CURRENTLY: María, Minimalism and Messy Goodbyes
“If you have less things, you will loose less things.” I kept thinking over and over again while picking up three “glad” bags worth of items that were wet, stained or ripped. I’m not one to cry about material things but this time felt different. I couldn’t hold back the tears. See, just weeks ago I had moved from my favorite apartment into my mom’s house. Yes, I became the thirty year old that after 13 years came back “home”. It was all part of a strategic savings plan, mind you. But, it happened to coincide with my mom having hip replacement surgery. Which proved to be the best, because I could help her at home. Anyways, back to the move. I had carefully selected which items would survive my toss-or-donate piles because whatever I kept, was truly meaningful. I was on a mission to save every penny for the possibility of a work transfer. This meant, moving across ocean to my dream city. It also meant, starting from scratch. I’ve been itching for a new beginning for a while. This was the perfect opportunity to really ask myself what really mattered, materialistic or emotionally.
September 1st, I left the apartment. The one that helped me understand what kind of life I want to live. It saw my highest highs and my lowest lows. It carried all my emotions with each new candle, book, plant, roommate or lack thereof. A space, rented or not, is what you make of it and I was ALWAYS determined to make it my own. At times, when I would be at my lowest of lows, the apartment would also carry the burden of my anxiety by just existing. Those four walls in my room served as a barrier of my bouts of depression and the real world. It would hold all my clothes that wouldn’t see a hanger for days, the tea cups that I could care less about stacked up on my bedside table, the plants that kept dying because I couldn’t bring myself out of bed after a day’s work to water them. My space became me. At times, scattered, dirty, lonely… On a good week, pristine, color coded, “instagramable”.
Last year, on my yearly New York trip, an Airbnb host who practiced minimalism said to me, “if you can fit all your true belongings in one box, you can call any place home.” I instantly thought this wouldn’t work out with someone like me. I need a place to have my things. I need a place to hide my fears too. But, a stream of questions took over me since then. What are things even? Can I buy that book again? Would I ship my tea stained bedside table cross country if I moved? Could I make sure to fit what really mattered in three boxes? Exactly a year later, there I was. Ready for change. With three open boxes. Three, because I figured I didn’t need to go so damn deep into the minimalist thing. I wasn’t moving yet, just “saving”. I filled one with clothes that were season-less, durable or that I just really liked wearing. The second box was full of records, books that I could read over and over again, couple pairs of shoes, my all time favorite totes and a folder of important documents. The third box was the hardest. I wanted to stash my living room table that has enough stories around it, I could write a whole post about it. I wanted to fill it to the brim with miscellaneous things like my juicer, my bodum electric tea kettle, a beautiful etched cocktail shaker that I had thrifted. I was embarrassed that these were the things that somehow mattered to me. But I figured, since I’m going to my mom’s house, I’ll bring the damn juicer, sell or gift everything else and call it a day.
Two things that I (re)learned just two weeks after the move: 1) I live in an island that’s a storm magnet, 2) Things are just things.
The same day I moved back home we started getting daily warnings about tropical storms that were developing in the Atlantic. We’ve braved intense storms and hurricanes before, so we prepared for the usual. Bought a couple gallons of water, some canned goods, charged all our electronics, made sure we had some batteries for our flashlights and hoped for the best. The first hurricane to say hi to us was called Irma. She was a beast! Irma was a category three hurricane that was supposed to pass by our northern coast. It came with strong winds, enough to blow a couple trees down and leave us without electricity or water for two weeks. We thought everything was gonna get back to how it was and with a slow build in just two weeks we could see a bit of normalcy coming through. But, we were not ready at ALL for the nightmare called María. This storm became hurricane in what seemed like seconds. A whole chunk of the island was still recovering from Irma when María hit. This hurricane was unlike any other. In fact, it was estimated the last hurricane with this magnitude had impacted our island 100 years ago! Not only was María headed straight to our island, I also spent the night with my mom at the hospital with the winds reaching 160mph and rains so steady that they flooded her room. At 3am, we had to switch her over to a new room because water was dripping from the ceiling like a waterfall. We braved the damn thing away from home, in a Rehabilitation facility in the middle of nowhere, without knowing anything about the outside world because all communication went down.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally came out I went ot to scope out the damage. Every single tree-top in sight was gone. The road towards the main avenue was blocked by fallen trees. I kept insisting that if I could just make my way over to the main avenue a couple miles down, I could get signal. Maybe even help clean up the area. But, I didn’t know how bad María hit. We had to wait three full days for neighbors to make way with machetes for everyone to finally see beyond what we had experienced. María was so strong she knocked down every television transmission, every radio station but one and the whole island was in darkness. The structural damage to our power lines was straight out of a end of the world movie. Once, we were able to pass through to the main avenue, I tried driving out to see if I could communicate with anyone with no luck. I do not kid around when I say that this new view of my island was life changing. It’s as if every single thing was broken. The trees, the homes, the roads… the people. You could see the sadness in everyone’s eyes and I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. I was mad, I was sad.. I felt hopeless. The place I call home was in pieces and there was no bandaid big enough to patch it up.
We left the hospital earlier so my mom could recover at home. I still get chills when I think about the state our apartment was in when we came back. Even after protecting every single window, nature made its way into my room. Water came in gushing through one of the windows and flooded it. There was water all the way to the living room. Before I could even process this, tears came down. The realization that the few things that mattered, those three boxes that I carefully selected as the items that meant the most… were gone. Destroyed, stained, wet… Our balcony looked like a war zone. Our fridge reeked. Our home was no longer a home. It was an unasked for new beginning.
Assessing the situation was more than just the logistics of how we were going to clean and repair. It was coming back with a different mindset. The realization that everything we were used to is gone, was ok for a couple of days. But twenty days after María, a slap of reality hit. To get food? Try a line of 200+ people just to get inside a grocery store that only has two aisles of food left. The same for ice, pharmacies, atm’s… Our new normal was one big line of deception. A line that starts with hope and ends up in despair. An endless cycle of being unable to get what you need or provide for others in need.
What are things when you can’t get food. What are things when you can’t find an open pharmacy to get the meds your mom needs. My carefully selected box of “things” is now a meaningless box of stuff I can easily live without. Minimalism came to mind. This was the perfect opportunity to really dig deep and make some changes. It was a new routine but at the end of the day, we were safe. That's what mattered.
Two weeks into the disaster I got an email following up on the possibility about my work transfer. I had started this whole process in August and honestly I felt like it wasn't a possibility anymore. Specially post-María. But, in an incredibly fortunate change of events, there was a spot available for me and I had a phone interview the following week. I had to drive out about half an hour to a place where there was phone signal to be able to take the call. I made sure to test that my phone was working by calling a friend. By the end of the call I was offered a position. By the end of that day, I bought the plane ticket. Bittersweet thoughts came rolling in. For months I had thought about living in New York. I decorated my imaginary apartment in my head almost every day. But leaving, specially now, had a whole different intention. It felt like I was thrown a life vest and I had to take to get back some sort of normalcy.