The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
The night the lights went out in Georgia, I learned something about myself. Everything must be taken away in order for me to sit still. I am used to running every day of the week and each day of the weekend. When the lights went out I had to stop.
I used to feel guilty for missing work. I used to believe one missed day of work meant no promotion or raise. I used to believe one missed day meant I would be fired. I would work through illness and snow storms and sick kids. I don’t feel guilty anymore.
The night the lights went out, it was actually day time. We tried to avoid the news. My youngest is six. She had seen pictures of floods and hurricane. At school they practice for tornados and active shooters. My kid is like me. She likes to worry.
We watched the winds, and I told her how Dorothy made it through the storm to get to Oz. We opened the blinds so we could watch the trees bending dangerously back and forth. I didn’t know if it was better to watch the storm or close our eyes.
We played games like Battleship and Monopoly. My kids says these are “bored” games, but they did not seem bored playing. They made do by fighting each other. We were crammed in a small space on the lower level of our house. Pillows and blankets and sofa cushions surrounded us, and yet the kids still found a way to run around. For hours. They ran and smacked each other. They would only stop when the wind got unusually loud. Then they would peek outside at the trees struggling to hold their ground.
Someone sent me a message and told me I should have been at work. They were four states away looking at blue skies.
“No,” I said. “I need to be with my kids. The lights are out. I don’t fool with nature, water, or trees.” I felt my anger rising like the storm. It took a hurricane to get me to stop.
I picked up a book, but couldn’t read even though I sat by the light of the window. The window meant watching the trees bending and branches flying by in the wind.
The night the lights went out we got a knock at the door after midnight. It is a scary sound. A knock after midnight in a storm.
“It’s the Fire Chief,” the voice said. We opened the door, but he stopped us, “Don’t come out,” he said like we would do such a thing.
Live electrical wires surrounded our house. The tree nearly missed crushing our neighbor’s car. “Your tree came down.”
But when we looked, it was a piece of a tree. Our tree had broken and a limb as big as a tree blocked the road. The branch took out two electrical poles. When the lights go out in Georgia, you forget how big the trees are until they start sway over your house in the rain.
We slept in the living room. The wind usually makes a comforting hushing sound. But that wind was not with us. The storm made strange sounds all night. The wind tried to get into our house through all the small spaces. It was like the hand of a ghost trying to force open the doors. We did not sleep well.
We closed our eyes to the noisy darkness.
The night the lights went out I slept a little and did not dream.
The morning the lights went out we realized how dark the bathrooms are with no electricity. Even if you shower and brush your teeth, you don’t really feel clean. You open all the curtains to let the light in, but the sight of broken branches everywhere is unsettling. You settle into another day in the darkness anyway.
I don’t buy milk and bread before the storm. I like nuts, dried fruit, hard cheeses, and cured meats. Charcuterie is comforting. I don’t want to open a can of soup in the darkness. I like citrus fruit like oranges and grapefruit and I like the sturdiness of an apple. I bought a variety of kimchi. Pickled cabbage needs no refrigeration.
When the lights go out, so does your food if you haven’t planned carefully. There will be ice cream to throw away, but who knows when they will collect our garbage. We don’t open the fridge or freezer if we can help it.
I hope the people who have to get to work can get there safely. Losing three days of a paycheck is a big deal. We all can’t work from home. Some of us have to go into the storm. Never in my life have I heard of MARTA being canceled.
I sat at home watching the wind in trees and wondering what would happen to a train on elevated track in 65 mile per hour winds. I’m glad we didn’t find out.
When the lights go out in Georgia, the lights go out in our homes and at our offices. Our street lights and electrical lines cannot withstand the weight of branches, bigger than most trees.
Atlanta has low places for floods and woodland places for the rest. The trees that shade us so nicely in the summer become vengeful in rain and ice. I tried to explain this to people who think we are silly for staying home. I’m not sorry for being cautious.
I’m not sorry for holding a book as I watched the storm.
I’m not sorry for camping out with my kids to stay safe from the storm.
I’m not sorry for sitting still, while the world around me raged with storm.
I am sorry about that tree, even though it was dangerous and deadly. When the lights came back on, I remembered how much I loved it.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.