Life After Apocalypse Town

Life After Apocalypse Town

Vegetation after Hurricane Irma
Image Credit: Sophie Rothman

Well, it’s been nine months now.

That’s the equivalent to an entire gestation period of a human being, for reference.

Anyone that was here in the Virgin Islands for Irma and Maria and chose to stay (or had not the means to leave or was obligated to remain) for the subsequent months is now relatively tired of talking about it. Or, rather, most people are tired of being asked about it.

And by most people I mean me.

And if you are one of those people asking, I get it. I’m sure it’s a curious thing most people don’t experience, and they have questions. If I had a friend that lived on a volcano and the volcano exploded one day I would ask about it because I have limited personal experience surviving explosive volcanoes.

Even now that the ‘excitement’ has died down and the islands look, to the untrained eye, like everything is back to normal (it isn’t) people still ask about it.

Where were you?
Was it scary?
Was it loud?
Did you have to resort to cannibalism afterwards?

Ok I may have made that last one up but certainly someone somewhere was sitting on their designer leather sofa in America one day drinking their half-caf Frappuccino whilst pondering some of the finer complexities of life and I can only assume that thought probably crossed their mind at some point.

Roads after Hurricane Irma
Image Credit: Sophie Rothman Our magical spot on the side of the road endearingly named ‘The Phone Booth’. You had to get there early and beat the crowd if you wanted VIP curb-side seating.

I don’t mind that people are curious, it makes sense based on the extremely limited stateside news coverage the Virgin Islands received before, during, and after the storms. At first it seemed like the media had plenty of hurricane season f*cks to give for everyone, or at least enough to go around. Once a potential threat to the mainland United States had been identified, however, it was as if news stations ran out of f*cks for us. It reallocated the f*cks elsewhere. Shortly after Irma, whilst breaking curfew at 6am to drive through the telephone-pole-strewn Mad Max-looking landscape that I endearingly referred to as ‘Apocalypse Town’, I arrived at the top of a nearby hill where many residents went for our daily hour of cell service and read an article about Maria’s trajectory that essentially communicated the following to its audience:

Hurricane Irma Virgin Islands
Image Credit: Sophie Rothman Hurricane Humor

“Howdy America! Maria is heading towards the east coast, but it looks like there’s a bunch of rocks and land mass in the ocean between it and us, and if we’re all REALLY lucky, hopefully the storm will get slowed down on its way to Florida by making landfall on said aforementioned rocks where I’m sure people don’t live at all. Fingers crossed!”

Spoiler alert, we’re the rocks.

This lack of propagation of news and information left many people uninformed or misinformed. The incredibly large majority of people I spoke with were led to believe that most Virgin Islanders lost power for a few days or weeks. A normal person would probably respond to this by saying something like “Well, while everyone waited a different length of time for power to be restored to their homes, based on their location and the condition of the telephone poles in the area, it in fact took exactly four months for my apartment to get hooked back up to electricity.”

My response tends to more closely resemble a Tourette’s outburst whereupon I loudly exclaim ’FOUR MONTHS’ at people without much further explanation. The follow up question to that fine specimen of verbal eloquence is usually something to the tune of ‘but how?’.

This is a reasonable question. How does one live without electricity for four months?

But for some reason this question irritates me. Not because people should inherently know these things but because I wish that they knew them. And beyond knowing I want people to understand. And ideally, I would be able to instantaneously transfer that knowledge and understanding via osmosis like some sort of weird, emotional superhero but Marvel Comics hasn’t become that desperate for new movie ideas yet.

Hurricane Food
Image Credit: Sophie Rothman Dinner of Champions

There are too many post-hurricane concepts I want to explain. There’s no need for incredulousness when I say I lived without electricity. You don’t actually need what you think you need, and I want to explain that, but I don’t know if I can adequately do so. Sure, it’s NICE to have a refrigerator but you won’t die without one. Your survival is not dependent on refrigeration. You’ll eat a lot of Cheetos, no doubt, but will you DIE? No. I mean technically you COULD die from choking on one but that isn’t fair because that applies to food requiring refrigeration as well. You could just as easily choke to death on a cold baby carrot. You’ll just get super sick of Cheetos and the roof of your mouth will be all ripped up from that fake-cheese-and-corn-byproduct-exoskeleton excuse for a snack. Seriously, if you eat enough of them it feels like you’re chewing on razor blades in the desert. I don’t recommend.

But I digress.

Looting after Hurricane Irma
Image Credit: Sophie Rothman Signage is very important in Apocalypse Town

I become irritated, not because Chester betrayed me, and I no longer enjoy a bag of crunchy Cheetos as I once did, but because the question ‘how’ lacks a simple answer. It deserves an award-winning Cannes Film Festival documentary or a novel with some dramatic cover art of a gnarled tree at dusk or at the very least a full, uninterrupted hour of your time. Because ‘oh well you just get some solar lights and you take a lot of cold bucket showers and everything is inconvenient all the time’ doesn’t accurately capture what it was like here. It doesn’t capture my personal experience and it certainly doesn’t cover the experience of the majority. I don’t have time to explain that weird rash we got from the decaying leaf juice back-splash accompanying the nonstop clearing of trees and other debris. Or how awesome headlamps are. Or how not awesome headlamps are when you’re walking your dog at night and Mothra starts attacking your face because headlamps are essentially giant moth homing beacons. Or how boring it is to wait in line for four hours for fuel only to find that the gas station is only allowing each person to purchase $20 that day. Or how baby wipes are worth more than gold. Or how it feels at night trying to fall asleep in your apartment where you live alone after listening to people talk all day about lootings and break-ins and a rising sense of fear and desperation. Telling people ‘things are going to get worse before they get better’ became the new ‘lovely weather we’re having today’ introductory small talk statement.

But things didn’t get worse before they got better. They just got better. And then they got mo’ better.

And I don’t have time to tell each person that asks me the generic ‘what was it like’ question that many of us were worried about the islands bouncing back, about the state of our tourist-driven economy or the massive bouts of unemployment that follow these disasters.

Sunsi Bay After Hurricane Irma
Image Credit: Sophie Rothman Sunsi Bay, Post-Irmaria, May 2018

As it turns out, the strongest Hurricane every recorded in the Atlantic is still not as strong as the people who endured it (that’s right, I’m about to get cheesier than a bag of crunchy Cheetos. Which isn’t that difficult because I don’t think there’s any real cheese in that product. And I would know). And while I’m not sure if I’ll ever be content with my response to curious visitors, I’m glad that they’re here visiting.

So where are we nine months later? New businesses are popping up everywhere, there are a few new hurricane babies, my appreciation of electricity has grown exponentially, and best of all, my tree-juice rash is long gone.

Sophie Rothman

Sophie Rothman
Sophie was born in St. Thomas, where she developed an intense appreciation for the ocean and a powerful aversion to close-toed shoes. Tragically, she was spirited away at a young age to the frigid northland of Long Island, New York where she lived for four years before moving around the east coast between New Jersey, Florida, and Maryland.

After Graduating from Loyola University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and French Language Studies, Sophie moved back to St. Thomas where she now works for Prosperitas Investment Management, an EDC company specializing in financial advisory and business development.

When she isn’t working Sophie spends as much time as possible outdoors, frolicking around the beach with her dapper canine and spirit animal, Ziggy.

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