by Coco Quinn
The first thing I remember getting published was a poem I wrote in fifth grade for my elementary school’s anthology, “Tales from the Foot of the Volcano.” It was 1991 and I was living in Naples, Italy. I could see Mt. Vesuvius from my balcony, looking like two mountains next to each other as the crater into the active volcano was so wide and deep. When we hiked up to peer into that crater on a field trip our Italian teacher left the path dotted with holes from her high heels. I pictured her fashionable feet permanently arched like Barbie’s. I remember those tiny holes in the dirt along the path, but nothing of what we could see at its peak.
“Vesuvius is overdue to erupt,” I remember hearing. It had been dormant for many decades at that point. Any day now, and I could be frozen in ash like the people who’d been victim to it in Herculaneum, which had been another field trip destination.
It’s funny when you move a lot growing up. You’re subject to such a wide variety of impending natural disasters. Before Italy, I’d lived in Virginia Beach and Key West on the east coast. I had ten years under my belt of dealing with hurricanes. Fill the bathtubs with water, tape Xes over each window, and for a really big one, camp downstairs in the living room. In 1986, we got Hurricane Charley. I was seven with two little brothers and a baby sister. My dad was still out on a six-month cruise with the Navy. Charley knocked out the power. Mom set up a camping stove and battery powered black and white TV with a 5 inch screen. “The Peanut Butter Solution” aired during that time, and that movie was way more traumatic than the hurricane was. The day after the storm passed, we walked down the cul-de-sac, the sky fresh and blue, the air calm and lovely, just the pavement covered in leaves and branches, and the occasional car or rooftop dented in, to indicate how rough it had been out there.
Another thing about hurricanes, they give you a couple days warning. Not volcanoes, not tornados. I was home babysitting my sister in Mississippi (a truly culture-shock-inducing place to send a preteen girl after three years living in Italy), when I heard my first tornado. It sounds like a train. I hid us away in the tiny bathroom off of the kitchen, the only room in the house without windows, and felt like a sitting duck. The locals weren’t so bothered. My mom came home with my brothers from soccer practice, and even though the electric charge in the air had made my brother Jon’s hair stand on end, and the wind made accuracy in shooting impossible, their coach kept them on that field until practice time ended.
I spent twelve years in LA, and the earthquakes never made me panic. The wildfires though . . .
I’m in Virginia Beach now, and went into the ocean again for the first time in fifteen years. There were red flags up for “danger,” on the lifeguard stands. The water was frothy with riptides 50 feet out along the shore. The wind made it almost impossible to lay out a towel and I had to anchor mine with all my belongings, which were immediately covered in sand. Hurricane Ida hadn’t hit us directly, but I could feel her on the shore.
Even in the shallows, the waves crashed so hard I was soaked from head to toe right away. The usually even and sloping sand was impossible to see under the water and so pocked with holes that I sank under water from my knees up to my shoulders with a single step. I duck-dived under a wave. I floated and let the stormy waters push and pull me to and from the shore.
I laughed out loud as the tide bounced my butt into the sandy bottom as I tried to make my way back to the beach. I kept an eye on my coordinates by the lifeguard stand near where I’d left my towel. One of the very stands I’d worked from in summers during college. I didn’t know the guards who were working there today, nor they, me. But . . .
The Atlantic, she held me, rocked me, welcomed me home.