Monday, October 31, 2016

Oops,I did it again; or, Five in the Books

How appropriate that on the eve of Halloween, I would mutilate myself.
Fuzzy pic thanks to hubby who hates blood and pain.
I laughed at my stupidity while he turned green watching from the corner. 
Yes, that's real blood and that's what happens when you decide to slice your finger instead of a cucumber using a kitchen mandoline. 

(Not to be confused with a mandolin, a stringed instrument that I guess you could pick up and play whilst cooking dinner).

Now I am going through my day looking like this: 
I'm not flipping you off; I'm just showing off my
amazing bandage job, thanks to my hubby. 
Not pictured: 
The nice big slice in my thumb a few weeks back thanks to a sharp kitchen knife and a clumsy chef. I managed to super glue it shut, but it took hours to stop the bleeding on my finger tip this time around (mostly because there was no skin left), so to the ER I had to go. 

What's the moral of the story? I need to hire a sous chef. I need to avoid the kitchen. I need to pay better attention and not try to multitask while cooking. 

The worst part? The cucumbers were actually fresh and crispy, which is many times a rare and miraculous occurrence in the produce wasteland known as the GTMO Commissary. They had to be dumped (with probably the end of my finger---I never did find it). 

Dark road + running off large shoulder=major sprain 
And ended up for several months like this:

So do I need a Halloween costume? Or do I just go as the world's clumsiest human being? 

I just took my mummy finger and my almost-11 year old and celebrated his 4th anniversary of landing on this rock, and his 5th GTMO Halloween. 

It was not a big day to celebrate because it was an exhausting weekend (big sale at the dive shop for the 2 big guys, a sleepover for the littlest guy, and an unplanned a 2+ hour long visit to the ER).

The last 3 years, we've managed to be part of a party of some sort or the other, with the kids venturing out in a large gang, Peanuts style, and the adults enjoying adult beverages and lots of laughs in our old neighborhood, Nob Hill.

This year Halloween fell on a Monday and started at 5. Many people weren't even home from work yet. Because of the weird rainy season we've had this year (a definite anomaly here), the neighborhoods are full of waist-high grass and tons of mosquitoes.

If you didn't recognize me as Clumsy Mom, you should know me as Anti-Zyka Mom. I actually hit a friend up for bug spray instead of candy when I rang her bell---this would be after I had already sprayed down once---because they were vicious.

With us in a new neighborhood, we didn't do our typical adult beverages, since I now have to drive across base to my home. Plus the whole Monday thing---not the best way to start a week.

It was rather low-key, with visits to some old friends and the realization that I really don't know many people here any more.

It was bittersweet going to our 4th Trunk or Treat when I realized that I only knew 2-3 people there. I feel so out of touch; I no longer have friends who are H's classmate's parents. It's sad, because I miss hanging out with the kids and having adult conversations at the same time.  It wasn't a conscious choice I've made; people just come and go, and I have managed to stick to the same circle of friends the last year (or what's left of them), with none of the remaining ones having kids H's age anymore.

I work at distancing myself from work and keeping out of the fishbowl, but sometimes I need to dive back in. It's isolating and smothering at the same time. Keeping that balance, even after 4 full years, is a nebulous thing. I'm happiest reading a book in my house, but sometimes, especially in this tiny place, I need to venture out because I am realizing that while I was hibernating since school started, the base population has changed drastically.

That's the transient nature of living and working on an isolated base, and also the issues with being an introvert who would rather spend the weekend alone than out socializing.  It's just another thing to work on while living here---how to get out of my comfort zone and work on being a social creature.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Riding the Storm Out; or, Bitter or Better, Whatever

In a nervous frenzy, I originally wrote this entry a couple of weeks ago, as Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on GTMO. I had no idea what was going to happen, and I will start at the end of my first draft: 

"So I'm worried about our surrounding islands and those people. I'm worried about the sea life that is finally recovering from our last hurricane. I'm worried about our iguanas and tarantulas and all sorts of lizards. I'm worried about our boas. I'm even worried about the annoying banana rats that eat my plants. (And my plants---I'm sad about the possibility of losing my plants that I love so much).

And the irony: we FINALLY got cell phones that can call the US, and a hurricane will probably take out those towers. We FINALLY got high-speed internet, and we are all holding our breaths that the cable from the US to GTMO doesn't break with this hurricane.

But I will say it again and again----we are being evacuated. We will be okay. Our family will be safe."

Oh, oh the irony.

I was right about a few things. The sea life didn't take a big hit, and the animals are okay. Our house is fine. The cell towers were left standing, and the internet is still working. GTMO is still on track for its slow and arduous journey into the 21st century.

But that last part----our family will be safe----really hurts to read, because things did NOT go as planned with our evacuation.

What to know about hurricane season: we keep a hurricane kit handy and update it often---lanterns and flashlights and candles, batteries for everything, a radio, and lots of water and non-perishable food. Since we moved here, we have always had a plan of where to be and what to do if/when it hits, and in the past, we have felt confident that we will be safe.

And this wasn't my first time through a hurricane here---I was here less than a week when Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012. That was my trial by fire to life on GTMO.

With Hurricane Matthew bearing down, we came to this frightening conclusion: everything we own is here in this house.

When news of an eminent evacuation came, here was the quandary: if you have to choose your most precious belongings to fit in a suitcase (with a 40 lb limit), what would you pack?

We have military paperwork (including my stupid LES paperwork----my DoDDS friends will understand that one). We have passports, birth certificates, social security cards. We have other important paperwork. I wasn't even worried about clothes. But how do you pack non-replaceable baby pictures, things you got from your grandparents, and a crazy, big book collection?

In my suitcase, I packed a couple of books, some old family photographs, flash drives, jewelry, and a few sentimental items. I didn't even have 1/4 of the suitcase packed, because it was honestly so overwhelming.

But what I never, ever dreamed was that my entire family wouldn't make it off island.

We waited up Saturday night for the call to show up to evacuate, but it never came.

Then I got a frantic phone call on Sunday morning from a colleague that, in essence, said, "get your ass down here right now because they are taking the last of the evacuees."

We crammed into an auditorium and were told to move towards the front and would be loading from the front of the auditorium.

That didn't work out so well, as people came in and sat whatever they wanted, and those of us who had been there a long time watched people who were just walking in the door get chosen to check in to catch a flight.

People with pets were ushered to the front of the line and left hundreds of us sitting there wondering if there was going to be room for the rest of us.

Then the CO came in and announced that there was only one plane left, and with over 200 people left and only about 130 seats, he needed volunteers to stay on island.

To stay on island. With a Category 4 hurricane coming straight for GTMO. That's like Katrina in 2005.

Panic ensued. I'm not going to lie; I started crying and didn't stop until long after we got to the U.S.

We were told that we could choose one parent to go on the flight.

Then our children were lined up by age and we were told that children 10 and under would probably make the flight.


My husband insisted that I go with the kids, so I started bawling. Did I mention the Cat 4 hurricane headed straight for us? Or the fact that we were never called to show up for the evacuation? Or that people with pets got priority over everyone else on the last 2 flights? Disorder and chaos and poor planning all at one time.

At this point I realized that a) my husband could very well die and b) we should have packed our damn taxidermied squirrel in a cat carrier so we could also jump the line and get on board as a family.

My youngest and I made the cut, and it was touch-and-go as to whether my 18 year old would make the flight.

This would be the point that I had a panic attack on the floor and freaked out whoever was making these seemingly arbitrary decisions about who got to go and who got to stay *just enough* that he got to go with me.

But my husband had to stay.

At this point, I didn't care about our lifetime of stuff. Call me fatalistic (or a realist---we did have family members lose a house in Katrina, after all, but at least could evacuate to save their lives). All I could think is, I could lose my husband. My kids could lose their father. I could lose colleagues---not only friends, but teachers who have been wonderful mentors to my two children. Neighbors we've grown to love, the wonderful foreign nationals who I've played soccer with and who have watched my youngest son after school, who do many thankless jobs on base and have spent countless hours working on our cars and have become our friends in the process. How could this happen? We are non-essential civilian personnel. Why didn't they send enough planes?

I watched many, many of my colleagues leave the auditorium dejected. I worried about them and cried a little for their safety. After watching several of my teenage students not make what I thought was the last ferry to the airport, I cried some more (there should be violin music playing in the background by this point in the story), until the last ferry to the airport turned around in the middle of the Bay and went back to pick them up. Several of these kids I've known the four years we've lived here, and almost all of them I've taught. Not knowing what was going to happen next made it heartbreaking that they almost got left on island.

Ever flown 4 1/2 hours on a C130? Fun times. 

Flash forward. I didn't sleep more than 2-3 hours at a time until Matthew had passed GTMO on Tuesday, and tragically, at the last minute it took a turn to the right and decimated a small town about 40 miles east of us instead of our base.

We were lucky. Very, very lucky.

My husband and our wonderful neighbors bunkered down in one of their houses (rated for a Cat 2, by the way), and they bonded over their terrifying experience of waiting for a potential catastrophe.

For my family, it was not a vacation. Maybe we should have tried more to enjoy our freedom from base, but it just felt wrong celebrating when so many people we cared about were stuck in the path of a hurricane.

And full disclosure---instead of waiting for the news about the hurricane from Pensacola, I got in my rental car with the boys and drove a few hours to MS. I needed to be home. We stayed 2 days and I got to see my grandmother, who had turned 92 just a few days before we got there. We haven't seen her in over a year. I needed time to be with my family and felt a million times better. And yes, we ate out a few times in Pensacola and the kids had fun hanging out with each other and not worrying about school. The kids needed to be kids and forget about why they were there. But for many of us who had left friends and family behind, it was a bittersweet feeling---we are finally off island, but were wanting to be back with the people we love.

Some of my amazing GTMO friends were also there for me in Pensacola, knowing how worried I was about my husband and alternating between distracting me and comforting me. I didn't realize until I got there that I have both a high school and college friends living in Pensacola, and I got to reconnect with a couple of friends the 10 days we were there. You really do get to know who your friends are in times of crisis.

We joke about this place being Hotel California (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave), but this just hit too close to home.

I'm not amused by that joke anymore. I hate the feeling of having no control, and as much as I want to live in the present, feeling like I'm literally STUCK here is a horrible feeling.
okay, so I'm not TOTALLY biter. There is some humor to be found in being stuck in this crazy place. 

So this is me after mulling around my feelings for 2 weeks. I wish I could be more upbeat and all "I'm so happy we all survived!" Maybe that will come in time. All I can say is yes, we were lucky. 

I keep seeing people posting the saying, "Life can make you bitter or better. Choose better." With time, hopefully I'll see something positive out of this experience other than we all lived and should be thankful, poor planning be dammed. For now, though, I can't think about the present state of this place, and I choose to be pragmatic (and maybe a little cynical), and focus on the future. The Evacuation Debacle of 2016 makes me happier than ever to be back with my entire little family, and makes me more determined than ever that I WILL live somewhere a little less confining and with the freedom to move about (and out of harm's way), if I choose.