When a hurricane comes… reflections on Otis
My first memories are of a hurricane after four or five years. There are previous, more pleasant ones, but, to be honest, I long ago abandoned the claim that they were my own, recognizing, instead, the inevitable influence of photographs and my parents' desire to sweeten childhood. If I eliminate those memories of childhood parties or afternoons of games, what remains is the regret of those days in Cozumel, when Wilma destroyed the island where I was born. It won't be as nice as seeing the sea for the first time or the contours of a beloved face when it smiles, but at least it's a memory of your own; the first to feel alone mine.
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I tend to avoid it, as is to be expected—no one wants to live, on their own, in the reminiscence of childhood fear. But in recent days, with the images of Otis destroying Acapulco, My mind returned to those remote days where I understood that nature, almost always so beautiful, can also be cruel to us for no apparent reason. I see myself filled with the greatest empathy having gone through my own hurricane so long ago. With this, the last thing I would like is to insinuate that, only because of my past, I can feel close to Acapulco in moments of atrocity. I differ, many times, with that ancient belief that things have to be experienced to be felt; that an emotion is only sincere when it belongs to the author. If that were true, literature would be doomed to failure and Acapulco would only have the good wishes of other coasts affected, in the past, by another gale.
What I do believe, on the other hand, is that the experience of a hurricane, outside of the terror shared with other disasters, cannot be summarized in the images of destruction that are everywhere today. It's not like a tremor—hard; sudden-; nor as a war—violent and imposed by our own species. The hurricane is another temporary monster. It is, on the one hand, anticipated: you hear a lot of predictions and, in you, the fear is brewing before the impact. It is also a prolonged beast because of the hours it takes to pass. It is loud and destructive. It is deceptive, at the same time, with the eye of peace that forms in its center and gives respite to so much cruelty. It is, above all, devastating, when everything ends and the feeling of survival survives among the people along with the immense regret of the sun rising as a mockery and showing, in the greatest of clarity, the destruction of everything that before It was called "home." He lives, perpetually, in the memory of those who saw him pass.
For all of the above, today I return, on my own, to the depths of childhood; waiting for explain what it's like to live on the coast and know that, eventually, the hurricane will come. Even more so, what is the brief flash recorded, forever, inside you. Only with a general chronicle of hurricanes can we replicate their real destruction and understand, with the greatest sincerity that distance allows, what Otis means for the people of Guerrero today.
So, from the past, I hope to help you understand the present with these attempts.
My memories do not go back to the previous days of Wilma—my childhood hurricane—although, having lived through many others since then, I can revive the pattern that surely happened at the same time in my childhood. There is something ritualistic about these phenomena. They are repeated so much that, for coastal people, they are part of reality like elections every few years or the arrival of carnival. The first thing that arrives are the alerts everywhere—news and radio; social networks, more recent, too. Images of predictions begin to spread and, among the casual conversations, questions about the hurricane begin to creep in along with inquisitions about the health of family members. The supermarket is clogged with cautious shoppers a few days before, taking mountains of food and endless amounts of paper—as if they wanted to protect their delicate nature from the water that threatens to destroy the toilet rolls. Panic slowly builds up. In public, no one shows it except the subtle hesitations of nervousness.
Hence, the wait. Nobody goes out; everyone locks themselves up. With wood, they reinforce the doors and, with cinnamon tape, they draw asterisks on the windows with the fear that they will break. That inside the home. Outside, the sky is covered in as many shades of gray as those found in Gothic palaces or medieval paintings. If it is day, the clouds devour the sun; If it is night, the stars, so accustomed to seeing their reflection in the sea, disappear in a thick blanket. All that remains is the patient wait and the hope of little severity.
The wind begins like a sigh; A whisper. It makes you think that it won't be so bad when you arrive. The rains are unleashed, first, as a scarce spark to intensify along with the gale. Outside, if there are trees nearby, they move with a flexibility that you never imagined until the roots, forged for years, cannot withstand the disdain of nature and the destructive impact of nature falling with the ground will sound, for the first time. Fear. Master the fear of knowing you are locked up and trusting only in the walls around you without being able to do anything but wait.
When everything in Cozumel intensified—when glass and branches were flying everywhere I looked—my memory decided to record its first entry. It is not perfect, I must say as a preface; but it is so great in the weight that it has left me. I remember being at one end of the room, completely away from the windows. I suppose, from what I remember of the place, that I must have been lying on a bed, covering myself with a blanket for the terror of seeing palm trees fall and listening, without restraint, to the uncontrolled static of the winds. Above all, terror survives; the tears that wanted to come out of my facebut, after so many previous hours of fear, they could not find the waters within me to express themselves.
That's how my father arrived and, seeing me withdrawn, he took me by the hand to the window in an attempt to cure my fears. «He's not going to do anything to you, José; "It's just wind." He opened the glass, I remember, and putting his hand next to mine, we touched the mosquito net. I don't remember the tone of his voice. In fact, I don't even remember his face. It could have been an act of shared bravery or one of desperation when seeing a fearful child. Only that image of my hand against the wet mosquito net lives in my mind; to feel how the wind tried to enter and touch every space that was allowed. I saw, from afar, how our garden was full of foreign debris brought by the wind. The garage, with the cars, completely flooded. I was at that window trying to believe, as difficult as it was, the gentleness of the wind caressing my palm and the cruelty that lay beyond my fingers. Brotherhood, for a moment, I found Wilma in front of me without being able to understand her gentle embrace of destructive winds.
There will be more memories of the style stuck in my subconscious—if that even exists. In my memory, Live only that brief moment of the many hours of the hurricane. What came next was the calm of Wilma having encountered the misfortune of her destruction. But that is universal. It is the same one that is seen in the photos of Otis and in the trails of any hurricane. If there is a big difference between those who experienced the hurricane and those who, from afar, empathize with it, it is the memories that last in the long run. Everyone thinks of the buildings with broken glass and destroyed plants; Only, having gone through it firsthand, do they survive those subtle moments twinned by the hurricane.
What is not seen, what no one tells, are the scarce memories that cling, amid regrets, to memory. It is seeing destruction in progress and not just its end. I don't remember anything else about Wilma, but I think that that moment that she survived and, these days, she came back to me, is enough to understand the weight of a hurricane. I hope, with this, empathy expands beyond the covers of newspapers with facades in ruins. Well, my greatest regret is that so many other children, growing up in Acapulco, have created a memory so similar to mine these days.
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