Waking up from mosquito bites, I tossed and turned, yearning to go back to sleep...it wasn’t happening. 3:30am, I rolled out of bed and thought, “Social media! Right! A look into other people’s thoughts and adventures rather than focusing on my own struggles, will do the trick!" But when I opened my laptop to face my FB page, it was different this time.
And in Houston, at 2:30am on August 28th, no one was sleeping. I saw panic, sorrow, destruction. I couldn’t stop looking. I posted, to Instagram, a raw moment that I didn’t want to let go. That moment of shock, care, and that feeling that lit a fire under my ass and cried out:
They need help!
4:30am and I’m still in shock. I can’t stop watching social media feeds blowing up right in front of me with devastating footage. This continues well into 7:30am.
The only way I feel I am able to take action is to talk to people. I scroll down my page as others are joining me in the feeling that sleep was an idea that was quite distant from what was happening. Relief crept up on me as I was feeling like I was actually doing something just by talking to people.
It’s 8:00am – I have to get dressed and get to work. The list of people swimming in my head are those that are dear and near to me and as I am bolting out the door, I realized that I need to write down this list of people to contact during lunch.
A walk into work, deeply regretting my inability to sleep, but at least, at this point, the amount of work on my desk will force me to push through any ill feelings stemming from a noticeable level of helplessness. But then my mother calls, understandably, overwhelmed as water barely missed the garage and the front door of her house, not to mention that her business partner had just been engulfed by the sudden rush of water, reaching four feet tall, invading his home. His renters are also affected by this and she is arranging a boat to have them rescued and brought to her house, which will increase the number of her storm refugees from five to eleven. The only way I feel I can help is by asking the questions:
Is there anything I can do?
Do you need to talk?
Do you need to talk and for me to listen?
I get off the phone with her. In between tasks - the media, my FB page, Twitter, are looking more and more like a really bad car accident. The sight of all these images are horrific, I know it will not help me to look, but they are so awful, I can’t take my eyes off of them.
12:00pm – I must quickly run a company errand before my lunch break with the hopes that I’ll plop down at a table in Bryant Park to try and piece together my list.
Suddenly, my mom posts on social media that one of her friends has ten boats and waiting to help with any rescue missions.
I relay the information onto my page as I wrap up the errand and make my way to the park.
Within minutes, I’m getting responses, I see the park, one block away and... I can’t remember my list.
I make my way through the crosswalk, onto the next block, when a pedestrian steps in front of me with a large cup of hot coffee, with no lid. The explosion of black liquid lands all over me. We look at each other. He finally breaks the silence:
I don’t see why you needed to walk so fast!
I am aching to be extremely snarky. Between his high-end fitness gear and very long hipster beard, I was easily left with the impression that I could have thrown a jab that went a little along the lines of:
Um, unlike you, I have a job to do!
I’m trying to rescue people, what’s on your schedule?
But a very wise friend of mine once told me that my words are powerful, but what I don’t say can have a much stronger impact. So, I stood very still and glared at him just long enough to feel that I was making passersby uncomfortable as they are stopping to observe the scene.
I turned and walked away.
I managed to find an empty chair and started to coordinate FB messages, to send to my mom and then I open my notebook.
Try to stay focused...
I feel stuck.
Okay, write something...write something that will require focus.
Get it together...
I put my pen to the top of the notebook page and I feel a sentence pour out of me.
Now I see it...the list is forming!
Then a greenish blob splats right onto the center of the page. I look up as a flock of birds fly across the park. I close my notebook and as I turn to get up, a pile of bird shit lands on my right leg.
I need to leave.
I notify my boss and colleague that I need to stop by the showers, at the gym, before making my way back into the office. In the shower, I still found myself in a vacant place. It was soothing for what little feeling I had. I take a hair dryer to my shirt – long enough to lose patience and no longer minded entering the office in damp attire.
6:00pm – I walk into my living room. I see e-mails and texts from friends, here, asking if my family and friends are okay.
I can’t respond in this state of mind...I don't know why.
Is it the fact that I’ve been up since 2:00am?
Is it really the darkness that looms over me that feels I have been watching this drowning city like I am watching a dear old childhood friend being stabbed, repeatedly?
I lie down on the couch.
I haven’t lived there since I left for school 15 years ago, but so many people that are still there...friends that have always stood by me...
Most of my family is there.
Houston was the first place that I called home. It was the first place where I got my heart broken, where I experienced my first love, the place I learned how to drive, to dance, to perform...
And...The first place I put a pen to paper and wanting to make something of it.
My eyes felt heavy...very heavy as I made my way into a comatose sleep.
One week later...
I am uncertain that I used my ability to help others as a way of coping with the pain, but what I can say is that an aftershock occurred after the rain subsided. And for the first time, I allowed myself to shed a tear, not just over the destruction of Houston, but for the strength and kindness Houstonians revealed. It was only a week before Harvey that thousands of people gathered to distribute hate. A movement so infuriating, it made me hungry enough to almost break my silence over the times I became their target for anti-semitism. Now, I see that thousands may have marched for hate, but millions have risen to generate acts of kindness in this country.
If there is one thing, one lesson that I am taking away from this whole experience - its that it has forced me to acknowledge that I am able to provide help regardless of where I am in this world. It is the greatest feeling... and in the act of helping others, a weight is lifted from the burden of literally enduring a shitty day.