I didn’t cry. Not when it started raining. Not when I heard about furniture floating out front doors and people escaping from their second-story windows.
I didn’t cry when I read about my friend on Facebook and felt horror and shame at what happened and that I hadn’t called sooner. She has grown kids here. They’ll take care of her. She’s fine.
I didn’t cry when I went the next day and found her sitting in a lawn chair in what I imagined to be one of the seven levels of hell. The water had receded. What remained was a viscous, oozing layer of black slime covering every inch of floor in the lower level of her house — a reminder of how the glass door blew out from the force of the water and the tide rushed in, knocking her down and filling the pockets of her raincoat with water.
I didn’t cry when her son told me about dragging her to the surface and using an extension cord to tie them together as they clawed for higher ground. Or when she gave me the plastic bin to store, containing objects from her mantle, or asked if I would clean the muddy wad of costume jewelry: Christmas pins, rhinestone earrings, wooden beads her daughter brought back from a trip.
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I didn’t cry the day after that, when I saw her appliances scattered across the yard like a giant’s broken toys and a crew of workers tearing the guts from her house and piling them at the curb in a sodden, stinking mound. Or when her son — stressed to the breaking point — abruptly left, and the look on her face and sound of her voice made it clear that his welfare was what mattered most and that everything else was just an inconvenience.
I didn’t cry when I heard that she cried.
I didn’t cry when I saw the place she moved to after she left the motel. The outpouring of generosity and compassion from our workplace community is awe-inspiring. The amount of care that has gone into making her temporary home a haven is humbling. I hope she will be comforted to see that a few of her treasures remain.
I didn’t cry when I opened the bin of things from her mantle, or began the process of cleaning her trinkets. Then the ring fell out — the one from her college days — and my throat grew tight. Then I saw the photo of her in the dress — vintage ’60s, column of white, short sleeves, fluffy veil — standing next to a stiff, handsome wedding-cake groom, where she looks up beneath a fringe of bangs with an impish smile of joy and delight before everything that would happen happened: the three kids and the split-level house, the teaching jobs and the cancer that came like a coward and stole away the groom and the rains that washed away everything they built together.
I didn’t cry.
Instead, I made a sort of half sob-half bark sound like the noise my Jack Russell makes when he wants to get in bed with me and I won’t pick him up. My eyes watered and my nose ran, and I hoped no one would notice the crazy, crying person climbing into the cream-colored Mini. But at the same time I really didn’t care because the ring was stuffed in my pocket and the wedding photo was in my back seat and I was taking them to the new house where my friend will live.
Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but eventually, she will get to leave whatever level of hell she is in. Step by step, she will find her way to a better place.
And there will be a whole lot of us around to make sure she gets there.
Ms. Kingery teaches creative writing at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and is the author of “Starfish,” a novel set in the Lowcountry 15 years after Hurricane Hugo. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.