By Lizbette Ocasio-Russe
I’d never seen her like that before. My baby girl’s beautiful face was all twisted up in cruel realization. She stood with her trusted, stuffed dog Chuito, petrified like the wood María had scattered all over the street, the street she could no longer play on with her friends. Many she hadn’t heard from for a month or two, others had just kind of vanished. Whether it was from Hurricane María or the diaspora, I still didn’t know. She wouldn’t speak; No matter how hard I tried to coax her out of silence, the blank stare and muteness remained. Not even the coconut candy I offered her cleared the fog stifling her consciousness. She was silent the whole time the storm was raging, too, though the blankness had not arrived; only her wild eyes darting back and forth hinted at concern. She didn’t let go of Chuito, though her grip on him loosened as the winds and rains roared into the morning. I’ll never forget how the wind sounded, gusting by outside the rattling walls of our home. It carried the voices of millions shrieking and crying across the island. It was thunder and lightning, explosions, crashes, and rock slides. I offered my baby girl some headphones and an old CD player to block out the chaos, but she refused.
“No, quiero escuchar, mami. I want to hear it,” is all she said.
At first, what I perceived as bravery impressed me, but I would soon learn it wasn’t a matter of courage. When we finally came out of the closet, the tears were inevitable. Storm shutters were blown away, windows broken, belongings gone or destroyed. Our pictures, all of our family photos, had either been carried away or ruined. Water damage, debris damage, psychological damage, emotional damage. It was everywhere you looked. The first to look outside was my baby girl. When I found her after I had assessed the damage to our home, she was standing where our front door used to be with Chuito hanging limply from her hand.
“Mi amor…Sweetheart,” I called to her. Nothing. “Everything is going to be okay,” I assured her.
She dropped Chuito, his silent, plush landing exterminating any hope I had managed to retain. Hurricane María had taken my baby girl.