Last night, FEMA called me for a follow up interview on my experience applying for aid. I said, "I applied for aid? I remember the application with the Small Business Administration, but not FEMA."
She assured me that I had applied--and later I realized that I must have applied, because otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to apply for a loan with the SBA--one is eligible for a loan when FEMA determines that one isn't eligible for money/support in any other way from FEMA. I was fairly sure we wouldn't be eligible, since we have insurance, and I was right.
My experience with FEMA wasn't very memorable, clearly, but the interview went on.
When we got to the question about the factor that has been most important in our inability to fully recover from the storm, tears prickled in my eyes. I chose the best option from the list: lack of contractor availability or lack of supplies. There weren't any questions about inability to make a phone call for weeks on end--and I don't mean that the equipment wasn't working. There weren't any answers that talked about the exhaustion of it all.
There wasn't an answer that said, "Realization that my retirement plans are completely untenable, and therefore, I didn't want to invest any more time and money in this house that was the cornerstone of my retirement plan. But if we don't invest the money, we can't sell the house, and then we won't be able to develop any other retirement plan."
I finished the interview without completely breaking down, although perhaps the very nice FEMA lady sensed my quivering voice. As she read the questions, I thought about all the people who have already left South Florida--just yesterday morning, a friend of mine wrote to say she was moving and would be gone by May 31, but she'd love to have one last dinner together. I thought about how a storm changes the landscape: trees destroyed, houses bulldozed, shorelines reshaped, and people who pack up and move to a place where they hope they will be safer.
As we concluded, I asked the interviewer where she was calling from tonight. She said, "Texas." I complimented her on her lovely accent which sounded like home to me. I'm not from Texas, of course, but I do love regional accents from the U.S. South.
I hung up the phone and wept.
But it was a good kind a cry, the kind that reminds me that I'm carrying around a lot of pain that I don't often take time to recognize, the kind that's good to get out of my body by way of tears.