We sat in beach chairs facing the Pacific Ocean. Our teenage kids jittered around us, the change in their pockets rattling, their eyes darting up to the hill that held San Juan del Sur’s business district and the town’s only internet cafe. They weren’t going anywhere until their dad gave them instructions. He had warnings to give. We were in a foreign country, after all, and the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami had occurred just a few days before. It was the end of December 2004.
In the week we had been in Nicaragua, their birth home, our older son could never be more than a few blocks from an internet cafe so he could email his new girlfriend back in Wisconsin. At one point, when the drama in their new love grew too big and scary, he lobbied to go home early, claiming he couldn’t survive the three remaining days of our long-planned adoption tour.
We rolled our eyes and waved him off. “Not happening.” It was our standard response to 90% of what they asked for, the three of them overwhelming us so much of the time that a blanket response was the only way to stay sane. Every now and then, the uniqueness or enormity of a request would interrupt the reflex, something like “I think I broke my leg and need to go to the hospital,” but generally our united front required a shared rote response and “Not happening” was it.
“You need to stick together,” their dad started. This is how he started most of his group instructions to them. “You need to stick together.”
It was asking a lot. They were three very different people with three completely different sets of parents. We were the only parents all three had in common and we had shown up late, after much had happened in their lives, some of it known to us, some known only to them but not totally revealed to them yet. It was knowledge that swam around them, each living in their own complicated whirlpool.
Their dad zeroed in on our older son. Looking at him fiercely in the eye, he said,”If you see all the water pulling away from the beach, grab your sister and brother and run to that church at the top of the hill.” It had never occurred to me that his warning would be about a tsunami but, of course, that’s what everyone was thinking about. It happened there. It could happen anywhere. People think that way when a disaster occurs. Not all people, but us. That’s how we thought. Disaster was always pretty much around the corner.
Still, it seemed odd to me that he would give the lifesaving instructions to the person least likely to be paying attention. Unless his girlfriend back in Wisconsin emailed him that she saw on the news that the water had rapidly receded in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, he’d be submerged before he figured it out. We both knew that his eyes would be glued to the computer screen at the internet cafe. It had become his reason for living.
The other two, exasperated that once again their dad had decided to give instructions to the oldest just because he was, shook their heads. There was no parsing out who was right for what task, it was easier to just load new jobs on to the oldest, heap them on and hope the important ones got done.
We stared out at the ocean, the beautiful blues of the water and the sky stitched together at the horizon, the two of us behind our sunglasses, under the broad brims of our straw hats. It had been a long week with much revelation and mystery, stress and relief, trips on ferries with luggage passed over head and street vendors selling bootleg CD’s and bottled water. Everyone looked like our kids. No one looked like us. We were in the minority but we were used to that.
“Do you think anything bad is going to happen?” I asked him. “Do you think there’ll be another tsunami?”
“Nah. Not happening,” he answered and shut his eyes for a nap in the sun.
Written in response to The Daily Post prompt “disaster”