When you’ve sat alone in the cold and dark for nearly 70 hours, it’s hard not to take it personally.
It’s especially difficult when you live in a fairly densely populated city – let’s call it Bath – and see all the streets surrounding yours with electricity, their homes glowing oases of heat and sanity.
Many are adorned in Christmas lights that mock you with silent, blinking laughter: Ha. Ha. Haaa.
You hate Christmas.
It’s Sunday evening, the third night since the ice came. Your wife and 4-month-old son are holed up at the in-laws in Windham. Meanwhile, you and the two dogs, Gus and Lulu, have spent the last two days like a band of gypsies stoned on false hope.
The three of you never anticipated the outage lasting this long, especially Lulu, whose instinct for self-preservation has led her to abandon her general contempt for Gus, a goofy lab who eats poo. Gus and Lulu’s relationship is captured in one of many family photos: Gus on his back with Lulu at his throat.
On Sunday both dogs are huddled on the couch like cojoined siblings.
You wear two jackets, thermal underwear, a hat. You clutch an icy Malbec and listen to your ears ring.
You do this for hours.
The candlelight toys with your senses. Flickering flames reflect in the living room windows, creating illusions of flashing yellow lights on approaching CMP line trucks.
The indoor thermometer reads 36 degrees. It’s fallen from 65 since Friday, back when suffering the outage seemed like a good idea.
“I’d be shocked if we didn’t have power back by sunset,” you told your wife on Friday.
You had reason to be confident.
This is in-town Bath, not some remote peninsula of snapping evergreens. There’s a school next door. Bath Iron Works is less than an eighth of a mile away. BIW and most of Bath have been lit since Friday.
There are no trees or lines down within a mile radius. You know this because you checked five times.
You’ve never lost power here for more than a few hours. When you bought the house, you expressed concern about the absence of a backup heat source.
“Don’t worry,” the former owners told you. “You’re on the BIW grid. It’s a national security thing.”
Oh yeah, and the basement “drains fast,” too.
The indoor temperature Friday night is 47 degrees. You seek distractions.
You read in The Atlantic that Wall Street is doomed to endure bubbles; the Syrian government was most definitely involved in the assassination of Lebanon Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri; and P.J. O’Rourke thinks Disney World’s new House of the Future exhibit is remarkably unimaginative.
Also, “Full House’s” Candace Cameron is now a “hot mom” after losing 22 pounds! (Your thirst for knowledge has no bounds, US Weekly included).
You go to bed wondering if US approached Cameron for the story, or vice versa.
Saturday comes. No heat, no electricity. Temperature: 40 degrees.
You call CMP for an update. They’re too busy to take calls.
The governor is promising progress. The weather forecast predicts an overnight low of 9.
The thought of freezing pipes convinces you to stay another night.
Saturday is spent driving around with the dogs, inspecting the damage and trying to stay warm. You don’t see a single CMP truck.
At home the images are more disturbing. A caravan of pickup trucks are at the school. Workers unload crates and boxes, foodstuffs apparently, and speed away.
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
The coded response is equal parts anger and disbelief. Moving perishables cannot bode well for the short-term prospects for electricity.
Darkness falls. The phone rings. It’s mom, calling from Florida.
The questions roll unabated over irritated responses.
“Did you call the electric company?” she asks.
“What did they say?”
“They aren’t talking.”
“You should call them. Do you have warm clothes?”
“I’m wearing them.”
“You should wear warm clothes. Do you have a lantern?”
“No, I have candles and flashlights.”
“You should have a lantern. When are they saying you’ll have power?”
“How would I know? It’s like the damn Lower Ninth Ward here! Forgotten! Left to fend for ourselves!”
Perspective is lost. You’re one of thousands, but you can’t see it. Some survivalist instinct has taken over.
In the past you’ve derided as fools people who ride out hurricanes in their seaside mobile homes. Now here you are, spooning two labs for heat while bunkering in an igloo.
Sunday morning arrives with reason. You pack the dogs and head to the in-laws for a hot shower. You make plans to stay the night with an aunt in Durham. Her power is back (Durham? Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot!).
But as darkness falls you find yourself driving home for a final check-in.
Back in Bath lights that were previously out are lit. Progress!
Your stomach sinks as you turn onto your street. It’s dark, so is the house.
Still, this is encouraging. Call your aunt, cancel the reservation. It won’t be long now.
An hour passes. And another. And another.
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
You call the CMP hotline to re-report the outage. An hour later you report it again – have to reach them before they leave!
Midnight comes. The house is dark and so are you.
Monday, at 1:55 a.m.: Rumble of line trucks. By 1:59 a.m. the power flashes on, then the furnace.
You’re back in the light.
But have you learned your lesson?
Steve Mistler covers Brunswick and Harpswell for The Forecaster. He lives in Bath, where he sometimes engages in really stupid behavior. He can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.