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When lots of big things happen

September 14, 2012

Everyone who was around remembers what happened on September 11, 2001. If you live in Florida, you might forget that happened three days later (eleven years ago today). Tropical Storm Gabrielle made landfall around Venice, Florida. It’s peak winds were around 70 miles an hour, although it’s possible the storm may have come ashore as a hurricane. The storm cut northeast through the state, emerging into the Atlantic somewhere around Cape Kennedy.

The area just southeast of Tampa got more than 15 inches of rain, with more than ten inches around Tampa and south of Jacksonville. Ironically, September 14 was the same day flights were scheduled to begin again after September 11–except in Sarasota, where the airport was closed because of the storm. The storm produced three fatalities, a far cry from the devastation going on in New York City.

Considering how emotionally numb people were at the time, it’s small wonder that Gabrielle is, at best, a footnote in history.

I can remember back then, when the approaching tropical storm was almost an afterthought, too. Considering what happened on Tuesday of that week, it wasn’t a surprise when someone on the radio said something very close to, “Oh, yeah, we have a tropical storm that might make landfall here later this week.” Even the weather guys were subdued in their typical frenzy at the approach of the storm.

Then again, I didn’t have the radio on that much. I had the news station on TV, almost all the time. Every time the alert sounder went off, my heart went in my throat. It took several days to finally have the good sense to turn the damned thing off.

The feeling of the time was almost a lack of feeling, a sense of being overloaded to the point of not having room to process what happened in New York and the possibility of what might happen later in the week. (And for me personally, this was the first close call. It was before 2004-2005 and its multiple tropical systems and certainly before Debby dropped so much rain earlier this year.) Considering I was unemployed at the time, and all the job possibilities vaporized with the attacks that week, I simply didn’t have any more emotional capacity at the time.

In writing a scene where a character has a similar emotional overload, these memories can provide a touchpoint for trying to assess how my characters will react. There was a numb going through the motions that week. If I want to capture what the character might do, how he or she might act, I start with feelings like those from that week.

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