The world went dark at 11:34pm. Well, my world did. I’d called off work at 8. We were in the belly of a vicious blizzard that newscasters named Bruce. When did we start naming blizzards anyway?
The night was black, and white, and sickly amber from the jaundiced street light down the road. Then, it was just black. I was sitting on the back porch when the power went out. I just kept sitting. A white light sparked in the house as my parents unearthed an electric lantern.
An hour crept by. Then another. And another. The cold began to creep through the walls. My dusty attic room soon became uninhabitable. Silence engulfed the dining room as my parents let out an incessant flow of familiar bickering nearby. No distractions, nowhere to hide, without even a fan to drown out their angst, I could only sit and listen.
I’d like to say this outage felt very Zen, that I embraced the return to simplicity. But I didn’t. I grew restless, chilled, and annoyed. Long after they went to bed I sat with my dying cellphone, checking Ameren’s outage map. The wind screamed rabid outside. 60mph. Nothing to do, I curled up on a couch to nap, using two flannel shirts as blankets. I didn’t want to disturb anyone by grabbing a sheet from the clanky hall cupboard.
I once thought my timidity was out of empathy. But I wonder. Is kindness kindness when it’s motivated by anxiety?
The lantern went out. I watched the bulb slowly fade into the room. I dozed on the old couch, waking every so often to shiver. A gray sun rose across uncounted time, revealing icy debris. Branches and limbs. My friend/boss told me they got less than an inch at the store. We got 6 – 8 and we’re only 12 miles north.
This little village of only 150 people was buried and freezing in silence. I knew it’d take awhile for us to get power; thousands of people were out, including Peoria—a major city. Frozen snow stared back at me from the northeast side of my neighbor’s tree. Gray like the sky, like my mood. Tired. Cold.
I ventured outdoors to clean off the cars. Snow crunched like breaking glass beneath me. The frozen trees clicked in the breeze, a skeletal sound. “How long?” I wondered, trailing out a cool, smokey breath that made me want a cigarette.
Long. Very long.
I “slept” in my father’s room, occasionally stirred by their unnecessarily loud traditional arguing. I had to work that night. I couldn’t afford to call off two nights in a row.
Beneath the thick blanket, my body was warmed as my face grew numb. I tried sleeping with my head undercover, but then my breath kept me awake. I must’ve been confused, because sometimes when I woke, the hall looked black. Then I’d wake again a few minutes later, and it’d be that chilling gray loaned by the sky.
8:30pm. Time to get up for work. My head was throbbing—insidious cold and caffeine withdrawal. My parents got a genny during the day, so thank Fuck, coffee! A beam of warm dark roast in the endangered night.
But we couldn’t run the pot and the space heaters at the same time. With the rooms dipping into the 40’s, I had to settle for lukewarm relief.
Loud voices! Arguing and arguing, piercing through my aching, jumbled head. “Would you please shut the fuck up!” I bellowed through the house. Uncharacteristic aggression, I’m ordinarily soft-spoken and passive.
Aware of my slip, but too tired to feel bad, I sat and drank and dreamed of tomorrow. No water, I went to work stinky and brushed my teeth in one of the restroom sinks.
My mood improved. There, there was light! There were things to do, conversations to be had. Attractive people to check out. There was life.
Alarms went off for no reason. Their power was out for 12 hours during the day, so I’m guessing that something got fucked up. I didn’t mind. I made jokes about it to the customers, getting smiles and laughs.
I busted out laughing when I heard “Africa” by Toto on the radio trying to compete with the ear popping rhythmic screech. It was an absurd moment. Those are my favorite moments.
Of course every moment is really absurd. I mean, what the fuck is even happening right now? I’m a weird tube-sack tapping a rectangle that puts shapes on a white background for other tube-sacks to look at on other rectangles.
While I was on break, my mom called to let me know that the power was back on and if I could get her some cigarettes in the morning.
Knowledge. I’d be at home later, fed and warm in my bed, alone in my room after taking a leisurely bath and writing this entry. Cheap strawberry-pineapple wine, the work week done, my two weeks notice given, and a house full of heat and light.
I didn’t do my best to enjoy the outage. I could’ve, and I recommend trying to enjoy such things. But I’ve sworn to not interfere with myself. To just watch and see what happens.
Observe and report. Last I heard, some people are still without power. I hope they have generators or were able to travel to someone else’s warm house to wait it out. And I hope they aren’t arguing too much.
Now my mind turns to a woman while my heart beats in mystery.