I knew one day my view from work wouldn’t be the ocean. I knew someday I’d be doing a nine to five or working in some kind of office or closed environment. A place where the surfers aren’t. A place where the salty air and sand doesn’t invade my senses as well as the building I call work. It would be a matter of time. I just didn’t expect it to be so sudden. What was my life before Maria hit? I just finished college and was getting ready to start my masters. Perhaps in psychology or business. I have a travel bug so I was looking at international business. My university offered a program that would allow me to live in South America so that was a good goal. But I came into work one day and was warned about Irma. Prep had to be done. I did what I thought was important. Picked up my cat, grabbed some food, water, filled the car with gasoline. I mean Irma was a category five hurricane, she wasn’t supposed to be nice. But she passed. My coworkers and I joked about how she wasn’t as bad as we thought. But Maria was coming too. I’ve explained this many times since moving. If a storm comes from the north the Bermuda Triangle does some kind of magic and it usually doesn’t hit Puerto Rico bad. If it comes from the south. Well hold on to your caña and hope for the best. But we did it again. Prepped and joked around saying Ave Maria. But all the Ave Maria’s in the world wouldn’t stop her from being a rotten bitch. She came at around 3am. Immediately took the electricity. Immediately took the storm shutters off one window. Immediately destroyed the garage. That day was full of immediately. Nothing seemed to happen slowly. It just happened. When she passed. I walked out of my house. I walked out to a new island. One I didn’t recognize. I imagine it’s how buzz aldrin felt on the moon. All the green I was accustomed to was replaced with grays and black. Grass was replaced with mud and debris. The trees looked as though they were toothpick for giants. Cracked in half and distorted. Even my home had the paint stripped off it, revealing its murky concrete walls. My grandpa and I got to work clearing out what we could, we honestly didn’t even know where to start. But machetes in hand we tore down and paved a way for trucks that we hoped would come soon to handle the bigger pieces. Days passed, we heard nothing from the outside. We eventually set out to see my uncle and my work. This would be one of the big influences on if I would have to leave home. When we arrived my work was missing pieces of the patio and the roof. I commiserated with my coworkers and the sorrow hit like a truck. Some were left without homes. Others couldn’t contact family. The streets were deserted. No songs. No chatter. Nothing. I walked to the town square. And still nothing. The silence spoke the loudest. I walked back to my grandpa and he said “It’ll be best that you stay with your mom. Just for the winter”. His words were coated with a forced, false optimism. I went home and started trying to figure out what to do. There was no cell signal. I couldn’t even figure out how to get a ticket out. Our plan was just to go to the airport and hope for a ticket. I packed my backpack with five shirts and three pants, a skirt, a dress, and my work apron. I had five copies of my resume ready and could only hope for things to work out. Days passed. I gave my room a good cleaning and on my last I took all the meat and sorted the good from the bad and made a small fire and cooked what was left, hoping it would be enough for my Grampa to last until the power came back. After that he called me to the truck and dropped me off with my grandma in San Juan. I spent a week there. In and out of contact with my stateside family. They were struggling to get me a ticket out, but when they did it was a blessing. I landed in Pennsylvania after a couple of close calls and delays. I settled in to my room, at my mothers house. Two days later I had a job. Four days later my reality struck and I sobbed. There are days where I think I’m doing good and I see this move as a happy accident. But then there are days where I long for home. I want to hear the coqui’s. I want the waves crashing as my background noise at work. I want the reggae, the Bomba y plena. I want to smell cafe bustelo or pilón in the morning. I miss the warmth of my people. The buen provecho and buen día y ay benditos. But I am in the states now and I have to make due. Granted I am fortunate. Much more than other. I have work, I had a home to go to, I have my life. Maria has taught me that try as I might I can’t control everything. I can only control my reaction to it. At work many customers try to pity me. I am no ones sob story nor am I someone’s feel good story. I remind people that Island life is not just piña coladas and dancing in the waves. It’s hurricanes, it’s struggles, it’s being able to adjust to the rising tides. As I write this I’m at work hiding my phone, with my view being a mall parking lot, 80’s music blaring from the bar and mariachi music from the dining room. I’m hosting in the morning and bartending at night. Doing a fair hustle. I have hope for my future what I worry about is my Island. I hope that with the current government my Island doesn’t get swept under the rug. I hope I can return soon and see my Island thrive again.
They call the wind Maria.