Hurricane swirls through her personal memory bank

Recently I spent way too many hours glued to my television set. Obsessed, addicted, I checked my phone for weather updates even while eating. I couldn’t help myself. When a hurricane gets too close, I default to attack mode.

Truthfully, most of the actual work of preparing for a storm falls on The Hubby, but like a good wife I take the credit. For Hurricane Matthew, we dutifully:

▪ Filled up the water jugs.

▪ Checked batteries and food supply.

▪ Gassed up the cars and hit the ATM machines for cash.

▪ Brought in the potted plants and the patio furniture.

▪ Closed the shutters.

▪ Then waited. And waited. And prayed.

Is this true of all who have survived a major hurricane?

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew pummeled my house. It took us almost eight months to rebuild. Though in many ways that event seems a lifetime ago — my children are adults now, my first husband has been dead almost 22 years and I sold that house four years ago — memories are like lichen: They cling to the rocky part of my brain with a scary ferocity.

I remember the sounds. The roar of the wind, the snap of the roof tearing, the crack of trees splintering like mere toothpicks. We spent most of that Category 5 storm in a windowless walk-in closet, with my late husband’s aunt reciting the rosary and my mother-in-law weeping quietly in a corner. I was pregnant with our fifth child but didn’t know it.

We survived, shaken and with a new fear of Mother Nature. I haven’t forgotten and dare say I never will. Yet in many ways, the worst was yet to come. The recovery turned into an exercise in frustration and agony.

In 2005 we were hit again by a trio of storms. One of them, Katrina, would move on to decimate New Orleans. My best friend from childhood, who now makes her home there, was flooded out of her house.

Like ours, her recovery consisted of a long, long series of heartbreaks. She hasn’t forgotten, probably never will.

Yes, I’m super vigilant when a hurricane threatens. I’m compulsive, fanatical, neurotic — and don’t plan to change. I’ve experienced firsthand how wind and rain can ravage a neighborhood.

So when I see videos of people checking out the waves as tropical storm winds lash a beach, I want to grab them by the collar and shake sense into them. I scream at the TV when they glibly smile at cameras, proud of their foolishness.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Reckless, reckless, reckless.

As I write this, my house is still shuttered and the garage remains full of our outdoor possessions. I’m burning a scented candle to soothe post-storm heebie jeebies. I’ve gone through most of my hurricane chocolate stash, and I will soon regret my lack of willpower.

The Hubby watches the endless TV coverage as Matthew crawls up the Eastern Seaboard, a churning machine of destruction. He phones his first cousins in Jacksonville, offers advice and assistance as needed. When he learns one has decided to remain in his house on the beach, The Hubby knows he won’t rest until he hears his cousin’s voice again. I recognize the anxiety.

I’m relieved this storm stayed away from Miami with minimal damage but fret about family and friends north along the coast. Do they really understand the danger? The fragility of our lives and possessions?

At times I’m not sure about people’s prudence. Some didn’t heed official pleas. As my mother used to say, “Nadie aprende en cabeza ajena.”

No, nobody learns from others’ mistakes.

Ana Veciana-Suarez’s column appears Sunday.

Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132, send email to, or follow her on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

McClatchy News Service