Once upon a time last Friday, I found myself in the cramped staff bathroom at 7:55 AM trying to wash my face using a touchless sink faucet that turned off every 1.5 seconds. It’s one of those experiences that I hope never to repeat, but it was borne out of desperation after Hurricane Michael breezed through our area, causing a massive power outage in our area.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I need to rewind back to about 11 PM Thursday evening, where I lay curled up on the couch with my blanket and some Netflix. I half-listened to the drama that was playing across the screen; most of my focus was on the tropical storm-force winds pelting branches, pine cones, and a child’s toy at the back of our house. It rained on and off throughout the evening, but the wind relentlessly slammed against us, bending trees and trying (in vain, thankfully) to knock over our rusted outdoor table. I was just about to try and tame my fear-induced insomnia once more when the entire house plunged into darkness as the electricity went out. I sat in the dark, wide-eyed with fear and regretting that I had run my smartphone battery down to 9%. I stumbled to the bedroom where my husband lay, half-asleep but listening to Michael rage turbulently.
“The power is out,” I whispered. “And it sounds pretty crazy out there.”
We both lay in the dark, trying to sleep despite the noise and fears that everything in our fridge would spoil. Just as I thought I might succumb to the siren song of sleep, I heard what sounded like a sizzle just outside our bedroom. I tried to peer outside to see if I could locate a downed wire or other source for the terrifying noise, but all I could see were blowing leaves and the eery waving branches of trees. I tried to settle back down again in bed, but it happened twice more. By this time, I was convinced that I would somehow get electrocuted in my bed, and falling asleep seemed like an elusive hope so I headed to the couch and lay there, hoping to sleep and counting the hours I had before I needed to get up for work. Around 3 AM, I finally fell asleep until my alarm startled me awake 3 hours later. My head throbbed, my stomach growled, and my body felt like I had battled dragons rather than tossed and turned on the couch.
I optimistically squinted at the digital clock across the room but no flashing red lights greeted me, only the pervading darkness of 6 AM. I stumbled my way down the hallway, miraculously traversing the hallway without stubbing my toe and dressed by light of my fluorescent flashlight. I even managed to put together an okay outfit despite the difficulty of matching colors when your only source of light is quarter-sized. I packed up my toiletries, hoping that Ryan and I would be able to track down some electricity so that I could finish getting ready and not show up for work looking like a hideous mountain troll.
Bravely, we faced the seemingly insurmountable task of navigating 4.5 miles from home to my husband’s work without any working traffic lights during the beginnings of rush hour on a Friday morning. My heart was in my throat from anxiety, and my head swiveled every which way looking for rogue cars trying to sneak into traffic from the side streets. But somehow, we made it to the church, and with our hearts full of hope, we tentatively tried the light switch.
Nothing. The church sat in relatively, unyielding darkness, the only light coming for small sunbeams of the the just rising sun streaming in the windows. I decided to try and use my time wisely by using a water bottle and my car window to brush my teeth, trying to not get toothpaste on my clothes like I did the day before. Ryan, unable to do any work because of the lack of electricity, was heading to his car to get home, but I had gotten no word from the library or the city government that my schedule would be any different than normal, so I climbed back into my car and warily headed towards the library just under 2 miles away. One solitary traffic light brought order to that stretch of road while the other 4 were dark and unhelpful. I could see the library in the distance, but I had one more obstacle to overcome: a left-hand turn with no light to organize the dozens of cars that were trying to go in 12 different directions at the intersection.
“This is it,” I thought dramatically. “This is where I’m going to die.”
However, I had two brave comrades before me, and they darted out into traffic, forcing the others to yield to them. I crept up behind them, putting as little distance between me and the fender of the car in front of me until we had safely navigated the intersection. The library radiated with heat and light, and I excitedly pulled into the parking lot with hopes of washing my face, taming my crazy hair, and putting on makeup.
As I pulled into a parking spot, my phone rang. It was the city government, letting us all know that no city buildings would open until noon. The clock read 7:45 AM. What was I supposed to do now? I don’t have the code to open the building, and I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to be in there that early. I bit my lip, trying to decide my next course of action when I saw the familiar profile of our cleaning lady vacuuming inside. I ran joyfully to the door and poked my head inside. She greeted me with a friendly smile, and I told her my entire story – of losing power, of trying to find somewhere to get ready, of finding out that the library wouldn’t open for another 4 hours. She told me that I definitely could stay and use the bathrooms as she had finished cleaning them already. I joyfully entered the bathroom, trying desperately to tame my hair with dry shampoo, cover my acne-prone skin with foundation, and cover those ghastly dark under-eye circles. I emerged looking only slightly less haggard than I felt inside, but I didn’t smell nor did my face scare small children.
I was about to create a bed underneath my desk when my boss showed up, springing into action as she tried to make sense of the schedule changes and personnel issues. She told me that I could stay or go if I wanted, so long as I was back and ready to work at 11:45 AM. My stomach growled angrily to remind me that I hadn’t eaten more than an apple in the last 14 hours, and so I met up with a co-worker to eat at the Hardee’s across the street. I ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and a black coffee, my hazy, sleep-deprived mind not comprehending that this might not have been the best choices to make a few hours before work. The Hardee’s was packed as it was one of the few places around that still had electricity. It took us about an hour to get through the line, order, and get our food. I inhaled my breakfast and 3 ibuprofen within minutes of sitting down. I sipped my terrible tasting but caffeinated coffee as my friend and I killed time in the fast food restaurant, swapping library horror stories as we lounged and waited.
Finally, it was time to head back to the library and actually open the building up to the public. By now, I was jittery from the coffee and my stomach hurt from fatty, salty, gluten-filled breakfast I had consumed, and I didn’t even feel that much less tired than I had when I pulled into the parking lot several hours earlier. But, I managed to keep from puking or falling asleep standing up and managed to complete a five-hour shift at work without yelling at a customer or running into anyone with my cart. (I did run into some walls and inanimate objects, but no people were harmed thankfully.) At 5:45 PM, I stumbled through the door of my wonderful home, lit up with the recently returned electricity as my husband finished preparing dinner. I immediately jumped in the shower and enjoyed the warm water cascading around me, thanking God for hot water and electricity in a way I had never done before. Finally clean, I sipped on soda, ate dinner, and relaxed on the couch in my pajamas until bedtime, and I got a full night’s sleep that evening.
Everything was right in the world once again.