“Step one–Never change. The moment you change is the moment you stop being you.” JSM
Chapter Twenty Two
The Deep Freeze
In January of 1998 my state was crippled by an ice storm. In fact it’s named, “The Ice Storm of 98.” A variety of YouTube videos can be watched if interested and it has it’s own Wiki page .
Four million without power across many states including portions of Canada, and the damages were in the billions of dollars. The National Guard was sent to assist. Seven hundred thousand Mainers without electricity. Thirty five people were killed, most by hypothermia. Cascade effects of transmission towers collapsing from the weight of accruing ice, falling into one another like dominoes. Grids had to be rebuilt from the ground up. In some places power was non existent for weeks and months.
So much devastation.
Like a nuclear shock wave plowed across the state, and everything froze solid in it’s wake. Declared a state of emergency by Governor King and I remember the day the President of the United States took a helicopter tour to view the damage himself.
Trees that didn’t break bowed low and fused at their bases. Thankful to be alive but defeated and trapped in an icy tomb. Millions of trees brought to the ground.
Hundred year old pines toppled across main roads, blocking travel; power lines snapped free from their poles, merged with the frozen earth. No phone. No electricity. No way to communicate with anyone, anywhere.
Driving resulted in accidents. The ice piled up faster than could be melted. Salting, sanding and plow trucks were useless. Cars pulled to the side of the road and abandoned. A layer of sand was applied to a slippery street and the falling freezing drizzle coated over it as though it was never deposited. Then a layer of snow. Then more raining ice.
A race that couldn’t be won.
The cleanup took weeks. At it’s end, three to five inches of solid ice and snow blanketed my beautiful state and unless the sun was breaking through the clouds and spreading its melting warmth around us, there we remained. Trapped in ice. Normal life came to a standing halt.
We’d wake from a dead sleep in the middle of the night to the sounds of cracking, splintering, or falling trees in the distance and all around surrounding properties. No one slept on their second floor. Always a lingering concern. At times, with the snapping sounds echoing through the silent night, it seemed as though Godzilla was walking around outside.
My community rallied together and helped those in need. Those with generators invited others to join in a meal, or play a game; providing locations to keep infants warm and safe. Those with chainsaws cleared debris.
Some folks were able to sleep with their children snuggled close, wrapped up tight in a sleeping bag in the comfort of a stranger’s warm home.
Food was delivered to those in need. The elderly were helped. People made friends with one another. The teens of the neighborhood would chip and chisel inches thick ice away from stairs, basement bulkheads and walkways, going door to door asking if they could provide help in some fashion.
The schools were closed. Gas stations were shut down. Businesses empty and work cancelled indefinitely. Grocery and convenience stores devoid of needed items. Banks restricted to paper and pen for money transactions. Thankfully, the local library remained open.
Smack dab in the middle of chaos
It was surreal. Like being trapped in a frozen wasteland.
Once the main roads were open again for travel and danger levels were lowered, a group of us drove around town and for the most part we were speechless. Emergency crews carved paths through the widespread debris, using saws to hack away thick trunks of uprooted trees; sections wide enough to allow a car through, and to the gang of us we felt as though we were cruising through a war zone.
An experience I’ll never forget.
I was one of the lucky ones though. The landlord of the apartment I was residing at allowed a brief spurt of electricity twice a day. But that was it. He fired up the generator mostly for maintenance reasons.
During the worst of it, folks huddled in rooms with candles lit and do-it-yourself heating contraptions and tried to make the most of a bad situation. Wandering around outside during the early days of the storm was considered dangerous so friends and families grouped together in familiar homes to “ride it out”.
Unless I was asked to do something specific, I sat in my small bedroom.
Intentional isolation. My own personal igloo.
I can deal with the cold quite well. It’s oppressive thick humidity and scalding heat that makes me uncomfortable.
Something inside my mind instructed me to stay put and work on a project.
Having candles, multiple blankets, a hat, scarf and gloves, an oil lantern, surrounded by my hobbies and interests, made it easy to withdraw to a place of isolation and run rampant with my imagination.
My friends had to drag me out of the house. During two weeks of uncertainty and not knowing when life will return to normal, I found the time to be me.
When the wheels of life spun once again, the walls of my room looked like a disorganized map created by an obsessed and overtired detective searching for clues; connecting suspects to their ring leader.
Paper taped and tacked displayed across each wall, connecting edge to edge. Three sheets covered my TV screen and the door was wallpapered with rough sketches. Lines drawn to other papers halfway across the room. Disproportionate maps with varying boxes highlighting important locations and nameless structures. Circles around stick figures and organized lists. Lines of triangles indicating a mountain range bordering a misshapen oval, which my mind conjured up to be large body of water.
I’m not an artist. Easy to admit. My skills are limited to stick figures and basic geometrical shapes. I try to add detail to my drawings but I can never make it come together from what I envision in my head. I envy anyone with any artistic ability.
During the ice storm, for two weeks straight: I ate, slept, finished chores, read books and doodled in a sketch pad.
I had absolutely no idea what I was creating, but there it was. In shoddy detail staring at me from each wall and corner.
A year later that universe disappeared from memory and the “Light Switch” flipped me into robot mode. And there it stayed.
I became a parent and reality changed. The imagination vanished and all those sketches were filed away in a box and stuffed deep into a closet. Literally and metaphorically. Priorities kicked into overdrive, robotic routines were instituted and a new journey began.
From that moment forward, within a ten mile radius between the backwoods of my hometown to our state’s capital, I’ve lived in thirteen homes. I’ve attended college twice for three different degree programs, and if my math is correct, I’ve held seven wildly varying jobs and two of those job positions, during that time, were return employment.
It would be fourteen years before I could once again be “me”. While I can say I was made to be a parent, parts of me slowly disappeared. I became accustomed to what I was supposed to do. The ability to do the things I wanted, were seemingly lost. I’d scramble for all that which was slowly vanishing from memory, but all focus and dedication was now exclusively on my daughter(s).
Sacrifice is scary and life can be pretty messed up sometimes. Funny how things work out.
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