Me And Irene


Heather O’Neill

Heather O’Neill is a freelance writer in San Francisco who considers the day a success if she has changed out of her pajamas before noon. An elegant work outfit? Pants and a bra. At the same time. Heather’s online writing has appeared on, ecomii, Yahoo! Green, Crazy Sexy Life and ecofabulous, and in print in Parenting, Natural Solutions, Marin Magazine, Greenwich Magazine, Workforce Management and HOME. She is the founder of Eco to the People, a green living blog and earned an MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts.

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I survived a hurricane the week I was supposed to get married. Literally, not figuratively. This seemed appropriate.

Others were annoyed by the incoming storm but I was psyched. If not a wedding, then something, I thought. While the storm threatened to hit New Hampshire, to knock out the power, brain us all by trees or drown us in our beds with a swelling lake, I was OK with it. It was perfect. At least, there was something perfect about it for me.

The hurricane hit Squam Lake a few days before our wedding had been scheduled to occur. Though we had canceled it three months prior to the trip, we decided to take the vacation anyway. There was no convenient way to get out of it and I thought being with my family on that day might be a good idea. Better than sulking in my pajamas, drinking wine alone, which is what I feared would happen if left in my own environment.

When I arrived at the cabin, I was sure we had made a mistake. The very sight of the man formerly-known-as-fiancé irked me. I felt chaotic, self-conscious and slightly unglued. Drinking wine in bed suddenly sounded like a grand idea.

The storm hit at the exact moment in time that my emotions started percolating in a way that felt dangerous to me. All I had to do was look up at the sky or feel the stickiness of my armpits to know that the universe was feeling just as turbulent.

I didn’t have the fresh-faced attitude of a bride, but the pushed-down flatness of a person facing a week that just needed to be gotten through. The atmosphere seemed to feel the same. All that air pressure and the low-lying, mean-looking cloud cover felt made just for me. The humidity taunted rain for hours, a tear at the edge of the lash line. It took a while, took some time to make up its mind, but when it finally rained, holy Jesus, it did not hold back. It poured like a motherfucker. Just like I feared I might, if I allowed myself to cry.

When the wind picked up and white caps formed on the lake, I started to feel again that I might be in the right place. He and I kept our distance.

It poured in rivers all day. We had to roll up our pants and wear rubber shoes and drag umbrellas through the trees just to stay halfway dry. Inside, I hid in the bathroom a few times to keep my face from being wet at inappropriate times. Luckily, we were all so soaked and drowned-looking that no one noticed my eyes.

Once the rain stopped, the wind started and it occurred to me that I might be wrong for not believing in God, or life after death. The howling in my head was blurred by the noise. It felt either like my dead mother’s fuck you to our indecision about one another — Marry him already!! — or Mother Earth herself hollering at us for not fighting harder for this, for failing, at me for needing more. The weather seemed to feel, as I did, that this was all unfair, unnecessary. That we were acting out mean things couples do to one another, things that don’t need to happen but that make them feel more alive somehow. And then dead somehow, too.

Standing outside the cabin, at the storm’s strongest, I stood with my arms open to the wind, my back to him. Pine needles swirled in my eyes and it felt like anger, not weather, that was whipping the trees and hurling doors open and shut, open and shut. It was a relief for the madness to come from around me and not out of me. All I had to do was stand there to feel the satisfying slap of a slamming a door or see him smacked in the face by a wayward branch. The wind screamed through the leaves, instead of me having to do the screaming. Even if I had picked a fight, hollered, stamped my feet in rage, no one would have heard me. Except for him, and he had heard it all already.

Inside, with the power out, the whole group was quieter than normal, the candlelight lulling us to speak just above whispers despite the turbulence outside. Walking with flashlights made us all more careful of our steps, myself more than others since the ankle I broke last winter is still tender. Parts of me needed to be coddled slightly. I was treading lightly that night because I had to.

In the early morning I woke and the sun was out, the lake was glass. I wasn’t sure for a moment where I was. He lay next to me, ensconced in his own covers, grandmotherly bedspreads that smelled like a wood fire and dust. His twin bed was pushed close to mine; we were near but not together. Until I looked over at him it seemed like a dream, all of it. I took his hand and rolled over again, went back to sleep.

That day, and the days since, have been better. It is rare that the barometric pressure matches what is inside. I am buoyant for the first time in months.

© Heather O’Neill

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