The morning after the worst storm we’d had all year, the sun rose and clouds parted, illuminating damaged rooftops, toppled sheds, garbage scattered across muddy lawns, uprooted trees narrowly missing parked cars. Residents opened their doors to the aftermath, thankful their homes were still standing but perplexed by nature’s attack on unsuspecting gnomes, flamingos, bird feeders, fountains, grills, and wicker furniture now broken and twisted, too fragile to use, too blemished for curb appeal.
We drove around, retrieving city-issued receptacles and other items that had journeyed across the neighborhood, checking on the most vulnerable to make sure they had survived. Familiar faces filled yards and hoisted Hefty garbage bags over their shoulders. Parents with children and Golden Retrievers by their sides, strolled by handing out water and granola bars, offering their assistance with broken fences, tree removal and stump grinding.
When I returned home, I put away my candles, scraped wax off the coffee table, reset the clock on the microwave, and opened the windows to let in the fresh air. My phone buzzed with text messages from friends, family. I responded with emojis and one line messages that conveyed general concern, an invitation to respond if they needed anything. And after two cups of coffee, I went out into my backyard, clearing branches and leaves, fast food wrappers and wrinkled notebook paper with spelling words written in cursive, math problems scribbled on one side, answers blurred. Plants in ceramic planters leaned to the side, their roots exposed, so I secured them, adding more soil to keep them upright. I swept dirt from corners and restored the awning.
Around midday the doorbell rang, my sister and her children on the other side of the door, peering through the peephole to see if I was home. I sat at the kitchen table, eating an egg salad sandwich, listening to the children run across the grass.
“I know you’re home,” my sister yelled. “Your windows are open.”
“Yeah, we know you’re home,” the children parroted, giggling as they went back to their game of tag.
I went to the door, put my hand on the lock, and then froze, stepping back a couple feet.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I’m checking on you…I can’t check on my sister?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I don’t need anything.”
“Okay,” she sang. “Well, we’re fine too,” she mocked.
“You wouldn’t know because you never call or come by.”
“That’s not true…” I started.
“It is,” she turned to walk away. “That’s the way it’s always been.”
“No,” I said, watching her rally her children.
They were the most vulnerable, and even after years of acrimony, I still checked on them first.