Three months ago, on August 29th, I packed one suitcase full of clothes to last me for a month in the states. I was nannying for a family that owned a restaurant, and since they closed for month of September I decided to take the month off island and spend it with my family and traveling around the states. When I left my apartment containing the majority of my belongings, I had no way of knowing I wouldn’t get them back. I had no way of knowing that 8 days later my life, and so many other peoples lives, would be turned upside down.
The night before the storm I was so terrified that I couldn’t even breathe. I was texting and calling everyone that was still on St. John as much as I could before the messages stopped going through. I had a flight the next day to Austin, where my sister and I had planned to have a bonding getaway weekend. I got on the plane the morning of September 6th, I spent the day traveling, I was physically on the trip, but how much could I really be there? I had no contact with anyone, I watched the weather app as this massive, incredibly powerful hurricane sat over my home. I was terrified, I was heartbroken, and I was numb.
The days following where spent in a blur of check-ins, missing persons, photos of destroyed businesses and homes with no roofs. When I finally heard from all of my friends and heard that the general consensus was that people were ok- it started to sink in that my life on St. John as I knew it would be forever changed. At that point it felt like I would never be able to go back. I had no home, I had no job. Many people were starting to pick up the pieces and move on to a new chapter. I knew I wasn’t ready to do that, but I also didn’t know how I would be able to go back. I decided in the mean time to get a temporary job, save as much money as I could, and then just ride the wave and see where it’d take me.
It seemed to get worse before it got better, but when I started to see that people were agreeing that it was moving forward, I made up my mind that I would be back sooner than expected. My first roommate when I moved down and my best friend, Carly, went back and since she needed a new home as well, we begun the search to find a new apartment together. Shockingly- that search lasted about 3 hours until I came across the most perfect apartment and by the grace of God, it worked out and we had a new home that I would be able to go to when my flight landed. I didn’t exactly have a job, or still don’t for that matter, but I had somewhere to go and a reason to go back so I did.
Landing on St. Thomas was tough. I’d seen the pictures for two months, I prepared myself for it being worse than I imagined and it really wasn’t like I was just seeing it for the first time, but it was just hard. I could obviously see the vast amount of progress that had been made since the storms, but of course there is still devastating destruction to this beautiful place that so many people call home.
Photo by Carly Houts
My first couple of nights back on St. John were great and it was amazing to just walk back into the bar and see my friends, but I just felt a little off. I felt like I was new again, like there were rules that I didn’t know yet. I haven’t been here for the past 3 months, and these past 3 months have contained and unimaginable amount of shit. I was nervous that it had just changed too much while I was gone and there wouldn’t be a place here for me anymore. Of course, I just have a dramatic and anxious mind and I know that St. John is still St. John. It’s been my home for two years and I know that my absence was necessary as well as everyone else’s who had to leave. I talked to more people, heard more “Welcome Home’s”, and started to feel like I was settling back in my place.
On my first day off work since I’d been back, I knew I wanted to go to the beach and the easiest choice out of our limited options is to go to Hawksnest. On the way, Carly asked if I just wanted to go to Maho just to see it. I knew how badly damaged Maho was from the storm and I didn’t know if I could handle it but knew I’d see it at some point so on we went. It was painful to see one of the most pristine beaches in the world completely turned upside down. It was a very surreal experience that I don’t think I can put into words, but I can say that I am extremely blessed to have spent the time I have on the beaches of St. John.
I am very blessed to have known and loved this place before the storms, because I now have the understanding and the faith that St. John will return to how it once was. There are still people working everyday, there are still people here that had never even been to St. John but whose jobs sent them here to help. I sat down next to one of the BBC linemen and as we were talking about his experience here he asked me if I have power at my apartment. I told him that I did, and that I was extremely thankful to have it. He said “Well that’s why I’m here and why I’m doing it. I just want you all to be happy and have what you need.” This man had never met any of us, never been to our island, but left his home and family for God knows how long- to help us. And I am so thankful for that, and all of the men and women here that are doing the same thing.
Photo by Monica Knaggs
We are getting better and stronger every day. I am happy to be back here on this amazing island, and everyday comes with challenges but this community is resilient. I will miss the people that have gone, I am excited for those who will come back, and I am appreciative of those that will come now and make a life here with us. Thank you to all of you who have supported us, prayed for us, and kept us in your thoughts over the past 3 months.