Now that I’ve told you about my last days in Miami, I should tell you about my first days in Illinois.
My cousin, Alejandra, has been such a great host. She picked me up at the station, gave me new clothes, and gave me a place to stay. She has two jobs — one at a community center and one at a food co-op — so she’s busy most of the day. But when she comes home at night, we talk, eat dinner, and usually go out somewhere too. It makes me feel very welcome in a place that’s still unfamiliar to me.
Growing up, we used to be like sisters, except for the fact that I would only see her during summer vacation and sometimes for a few days around Christmas. When we were visiting, we would go to the movies together, watch TV together, read books together, play games together. We were inseparable. Now that we’re in the same zip code again, it feels like old times.
The big difference is location. I’ve always been a city girl. I’ve spent my whole life living in Miami. Whenever I traveled, it was usually a big city. Alejandra and my aunt and uncle were all in Chicago. My one other aunt was in New York. I went to Europe and South America when I was in college and decided to max out my credit cards in search of adventure. I almost stayed in Buenos Aires, but that’s another story for another day.
This is not a big city. It’s a college town called Carbondale at the southern end of Illinois. It’s farther south than St. Louis and sometimes it feels like I’m in the South. There are only about 30,000 people here and most of them are college students. Now that Alejandra has spent a few days showing me around, I’m starting to see what she likes about it. She fits in very well here and everyone seems friendly. But it seems so strange being in a place with no tall buildings, no real neighborhoods, no night life, not as much going on as you would have in a city. I don’t even usually spend that much time going out, but somehow it feels strange not having any of that here. Especially the ocean! I already miss the ocean — the smell of it, the sight of it, the feel of it. How can people relax and clear their heads without going for a walk on the beach or just having a drink and looking out at the waves?
I think I know why I feel so homesick. I really shouldn’t. Alejandra has been such a good host, and when I stop and think about it, there’s a lot going on here for such a small town. But I feel homesick because for the past few days, whenever Alejandra’s at work, I’ve been watching and reading all the news about Miami.
It’s so heartbreaking. The number of dead keeps going up. They think it’s more like 900 now. And the estimates of people displaced are going up too. The water went down somewhat after the storm, but now it’s holding steady. There are a few feet of standing water throughout most of the city. So even though the storm didn’t actually destroy most of the homes, it flooded them to the point where you can’t realistically live in them. So those people will have to find new homes eventually. And there may be a few million of them.
Take me for example. The damage to my building wasn’t too bad — a few broken windows, maybe some damage to the roof, mostly superficial. Fixable. But there’s still three feet of standing water on our block! How do I get in and out without walking through nasty flood water? And how do they fix the power and internet? This is why I left.
And this is why so many are leaving. The first FEMA camp is full. Now there’s another FEMA camp, and maybe another one after that. Some people are staying in Miami, but more are leaving. Even with all of FEMA’s planning for disasters, it’s hard to know what to do when something this big actually happens. It’s chaos. Part of me wishes I were still there helping, but part of me is glad I didn’t end up in a crowded shelter eating a meal a day and wondering what will happen next.
I need to stop spending so much time thinking about this, at least for a day or two. I’ve been reading and watching it all for hours and hours. It’s not healthy. I thought that writing about it would help, and it did help, but now I need a break. When Alejandra gets home from work, I need to watch some mindless movies with her. Or go to the bars with her. Or go for a walk with her. Or talk with her about her day at work, or her love life, or anything at all, really.
Anything but Miami.