily, I went first. Lucky, because at the end of the first day, my routine check of noaa.org (standard Florida routine) revealed that the storm had hung over my home in St. Augustine for twelve-plus hours, and now would take an abrupt left turn and head for–you guessed it–the Panhandle. An earlier call to check on my husband, son, and beagle told me that it was an ugly tropical storm with winds of about 50 mph. But now, by NOAA's guess, it might be a hurricane by the time it came my way across Appalachee Bay.
What to do? I stewed about it all night. My compatriots downplayed my concerns and pronounced their determination to ride out the storm. My damaged muscles tensed up. More severe pain set in. My spine began to tingle. I know that symptom. It means that my spine will soon feel like a red hot poker has been inserted down its length.
The next morning, I made up my mind. Though I was concerned about deserting my friends, they reassured me they wanted to stay put and urged me to do what was best for me. Cool people–I know!
I hauled all my food hoarded for the weekend to a motel in Tallahassee. Unable to go home, due to flooded roads and tropical storm wind and rain; out of the worst of the storm, but still close enough to need round-the-clock rest. I could barely hear the storm outside, though opening the curtain attested to the propensity of wind to bend palm trees.
Laptops are the best thing ever invented. In two days, I revised a chapter, wrote a new chapter, and made notes on forward motion for my novel, all from my comfy pillowtop mattress.
From now on, tropical weather will be a good excuse for my own private writing retreats. If I can afford another room for the beagle and human family.
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