Monday, February 2, 2009

The Thaw

Photo by Brooke McNeely,
Northwest Arkansas Times
Believe me, I know how fortunate we are. This is just a follow-up report for anyone who wonders "What do people do when the power goes out and it's so cold?" Last week's ice storm was a disaster in this part of the state, and clean-up will take months. There are people in Fayetteville (and half a million people in Kentucky) who are still without power. So, obviously, this is not some sort of suffering contest. It is simply my experience.

To recap, we lost power for good on Tuesday just before lunch. We stayed in the house for three nights despite below-freezing temperatures. The first night was an adventure, the second an ordeal, and the third night did me in. It wore me down spending all day thinking about how we would stay warm, how we would eat, how we would amuse the boys. I’d be up all night tucking little hands back under blankets, pulling hats down over ears, then get up in the morning to a freezing house for another day of the same struggle. We were among tens of thousands without power. The hotels were full; there was nowhere to go.

By mid-morning Thursday, my office was open. I looked and felt like a refugee. I was wearing so many layers of clothing I was stifling, but I kept them all on. I knew I only had so many hours before I’d be cold again. Sam and the boys spent most of the day driving around in search of fuel for the car and camp stove and someplace warm to pass the time. No mall, no Target, no Walmart, but thankfully, Chick-fil-A with an indoor playground.

Friday I worked until 1:00 and then shuttled the boys between the arts center and the library until going home to prep dinner before the sun set. As it got darker and colder, dread overwhelmed me. Just thinking about the night to come made me want to cry. I confessed to Sam that something very like hysteria was creeping up on me, and I was open to suggestions. He told me to start calling hotels again, and I found one nearby with a single room left. For the next two nights I found a hundred reasons to touch the boys just to feel their warm skin.

Thanks to the thousand-plus workers from as far away as Minnesota, and the electrician who drove to Oklahoma and back for a part to re-connect the power line to our building, we had power by Sunday morning. We spent all Sunday cleaning the house top to bottom, systematically and thoroughly, as if exorcising an evil spirit.

Eager to resume our normal routine, we ate dinner, had baths and got the boys to bed on time. I flicked off the light in Paolo’s room to read his bedtime books by flashlight, like we always do. Suddenly, in the dark room, lit only by the weak beam of a flashlight, I panicked. It felt like a flashback. Have I been in a war? I had to tell myself, several times over, that I wasn’t cold and I could turn on that light whenever I wanted to.

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