Essay: Hurricane in North Carolina brings a flood of memories
The spouse teases that I am an ambulance chaser; the visiting adult child says, “You sure are watching a lot of hurricane coverage. It’s all the same for hours.”
Yet I still want to, and at least once, defensive, I wait impatiently until they are out the front door, then switch on the kitchen TV, to look and half listen as I move about.
I’ve always been attracted to weather events; when a hurricane was approaching my mother and stepfather’s house in Maryland, I called and communicated, found and sent them more information. As the sky turned gray there, I had an odd feeling of wishing I too was in Annapolis to share in whatever was coming.
With Hurricane Florence, I was fixed. On the rain, wind, swelling floods, and the names. Kill Devil Hills. Nag’s Head, Kitty Hawk, Ocracoke Island.
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When I was 17, two Leslies and I took a road trip, driving the five hours to the North Carolina shore in Leslie S’s bright blue VW convertible. I think we may have stopped in Virginia Beach. I mean, why wouldn’t we?
“How come we let you do that?” my mother says wonderingly today. And really, we three were lucky we weren’t arrested for something or other; but parents, poor dears, were more trusting then. They hadn’t grown up in a world where marijuana and other substances floated around at parties.
The reason for the trip was, ostensibly, hang-gliding lessons at Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers once flew. I still remember the name of the outfit, Kitty Hawk Kites, and the orange logo T shirt I bought. We did that for a day or two on the massive dunes, yes. The rest of the time we traveled and camped at the beaches.
Leslie T, who had learned to drive a car by the time we were 14 (“Hey, you want to go driving?” she asked, and I sat admiringly in the passenger seat, surely without a seatbelt on, as she took us out on the highway, merging and exiting without qualm), arranged the whole thing. She had the road maps, knew where we’d camp in Kill Devil Hills, knew when and where to take the ferry to Ocracoke. I can still see and smell the inside of that creaking ferry.
We were probably never so free again. Leslie T and I would go on to college in different directions; Leslie S still had another year at our small high school. And as of today, we three will never be together again, perhaps not even two of us. Leslie T died six years ago after a long battle with breast cancer.
I ran into Leslie S once on a street in Scotland, where I was studying — junior year abroad — and she was traveling. It was a merry, elated chance reunion, and then I did see her again once later. That was after she’d joined with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Korean evangelist and self-styled messiah who founded the Unification Church. Her mother hired someone to find her and bring her back; and then invited Leslie T and me to dinner, clearly hoping to rekindle some sense of the familiar. We two drove to the mother’s new place, an hour away. Leslie S spoke quietly, often averted her eyes. She did want to show me the Washington Times, a newspaper founded by Moon, and spread it out on the kitchen floor. Three days later she returned to that church. We two corresponded for a while, by occasional letters. She was married in the church, had a child, told me she worked in a communal garden. We’ve lost touch now, though a few years ago a mutual high school friend had a short visit from her.
In and after high school, you lose a few people. First, starting at driving age and through the teens, it was to motor-vehicle accidents or drugs. Somewhere along the line Leslie S’s brother, with whom she was close, died young. By your 40s and 50s you lose more, to cancer and/or genetics or ill chance, or again accidents, or sometimes the accumulation of alcohol or drugs if people did a lot of those over a lot of years.
It gets so you feel grateful for going forward with your health, because after a while, for whatever reason, a lot of peers no longer have it.
Those of us who spent teenage years in the ’70s or early ’80s came along in the wake of the ’60s, that time of social change and upheaval, Woodstock and the pill, flower children and throwing it all to the winds and dancing. Or protesting. I was at the tail end of the boomers; the trailing vestige of chaos.
Of the crew I hung with most in my mid teens, meaning Leslie T, Kim and Molly, only Molly and I are left. The other two we lost to breast cancer and lung cancer. And others we just lost along the way. I feel like those of us still here are lucky, and survivors.
And so I kept watching the hurricane coverage, thinking about those beaches and trees, and the time I was there with my two friends, with their blonde hair and smiles and all of us with print bandanas, hanging out in a cornflower blue convertible, sleeping in my red tent.
Six years ago, I hastened to Annapolis just in time to spend a beautiful sunny afternoon, which turned out to be her last, with Leslie T, with whom I had always stayed in touch, and through her, with a community still there. Leslie T and I could always pick right back up, but she was that way with everyone.
“Leslie, Alison’s here to see you,” her mother told her, with a gentle touch to the shoulder. We talked a little, and then I read in a chair beside her while she slept. Her mother, living on coffee and no sleep, came back up the stairs. “Alison, tell her some of the stories from that trip to North Carolina. She always talked about that.”
I paused; I sort of had to wait until the mother left again to start. And I launched into a few, starting with how only half an hour from home we had a police car pull up behind us, but talked our way out of trouble. Then I trailed off. Leslie was silent, and I did not know if she could hear me.
This next is a story I’ve told before, but I will always remember it. I ventured, feeling sheepish, “We had a lot of fun.”
Leslie opened pale lips and whispered, “We had a lot of fun.”
Alison Osius of Carbondale is executive editor for Rock and Ice magazine and columns editor Trail Runner magazine.
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