brittany-hopwood_web.jpgSchool was a laborious event that was unavoidable.  It was the middle of October and summer couldn’t come sooner. But the fact that we were far from any kind of break was itching on everyone’s last nerve. Then, on a whim of grace, Florida was deemed the next target of a hurricane.

Wilma was nothing more than a feeble gust, a breath of fresh air even; no one ever took the weather seriously in our storm-prone state. So our complacency was rightly shoved in our faces.

My sister and I watched the weather report in her room with growing discomfort.  I was more excited than anything, because it was certain that I wouldn’t be at school for the rest of the week.  But as the broadcast slowly went downhill, and the storm’s ferocity increased, we knew that this was being hideously underestimated.  My parents continued with their evening, completely unfazed by our warnings of a stronger storm than predicted.

They told us, “Oh that’s what the news always says.  It’s not going be anything worse than Andrew.”  But little did they know that the difference from Andrew was that this time we were in the line of destruction.

So night fell upon us just like every other night. We slept for maybe two hours before the rain started.  It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary from the typical Florida thunderstorm, so I relaxed into a deeper sleep.  Then the wind came, a whisper at first, but quickly intensifying to a roar and a howl that shook the house and bid me to a stiff awakening.

I heard my sister’s voice at the front door and then my mom’s. The power had been knocked out, so I had no idea what time it was, but it was dark as far as I could see. I realized later that it had actually been 6 a.m., and the clouds had turned day to perpetual night.

Uneasy of the vibrating walls and windows, I hesitantly got up from my bed. I moved past my door to see my mother and older sister standing on chairs to witness the violent sheets of rain from the only window in the house that was not covered by metal storm shutters: a small semicircle pane of glass in the front door.

My mother and sister stared at me with aware eyes as I shuffled out into the hall still weary. Apparently, they’d been kept up all night listening to the storm’s gathering fury, and it was now that the winds were reaching their peak of destruction.

My mother stepped down to let me look out. I was frozen in respectful fear of the force twisting the trees like rubber and ripping the metal from homes. Then, suddenly, our street sign took to the winds and landed halfway down the street, digging into the ground as it went. My sister whispered with a slight tremble, “This cannot be a Category One.”

So started the frightful battering of my life-long home.

When all was quiet and the sun finally resurfaced just in time to set for another day, the winds drifted on and away, leaving behind a bruised and beaten Broward County. As my family and I set out to investigate the damage, I saw a small, dead bird trapped under a limb, the shredded leaves embedded in its skin. Its beak was still open as if crying out for the lost sun to return and drive the devastation away.

We went on and came upon trees that were once thought too strong to stifle, lying dead in the rubble. The sap seeping through the cracked bark was red like blood, as though the hurricane’s force had left the trees just as hurt and bruised as it did my heart.  It was hard to comprehend such a fury that could mangle an entire county and more in just a few hours. Nothing looked familiar with all the plants bowing down, admitting a foul defeat. And it seems that the wind truly did win, for they bow down still even after many years passing.

Maybe the hurricane’s purpose was to wipe the slate clean. Or maybe it was to set us darned Floridians straight. But whatever it was, it roused me to a rude awakening that everything that is comfortable and everything I thought I knew will always change, and that’s something I can’t help.

So I’ve chosen to respect the power of my environment and change as it changes me.

Brittany Hopwood, 18, of Lauderhill, is a senior at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She is also a summer intern at the South Florida Times.