The Survivor Journals Omnibus [Books 1-3], page 54part #1 of The Survivor Journals Omnibus Series
I was glad to be safe, but I felt trapped and powerless. The storm raged above me and my ears filled with the sound of wind and rain. I could not help by think of the farm, exposed on the rolling prairie, with only a handful of trees to help deflect some of the straight-line wind. I hoped Ren and the baby would be safe. I hoped the animals would be safe. Wherever she was, I hoped Hera was safe. I hoped the storm would pass by the farm with a minimum of damage. No matter how much you plan, no matter how hard you work, storms are a good reminder that there is much in the world that is completely out of your control, and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. You can only accept, adjust, and continue on your path.
After the Storm
When the first surge of winds his the farm, I heard every building on the property groan under the stress and strength of the storm front. The winds nearly knocked me off my feet. Clutching my bulging belly with one arm and my handgun with the other, I rushed out to the barn to double-check all the doors and make sure the animals were safe in their stalls. The stalls were small and compact, and they had extra support beams overhead to strengthen them. If the barn roof should collapse or be damaged, the stalls were the safest place for the Thing sisters, pigs, and chickens. I had to battle wind and dust every step of the way. I walked leaning against the pushing winds of the front, my arm in front of my face like T.S. Lawrence in the Arabian Desert.
Satisfied that I had made the barn as structurally tight as I could, I ran back into the house and climbed into the bathtub on the first floor. It was not a storm shelter, but it was as close as I we had to one. Twist knew storms, coming from Wisconsin. Brooklyn occasionally got hit with a hurricane, but it was never truly serious that far north. Just a lot of rain, a little wind. Tornadoes were something new for me. Our first month on the farm, a storm hit, a good one. Not nearly as bad as the one incoming, but bad enough. Without an actual shelter, we had laid in the bathtub together, and Twist dragged a mattress over us for extra protection. In my current state, I was in no condition to drag a mattress anywhere, so I grabbed my pile of pillows from the bed. I laid a quilt in the tub as a foundation, then put the pillows over myself. I huddled into as much of a ball as my pregnant belly would allow, and I repeated my mantra. You will be fine. You will be fine. You will be fine.
The baby seemed to know it was time to be quiet. He settled down. I had no idea how long the storm would take to pass, but I knew it was a bad storm, as bad as anything I had ever experienced. The winds howled and surged. The boards in the house groaned and creaked as the structure tried valiantly to stand against the storm. I heard the sound of hail and debris pinging against the vinyl siding and the loud, wooden smash of large items crashing through the yard. High above me on the second floor, the roof seemed to heave and sigh like a living thing. At one point, I felt the house stretch and yawn in the winds. I could hear the creaking groan of wood on nails. The walls shook and shimmied.
What would we do if the storm took down this house? Would we just go find another one? What of the food we planted? What of the animals? I understood at that moment why family farms existed for generations. The idea of moving everything and finding a new spot seemed overwhelming, not to mention I really loved this farm. I loved everything about it. I loved the thought of raising my baby here. I loved that this was mine. Well, ours. I couldn’t say we bought it, but we certainly owned it now. I don’t think anyone would argue with us when we said it was ours. My parents had always rented, first the tiny apartment over the deli in Brooklyn, and then a larger apartment in a tall apartment complex, and then the row house where they were now buried in the little backyard. They had never owned a home. I owned this farm. I was willing to fight for this plot of land. I was willing to give it my blood, sweat, and tears. But, what could I do against a tornado?
The front seemed to rage for hours. I could not sleep, as tired as I was. I could not eat, hungry as I was. I have no idea how long the storm actually lasted, but I knew it was too long. A lifetime passed while I lay in that bathtub. Then, as if the storm decided to say, Only joking! the winds died to a gentle tailing breeze behind the front, and the only sound was the heavy, steady tattoo of rain. I breathed a long sigh of relief and pulled myself out of the bathtub to start a survey of the damage.
I was not mentally prepared for the amount of damage the storm had done to the farm, but at the same time, I was grateful it was not worse. Two tall birch trees had fallen at the edge of the property. They were total losses, but could be cut apart for firewood. There would be enough wood there for a couple months’ worth of cooking and heat. I thought of Caroline Ingalls in the Little House books. She always said that there was no great loss without some gain. Maybe she was right. The house was mostly intact. A few panels of siding had ripped away and gone who-knows-where. There was plenty of pockmarks from things hitting the siding, but that was only cosmetic. I don’t know if there is any sort of fix for that, but I can grow to love pockmarks, if necessary. Of the twenty-two solar panels on the roof of the house, barn, and array in the yard next to the house, at least six were missing entirely—whisked away to Oz--mainly the ones on the barn roof. Another six were cracked or damaged beyond repair. It would certainly cut into the power generation for the house. That hurt. It put dreams of having refrigeration and a washing machine on the back-burner once again. They would have to be replaced. I had no idea how many spares Twist had stashed in the garage of the store house, but I would leave that to him.
The yard where we spent most of our time was a disaster of tree limbs, debris, and muddy ground. It could be cleaned up, but it would take some time and labor. We had all the time in the world, but I was in no condition to provide labor. That would have to be Twist’s project. Some of our cooking supplies we kept in the backyard had been scattered around. I could clean that up, easily enough. The garden was a different matter. Most of the corn plants were flattened. All of the above-ground plants, with the exception of the low-to-the-ground plants, like lettuce and cabbage, were wrecked. Even the lettuce and cabbage didn’t look healthy anymore. Their outer leaves were ragged and torn. Their round centers were roughed up. I could save a lot of the food. Some of it could be eaten in the next couple of days. Some of it could be dried or pickled. Some of it was a complete loss, though. The root vegetables would be fine. The berry bushes on the edges of the property did not look like they incurred too much damage. We would make do.
My biggest concern was the barn. The barn was every bit as important as the house. I knew right away that something was wrong when I looked to the barn and saw Thing 1 and three of the pigs staring at me from the large square of space where a pair of sliding doors should have been. Thing 2, the rest of the pigs, and a lot of the chickens were elsewhere. I called for the cow and the pigs, but they were nowhere nearby.
I felt a hard twinge in my lower abdomen again, like a hard poke with something sharp. It took my breath away. Not now, kiddo. I needed to eat something, but I had no desire to do so. I needed to have some water, too. I needed to start cleaning the yard. A large wave of hormone-influence emotion crashed over me. I felt tears start to prick at my eyes. I felt fear, sadness, and defeat all at once. It took everything I had not to collapse in the wet mud and grass and cry. I was not going to give the storm the satisfaction, though. It may have taken something from us, but it did not take everything. We could easily rebuild. We still had some of our animals. Hardships must be endured. I would endure. My family would endure.
I sniffed hard and bit the side of my tongue with my molars. The pain sharpened my focus and made the tears stop. Crying was not going to make everything magically repair itself. That would only be done through hard work, and I was the only one who could do it now.
I went back in the house to change into clothes I did not mind getting muddy. As I changed, I caught sight of myself in the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door. I was a house. I was a planet. My body looked like a funhouse-mirror version of
I tugged on pair of maternity jeans, the soft, stretchy waistband wrapping high on my belly. I pulled on a caftan-like sweatshirt of Twist’s. I slipped my feet into my tennis shoes because I could not bear to bend down to tie my boots anymore. I grabbed leather gloves to protect my hands, and I got to work.
The first order of business was securing the barn door that had blown away. I could see where the wind tossed the door, maybe fifty yards from the barn. It was lying flat in some taller grass. The majority of the door looked unharmed. Only the rolling wheels on the top where it slipped into the pipe above the door were missing, and they were probably still in the pipe. There was no way I was going to lift that door and drag it back into place, so I got a hammer and a box of four-inch nails. One by one, I dragged two-by-fours from the stack in the garage and hammered them into place to make a temporary door. I spaced them about eight or ten inches apart, hammering the nail mostly into place on one side, then going to the other and driving it into the other side. It wasn’t pretty, but it would work. When Twist came home, he could make it pretty again.
If he comes home, whispered the evil part of my brain. I cursed that thought and continued to work. It took me a dozen trips to the barn to make a functional barrier that would keep Thing 1 and the pigs in and predators out. When I spied a rogue chicken wandering around the yard, I would shoo them into the barn. I put them in a stall and closed the door. It would serve as a temporary arrangement to keep them safe and confined. The storm had torn apart the front half of the cage I used for their grazing area, which was how they escaped. It would be a simple enough repair, but it would be a repair for another day. For now, there was too much else to do.
When I secured the barn to the best of my ability, I was soaked to the skin from the rain, so I was both freezing cold from the water, and sweating from my labor. My back was hurting like nothing I’ve ever known before. The muscles along my spine felt constricted, like little clenched fists. I tried to rub the pain away, but couldn’t. I took a couple deep breaths and forced myself to ignore the pain. Other women have had it far worse than you, I reminded myself.
I set about gathering up food from the destroyed plants. The sweet corn was a ripe enough that I could eat some that day, and then dry the rest when the sun came back. The ears that were not salvageable went to the pigs. I picked the pods from the wrecked pea plants. I picked green tomatoes from broken vines. It was slow work, bent over at the waist or crouched on swollen calves. The baby did not care for his home to be so constricted and protested with a flurry of Tae Kwon Do kicks to my lungs and bladder. Thanks, kid. I told him that if he didn’t knock it off, he would be grounded until he was twelve. He did not seem to comprehend and kept fighting me every time I had to bend at the waist. Not even born, and already he’s disobedient. I’m not going to win Mom of the Year.
I did what I could with the garden. I Ziploc-bagged some of the fresh stuff and stored it in the dark cupboards in the house. The clock was ticking on them. They would have to be eaten quickly. I stacked the rest on the counters to wait for the rain to stop so I could dry them outside. What could be pickled was piled on the counter to wait for tomorrow. I would get a vat of pickling brine and some of the mason jars I had in the garage. It would not be perfect, but it would have to do. When the food was secure, I then went looking for Thing 2 and the missing pigs.
The rain was still coming down steadily. It wasn’t heavy, but it was constant. I changed into dry clothes, grabbed a golf umbrella from the closet, and a walking stick Twist had carved and sanded smooth for me one night by the fire. It helped to have something to lean on when I was going up and down the little hills in the area. I could not buckle my gun belt around my waist, so I set it as large as I could make it and slipped it around my head and arm like a bandolier, the gun resting in its holster on the shelf my belly made.
I trudged through the knee-high grass past the barn calling for Thing 2 and making that silly high-pitched soooo-ee! call that Twist used when he fed the pigs. I had thought that doing that was a Hollywood thing, made up for movies and TV. But, the pigs actually responded to it. Every time he did that, they came charging. He said that pigs were as smart as dogs, and that they learned to identify the noise with being fed. It was like how dogs and cats responded to electric can openers or the crinkle of heavy foil bags.
After ten minutes of walking and calling, I found one of the smaller pigs, a hairy little white pig I called James MacAvoy. (I named all the pigs after movie stars I used to like.) I could not put a leash on him and continue searching for the others, so I had to walk him back to the barn and put him with his friends, Michael Fassbender, Scarlett Johnansson, Dame Helen Mirren, and Tina Fey. I was still missing Amy Poehler (who looked a lot like Tina Fey, but had lighter hair), and Keira Knightley (who was really thin when we first found her). The lion killed Christian Bale, if you were wondering. Poor, poor Christian Bale.
When MacAvoy was secured, I went back to walking and calling. My back became tighter and tighter. I could not seem to get comfortable. I felt a little sick, probably from not eating enough that day, and I was a little light-headed, probably from dehydration. I should have brought some supplies, but it wasn’t like I was going out on a three-day hike. I was just walking the property. If I found them, I found them. If I didn’t, I didn’t. I would go back to the house after an hour or two. Walking is good for pregnant women, I reminded myself. Toughen up.
The rain drummed on the umbrella steadily. The grass soaked my jeans and the denim wicked the water higher up on my thighs. My skin started to chafe uncomfortably. I tried to ignore it for at least a mile, but between my thighs, which I knew were getting dangerously raw, and my back, which I knew would be projecting me into a new world of agony later that night, I had to cut my losses and go home. The pigs and Thing 2 would stay lost for now. Maybe they would come home. Maybe they wouldn’t. I tried my best. My body was sore and aching. My belly hurt. Cradling my enormous gut, I limped back to the house. I had done what I could. I needed to eat, drink, and most importantly—rest.
My Kingdom for a Bike
It was nearly dark by the time the storm passed. The sky was gray and the post-storm sunlight filtering through the clouds gave the world a strange, flat look. The sun was nearly below the horizon; that had something to do with it. I left the sanctuary of the storm shelter to a world of chaos. I did not believe that a tornado hit; the wind was not swirling. It had been a straight-line wind, but the initial winds had been strong enough to remind me of a tornado’s power. When I poked my head out of the cellar, I saw downed trees and damaged houses everywhere. None of the damage was extreme, save for the one or two houses that had been unlucky enough to have a tree fall on them, but it was enough to make me give a low whistle. My thoughts were solely on the farm. How bad was it there? I was still at least twenty, maybe twenty-five miles from home. It was still raining. There was nothing I could do but resume walking. I stopped long enough to find a poncho to minimize the saturation from the storm, but by the time I found one, the damage was done. I was soaked.
I walked about four blocks in the rain before I realized I was being stupid. I could just find a bike. They were in practically every garage. After two year
Given that most garages in the modern era were electric and controlled by remotes, it wasn’t like I could just walk up and start yanking doors. I had to break into the houses, first. Then, I had to get to the garage, disengage the garage door from electric to manual, and then search through the garage for what I needed. This seems like it’s not that big of a deal, right? Well, you would be wrong. For some reason, about every third or fourth home treated their garage like a storage locker. Anytime I saw a house with two or three cars in the driveway, I knew the garage was stockpiled with boxes, old furniture, CRT monitors and old-style TVs, and all matter of other junk that they would have been better off just getting rid of at some point. Those types of people were not true hoarders, per se—but they certainly had an issue. Their houses were clean and uncluttered, just the garage was a pile of junk. I’m sure those people would have been mortified to open the garage doors and let the neighbors see their piles of junk. Those garages were impossible to even enter, let alone find a bicycle pump in them.
I went to the nearest house, one of those nondescript cookie-cutter bland, beige homes that populated every post-1980 suburb in America, and tried the garage door. It was, of course, locked. I knew it would be, but it was always worth giving it a try. The next step was to try the doors. The front door was locked, but the sliding patio door on the raised deck behind the house was unlocked. It slid open easily, and I took a light blast of stale death-smell to the face. The house was the final resting place for one, maybe more people. I flipped on the flashlight I always carried in my bag. It was a simple, nondescript house in a basic layout. The deck led to a small dining area, kitchen to the left, a living room straight ahead. I saw a body on the floor of the living room. No, two. A child’s body was on the couch, covered in a blanket. Next to the child, on the floor, was an adult. They were mummified from Texas heat and dry air. A small dog was curled on the floor next to them, thin and gaunt. The little dog, trapped inside, had starved to death watching over his unresponsive family. This made me think of Rowdy, my neighbor’s dog who became my dog until his death back in Wisconsin. The sudden rush of emotion made my eyes sting. Good dog.