The next morning I woke up, covered in cats. I didn’t sleep well. It was difficult to move under the covers with all the extra clothes I was wearing. I kept getting caught up in the sheets. The cats pinned my legs down. Some time during the night I had yanked off my hat, desperate to be more comfortable. My head got so cold I had the bedding up over my head. I had weird dreams when I did sleep. Though I would have been woken up by the power coming back on, I still hoped that maybe I slept through it and it was already working. No. It was too quiet.
I couldn’t see my breath, but it was very cold in the bedroom. I looked at the thermometer on Sam’s battery powered clock. It read 48°F. I realized I needed to pee. I didn’t want to get out from under the covers. “This is why they had bed pans back in the day,” I thought to myself.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Blitz and the DOOD investigating a bucket of snow I was trying to melt in the sun so I could use the water for flushing, later.
I normally don’t write (too much) about sitting on a toilet, but I have to include the detail that sitting down on the toilet was like sitting on an iceberg. I shivered as I peed and I thought about trying not to do anything else into the toilet. Then I started to wonder how I was going to get along. I’m not a camper. My idea of “roughing it” is staying in a hotel with no room service. After I peed, I wanted to wash my hands, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have baby wipes, but I did have bleach wipes so I reluctantly used one of those. I could feel all the moisture in my skin start to evaporate from the chemicals, but my hands were clean.
But what about the rest of my body, how was I going to clean that?
I got some paper towels and thankfully we had bottled water. I washed myself with the cold water in the cold house…oh it was terrible. I certainly was inspired to get dressed, and quickly. I left my hair in an ever increasingly awful looking braid. At least it got my hair out of the way. I kept my cat hat on while I changed into fresh clothes. I was glad I’d done laundry recently, but knew I’d have to wear a few things for a few days in a row to make the most of what I had. No. Undies are always clean! That is not a compromise I’m going to make.
Getting something to eat was also going to be a problem. I couldn’t heat anything and I did not want to even OPEN the refrigerator, as keeping the contents cold was vital. I feed my cats a raw meat diet and there was hundreds of dollars of meat in the fridge that was starting to spoil. If I was going to open that door, I had to plan what I was going to grab beforehand to minimize the air loss. I got some juice, some butter to add to some bread and the raw food. I would have to serve it cold, but it was still good. The poor foster kittens would have to eat cold canned food. I usually warm it in the microwave. Yes, they’re spoiled I suppose, but eating COLD food in a COLD room just seemed like another slight in an otherwise lousy existence.
I had some juice and bread and butter. Even though I probably could have sorted out something better to eat I was in this sort of trance, maybe I was shell-shocked from what was going on? I found that I was just subsisting, alive but not living. It bothered me that the power going out would effect me so badly.
I kept thinking about what I was going to do. Everything seemed to take a lot longer to do-even simple things like keeping things clean. I couldn’t use any dishes because they couldn’t be cleaned and the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes. We’d have to feed the cats on paper plates and it would be a good idea if we had a supply of paper plates, plastic utensils and more paper towels and paper cups so we wouldn’t have to wash anything. I started devising a plan of action. It made me feel a bit better.
Sam and I weren’t talking. No surprise. He did, however run his car up and down the driveway a few times, which packed the snow down enough so I could probably get out. The roads were getting plowed, but there were reports that many roads were blocked by downed trees. The outage report on CL&Ps web site was still showing Newtown was 99% out. Why wasn’t anything improving? Surely if we didn’t have power, someone did, but our neighbors in Monroe, Bethel and Brookfield were just as bad off.
I put together a list. I tried to think of things that didn’t need to be warmed that we could eat. I could have just gotten things for myself, but I didn’t want to make the situation worse. I’d make sure I had enough for Sam.
Sam left home to take shelter at a client’s office where he was going to work for the day. They had light and heat and all that good stuff. It was about 20 miles away. I got to suck it up at home.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Proceed with caution!
I left shortly after he did and was just able to get out of the driveway. My first stop was to try to get gas. There was nothing in town that was open. I knew there was a little known gas station in a nearby town, so I decided to try that first, but getting there was going to be difficult. I couldn’t even get down my street. It was blocked by fallen trees and downed wires. Thankfully we have a second road that gets us out of our neighborhood. I shudder to think what would have become of us if we hadn’t been able to get out at all.
A large sycamore was leaning over the road that was the alternate way to get out of the neighborhood; looking like it was going to crash onto the next car that drove under it. It was just a matter of time before we were trapped in the neighborhood.
The state road near my home was open, but as I drove along it looked like a war zone. The carcasses of dead trees, recently cut up and partly shoved off the road and onto the shoulder, were everywhere. Some trees leaned on the power poles or onto the wires. There were no signs warning drivers. Clearly there wasn’t time to mark every dangerous area. I had to go very slowly and be ready to stop the car at any second to drive around debris or turn around and try taking another road to get to my destination. I tried to remember if it was safe to drive over a downed power line if there was power in the line. Rubber tires? Was that safe? Better not take a chance.
I felt such dread. All those lovely trees broken and bent, the shock of white jagged splintered limbs everywhere I looked. I told myself that if the Lone Oak was gone that it would be too much to bear. In Newtown, we lay claim to the second largest oak tree in the state. It’s about 19 feet in diameter and has marvelous twisted, gnarled branches; a perfect “Halloween” shaped tree. It’s on Lone Oak Road, so aptly named. I drove past the street and looked for the tree. To my relief, it was still there, but a much smaller tree next to it had fallen over. I felt bad about the small tree, but also gained flicker of hope, seeing that grand tree still standing.
I had to drive under power lines and fallen trees, but I got to the gas station. There were a line of cars waiting but I didn’t have to wait too long, maybe 15 minutes or so. They were out of the grade of gas I wanted, but they had gas so I filled up. As I left I saw a line stretching out down the road. I must have just gotten there in time. I felt a bit like a warrior. I was able to provide something for myself.
I was fairly sure the grocery store nearby was open, too. Turns out it was. I assumed the shelves would be bare, but I wasn’t going to buy anything to cook, anyway. I was just hoping for some baby wipes and things like applesauce and paper towels. I knew they had 7-day burning shrine candles and I wanted to load up on those, too.
What really shocked me was how EMPTY the store was-not of products but of people! Where were the people? There were plenty of items and I had no problem filling up my cart with what I needed. I didn’t take every last one of something, but I did take enough so we had at least enough for the next few days. I was sure the power would be back on soon, right?
It was so nice, so normal to walk around the store. The lights were bright. The happy-buy-something-music was playing on the loudspeakers. I was WARM. It was like nothing bad had happened. We were all going to be fine as long as I didn’t leave the store. Maybe I could sleep in the produce section if I brought my own sleeping bag?
I was STARVING. Where could I get some nice WARM food?
I decided to go on a little expedition; suss out what was open and what was closed. I drove no further than a mile and the power was out and the traffic backed up because the traffic lights were out. The place I wanted to have breakfast at was closed. I know this sounds like I’m a big baby and I guess I am, but I really like to have an egg for breakfast every morning. It’s just a thing I do for myself. I change it up every day-add different ingredients; make it fun. I needed my egg sandwich. Boohoo! I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d lost and when I could get it back again.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. If I saw the person driving this van I might have smacked him/her. Yeah, this is our power company-not at work.
I drove further and found a shopping center that was open. They had a..dare I say..McDonald’s. It’s a place I usually avoid like the plague. I would almost rather not eat than eat there, but these were tough times. Nothing else was open in the area. Fortunately, I had cash because that’s all they were taking. The place was packed. I couldn’t get breakfast. It was too late. I didn’t know when I was going to eat again so I got two hamburgers and wolfed them down sitting in my car. The restaurant was warm, but it was crowded and seemed dirty. Eating in my car wasn’t much better, but at least I was away from all those people. It was a dreadful experience. I really wanted a hot cup of tea, but had no idea where to even get one. No. Don’t suggest McDonald’s. That is not tea, even if they have it.
I had heard our town was opening a “warming center” where we could get wifi and to, no surprise, get warm, so I decided to head over there after I went home and unloaded the groceries. By the time I got home I had a terrible stomach ache from the crummy hamburgers. The last thing I needed was to have the runs when I can’t flush the toilet. Nice, right? What could I do? I did what I had to do, then walked to the kitchen, lifted the 40 pound water jug and poured some water into a bucket. I poured the water into the toilet and tried to flush. It didn’t do a great job, but it made using it again tolerable. All the lifting made me cramp up again. I’d have to go easy on the water or I’d be out soon…but it was too late for that and within a few minutes I used up all the flushing water.
The town also opened up a place to get more water (thank GOD), since most of us are on well water and with no power, the pumps don’t work) so I drove over to the fire department. I brought them a box of donuts as a thank you that were not very well received. I don’t know why the fireman was short with me. He took the box and walked off saying a curt; “thanks.” I was just trying to be friendly.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.
A few minutes later I saw him eating a donut as I began filling up my used water cooler bottles. The guy finished eating and came back over to help me lift the filled containers into my car. He was probably having a bad day, too. He said something about being up for 2 days straight due to all the calls they were getting. I felt bad for him.
I was very proud of myself for rigging up a way to keep the water from spilling all over the inside of my car after I filled up the containers. I used a cut up gallon ziplock bag and some big rubber bands. It worked out all right. See? I can take care of things. I’m driving to get water to flush the toilet! The amount of water I have teeter-tottering on the floor behind the front seats will let me flush TWO TIMES. That’s it. What a pain in the neck. How am I going to have time to get anything “normal” done?
I got to the warming center. The second I walked in the door of our new Town Hall I finally felt like all the taxes I pay went to something worthwhile. The building was large, well lit, clean. They let us use a chamber room for doing computing stuff. It was warm, so warm my face turned bright red. I guess I looked like a drunk, but I was warm and the wifi worked well. My stomach was still acting up, but this time I got to use the bathroom at the Town Hall. It was SO NICE, so CLEAN. Just to flush the toilet and WASH MY HANDS in water…WARM WATER was pure delight. In that moment I was revived, but the feeling wasn’t long lasting, especially after I took at look at my reflection in the mirror. I looked ghastly. My skin is already pale, but I was blue. My hair was a mess from wearing my cat-head-shaped hat. I had rings under my eyes. My layered frenzy of clothes made me look like I was homeless.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Council Chambers/Warming Room.
Because I’m a graphic designer, I have a big workstation instead of a laptop. ALL my projects, my blog posts, my photos are on that computer. There was NO WAY I could access any of the data, unless I lugged a 50 pound machine to the Town Hall. I don’t HAVE a laptop, but I do have an iPad. It wasn’t easy, but I got some of my email to work and went online to find out what was going on. Our First Selectman, Pat Llyodra came into the room to see how everyone was doing. Hoa Nguyen, a reporter from the Newtown Patch, brought us some pizza! She did it “just because.” Another lady came in with homemade cookies. It wasn’t a big deal to them, but it was a big deal to us.
Thankfully, the sun was out and because my house is “passive solar,” it faces due south in the winter. The large windows at the front of the house allow the sun to warm the place up. At least I didn’t feel guilty leaving the cats alone during part of the day. They’d be somewhat comfortable, but those same windows would let all the heat out when the sun went down. Now that I had baked myself to a crisp at the “broiling” center, I decided to go home and try to get something, anything done.
I cleaned a chunk of my office, which is in terrible disarray. It’s a small room that competes as where I run both my design business and my non-profit cat rescue from. There’s not enough space for file folders, computer do-dads, samples and books, so things get piled up. I only see the top of my desk bi-annually. I managed to find my Cheshire Cat tote bag which I thought I lost two years ago. I found more places the cats peed and got it cleaned up. I threw out a lot of stuff and organized other things. Maybe if I could keep this up I could get a lot of cleaning done? Then I realized I could only do so much without having water or light.
The sun was going down. Sam called and said he was coming home, but that the roads were a mess and it took him nearly two hours to drive a normally 20 minute route. Part of me wished he would not come home, but I was lonely and scared. I kept wondering when the power was going to come back on. I kept checking my iPhone to see if CL&P was restoring power to Newtown. It was not. Other towns were being helped, but we were not on the list yet. Time seemed to pass twice as slowly. When was this going to be over?
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Blitzen and Spencer by the fire.
We got the cats fed. I found an old down comforter and made a bed up for the foster cats to snuggle into. I built a fire in our crummy fireplace. It doesn’t heat the house unless you sit IN the fire, but it gave off a little warmth and helped light up the room. I noticed a few of the cats sitting near the fire, something they’ve never been interested in doing. I put down a blanket for them so they could sit close. Of course they fought over who got to sit where, but in time they worked it out. I brought many candleholders out and lit candles. There was just barely enough light to read by. I sat and shivered under a blanket on the sofa and tried to read. There was nothing much else to do.
Most of the stores and restaurants in town were closed. Getting dinner was not a simple task. Sam offered to get Chinese food again and this time I said OK. The misery of the situation forced us to get along. We were polite and courteous, but Sam’s side of the bed remained empty each night. I knew we’d both have been a lot warmer if we could have shared our body heat at night. At least I had the cats with me.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Glad I had candles, at least.
By Tuesday I was a miserable wreck. I was crying from not knowing when this nightmare was going to be over. I was tired of being cold, of not being able to wash my hair or myself, of lugging gallons of water to flush, and never feeling clean enough. I was tired of not getting along with Sam. He came over to me and gave me a hug. I told him I couldn’t take it any more and began to sob.
I decided to book a few nights at a hotel. I figured even if I could just get one or two nights sleep in a warm bed and have a shower and good meal, I could stick it out until the power was restored. Sam thought it was a good idea.
I used my iPhone to look up hotels, while wearing my highest magnification glasses so I could see the screen clearly. To my dismay, I discovered most of the local hotels were not open. There was a Hilton Garden Inn in Danbury that said they didn’t have power on their web site, but I was able to find they did have a location about 25 miles away that might have a vacancy. I called the Hilton Reservations number and they said they could book me at the Danbury location for two nights starting the next night. I asked them if they were certain the place was open and they said it would be open the next day. I was THRILLED!!! I could get through anything now!
Sam left for his client’s office and I was left to figure out what to do. I decided I was going to wash my hair. It was filthy. I couldn’t wait until the next night to shower. The town had a place open where I could get a shower, but they only had TWO shower stalls for the entire town to use, you only got 5 minutes (not really a big deal), but GOD KNOWS WHO took a shower before you did! I’m sorry, but I guess I’d rather have a cold makeshift shower at home.
Again, every little thing required planning. I knew we were getting a delivery of water in another day so I felt okay about using some of our resources. I got out a watering can. Looking at it made me sad. We used to use it to rinse Bob off when we gave him a bath to soothe his ringworm and here I was going to use it on myself.
I took the tops off a few bottles of water and set them aside. I filled up the watering can, then put a sauce pan in the sink to catch the water I used to get my hair wet. I figured I could use the water again since I only wet my hair with it. I built a fire in the fireplace so I could be warm after washing my hair. I removed most of the layers I was wearing until I had a men’s cotton undershirt left. It was so cold. I had to move quickly.
I wrapped a towel around my shoulders and bent over the sink. I poured some water onto my head, being careful that the water would fall into the saucepan. It was bloody cold! It felt like metal ice picks shoved into my brain! It was too late now. I had to finish what I started. I lathered up as best I could, then rinsed off my hair. I could feel my hair knotting up into a rat’s nest. I sprayed conditioner onto my hair and tried to smooth it out. I was shivering and shaking. At that point I was glad to be cleaner, but felt annoyed that my hair was a tangled wreck.
I ran over to sit by the fire, which was a small relief. I thought about how the next morning I’d be washing my hair in a nice HOT shower at the hotel. I could get through this. I just had to hang on. Some of the cats sat near me. They kept giving me this weird look. Clearly then were confused and cold and wanted this to be over, too. I tried to soothe them as best I could.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. A huge tent goes up. A line of porto-potties forms. It's the staging area for ALL the out-of-state utility workers!
The next day and a half was more of the same. More being cold, more not eating much, more being frustrated and now I was feeling more dirty. I just couldn’t get clean. I was feeling more and more desperate. I wanted my life back. I wanted a hot cup of tea, but most places were still closed and though Newtown had been declared as a staging area for the arriving out-of-state power company repair guys, we weren’t getting our lights on any faster. There were rumors the power would be on by midnight Saturday. Saturday? That would mean a WEEK without power! Oh GOD!
I started using the bathroom at the Town Hall for “certain” things. Try re-regulating your body’s digestive system timing. Yeah..not easy. At least I could avoid having to carry heavy containers of water up and down the stairs for constant flushing.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson.
The major news networks showed up at the warming center. Brian Williams of NBC did a report. We were featured on CNN, Fox and all the big local networks. Apparently, our little town was “ground zero” for the worst damage in the state and that was one of the reasons restoring the power was taking so long. I never, in a million years, thought I’d be living in a place that might qualify for having FEMA show up. I’m usually the person that sends in a donation to the Red Cross to help others and now I was the one getting MRE (meals ready-to-eat) and trying to figure out how to put my life back in order. It was very humbling.
Wednesday afternoon I packed my bags. I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel. That morning I called the local number and the lines were busy. Sam called, too. Sam problem. We figured everyone was trying to get a hotel and we patted ourselves on the back for calling when we did. I called the main reservation line at Hilton. They said the hotel was on a generator and not to worry about it!
Thursday morning I was scheduled to talk to my neurologist about the results of an MRI of my brain. I was in a car accident almost a year ago and have suffered chronic headaches ever since. It was not an appointment I was going to miss and their offices had just opened back up. I figured I would go to the Doctor directly from the hotel and Sam would take his car, separately, and drive straight home to get the cats fed.
We drove to the Hilton. It was dark on the highway. I was in the lead. I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel. It was going to cost about $400.00 for two nights, but I didn’t care at that point. As I got closer to the hotel, I saw the nearby strip mall had lights. Good sign. I thought I could see the hotel from the road, but maybe it was further down the road than I remembered?
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. I catch a glimpse of a convoy of utility trucks. Wish they were headed to my house.
I took the exit off the highway and headed for the Hilton, passing the strip mall. In the darkness, I could make out a sign; “Hilton Garden Inn” and an arrow to the right. I could barely make out that there WAS a hotel there! Not a light was on. There were no cars in the parking lot. My heart sank, then a rage like I have never known, started to boil my blood. I was so angry I wanted to SCREAM, but there was NO ONE TO SCREAM AT!
They booked me into a hotel that was CLOSED.
I knew I’d be hard pressed to find ANY open hotel room within a reasonable distance from my home. I couldn’t go too far. I had to be able to care for the cats. This was NOT RIGHT, NOT FAIR, A CRUEL JOKE! I was so upset I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. Sam pulled up his car alongside mine and rolled down his window. I started ranting and raving. Sam knew better than to say much to me. I got back into my car and called Hilton’s Reservation line. Some person from India told me she was sorry, but “what was she supposed to do about it?” I told her to FIND ME A ROOM. She said none were available unless I wanted to drive another hour to Newburgh, NY or go to LONG ISLAND, which is easily 2 hours or more away. I told her they must hold rooms for special guests and that she owed it to me to GIVE ME A ROOM for causing me so much inconvenience. She said she couldn’t make one magically appear and that she was sorry and that she didn’t have anything and there were no rooms at their partner locations. I don’t normally ever talk rudely to anyone, but this time I let her have it.
She didn’t back down. She just asked me if I wanted to cancel my reservation. ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME??? What do you think? They had a hold on my credit card. They were willing to take my money for a phony reservation. So I had to WAIT for her to cancel my reservation while I waited for my head to explode. Then she had the nerve to ask me; “Is there anything else I can do for you this evening?” I told her you’ve f-d me over enough for one day and hung up.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Artists recreation of crappy Hilton Garden Inn hotel in the dark.
I just lost it-whatever IT is. I told Sam to fix it. I had done all the work to make it right for us and now he had to get involved. He was angry with me. I started pacing. I wanted to drive my car into the hotel and set it on fire. Sam was having no luck getting anywhere. The cell service was lousy. I called my ex-sister-in-law, Anne, who I consider my sister. I left her a whiney voicemail saying I would take her up on her offer from earlier that day. I knew she was staying at her parent’s home about an hour from where we were and they had power. They offered that we could come over to take a shower, but I declined, knowing we had a hotel that night. Now we had no hotel so it was back to plan B. I could not go back to my house and FREEZE again! I was so tired and tired of being dirty and tired of being fed up and hungry. I was DONE with it all!
We had no other choice but to go home, grab clean towels and drive over to Mike and Pat’s home. Anne said she’d put the kettle on. Something my Mother always did. Hearing her say that was a small comfort-enough to keep me from doing something stupid. I envisioned that cup of hot tea. I started to cry again. I needed my Mother and my Father, but they’ve been gone for many years now. I wanted to lean on Sam, but he was mad at me. I deserved it, but in some ways I didn’t. My spirit was broken.
We got to the condo around 8pm. Pat and Mike are so sweet. They’ve been married for over 50 years. I think of them as my family, but I don’t often see them. Being in their home was like an oasis in the storm. Things were normal again. We were just visiting family except that we were going to shower in their bathroom instead of celebrate a birthday. I brought their cat Lily, a catnip toy present since I always seem to have new cats toys on hand. Lily looks almost exactly like Spencer, our mascot at Covered in Cat Hair. In fact, I adopted Lily, but she didn’t get on well with my cats so I re-homed her and now she’s a pampered princess.
Sam sat with Mike and Pat. They had a lively conversation. I went upstairs and got ready to take a shower. Anne insisted I didn’t use my towels, but take some clean ones from her Mom. “Why dirty up your towels when you have no way to clean them?” It was a simple kindness, but I got choked up. Anne got me settled, then left me to join her parents.
I couldn’t get into that shower fast enough. It had been FIVE DAYS since I had a real shower.
I didn’t hog all the hot water. I didn’t even make the water that hot. I just stood under the water, letting it rinse me off. It felt so good. My body began to relax. Tension began to drift away as I got lathered up, then rinsed off. I washed my hair. I finally felt CLEAN. I felt like a person again. I put on clean clothes. I thought about a commercial I’d seen where a laundry detergent company sent mobile laundry trucks to places hit by Hurricanes so people could wash their clothes. I started to realize that although we had it bad, it could have been so much worse. We had a house, though living in it was like camping, we had a structure that was still standing.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Dinner anyone?
The night before I said to Sam that I was thinking about all the people who live every day without any electricity. They don’t have TV’s or iPhones. They don’t have running water, but they probably experience the same sort of joy and sorrow we do. I suppose if you took away something that was normal to them, they would suffer, too, but why are we suffering so much? We’re just living like many other people…but we are not prepared, and speaking for myself, I have no skills in living like this. Again, more humbling moments for me.
As I sat down at the table, freshly washed, with Mike, Pat and Anne, Sam got up to take a shower. Everyone remarked at how happy I looked. Anne served me a cup of tea. I wrapped my fingers around the cup and absorbed the soothing warmth into my fingers. I had a sip of tea. I’m a tea snob, but at that moment, I could have been drinking just hot water and I would have been happy. I was really hungry, but I didn’t want to impose. It was getting late and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I figured that we could find a diner since this town hadn’t been affected by the storm as badly.
We had a really nice visit and they invited us to come back the next night for a shower if the power was still out. We offered to bring dinner, so it was a date. Now that Sam had showered we said our goodbyes. I felt like I could go another few days without the power being restored now that I was clean.
We found a diner that was still open and had a good meal. I had an omelette. It was really good. I’d barely had anything other than pistachios and fruit cups to eat that day. We got home around midnight. I retired to my freezing cold bed. Sam stayed on the sofa. Another day was done perhaps one day closer to the power being restored.