In Case Of Emergency, Don't Call Me

Aug 15, 2012

You may think you know how you’d react during an emergency.  Andrea Askowitz thought she did.  Then came Hurricane Andrew.

Askowitz one of the co-founders of the Lip Service series in Miami.  During these performances, ordinary people tell true stories about their lives–on stage. Andrea Askowitz brings us her own true story about August 1992.  It’s called “In Case of Emergency.”

You can read the full text of Andrea Askowitz’s personal essay below or listen to the radio version above.

The songs you heard in this piece were “St. Rose of Lima” and “A Crusading Theme” by Gainesville band, The Mercury Program, as well as “Killer” and “Long Live the King (Instrumental)” by Miami group, Ketchy Shuby.


In Case of Emergency

by Andrea Askowitz

I always thought I was the person you’d call in an emergency.  I have good aim and good balance.  I’m level-headed and reassuring.  My sister-in-law once handed me her baby when we were crossing a rushing river.  My Outward Bound group chose me as their leader. One time, my friend Shannon said, “You’re the person I want holding my hand if I need an abortion.”

When Hurricane Andrew came swirling toward Miami, I was 25.

I worked for Gwen Margolis, who was running for U.S. Congress.

I set up shop in Aventura and organized hundreds of senior citizen volunteers.  They were a feisty bunch, but I was good at my job.  I got them to stuff envelopes and work the phones.

To get ready for the storm, my mom and I brought in the potted orchids, gathered up the stray coconuts, and put the patio furniture in the shed.  I stood in line at the grocery store, taped the windows, filled the tub, and made sure all the flashlights had working batteries.

Andrew was my first hurricane, but I knew what needed to be done and I did it. My dad made himself a vodka martini.

My mom and I hunkered down in the one room in the house without a skylight.  We dragged in a mattress and the cat, Buttercup.  My dad went to sleep in his bedroom, like nothing was different.

By midnight the storm was at full speed. We had Bryan Norcross on our transistor.  He said,“Do not go outside.” I looked out the window.  The plants and trees lashed around like dancers in a mosh pit.

Just like everyone says, the wind sounded like a freight train—or more like an industrial blender.  What idiot would go outside?

I was so scared, I ran to the bathroom three times with diarrhea.  I went as fast as I could. I was sure I’d be found there, dead, on the toilet.

Bryan said the worst of the storm was headed south.  We were near Dadeland, just outside of the evacuation zone.  We were south.

Bryan kept saying:  “Get under your mattress.”

My mom and I lay on top of our mattress, too afraid to move.  Buttercup crouched on my mom’s chest. The freakiest thing was the way the air got heavy.

You could feel the air on your skin, the way you feel water on your skin at the bottom of a pool. It was hard to breathe.

We heard a crash:  A pine tree fell into the skylight in the next room, my room.  I imagined my bedroom gone, blown away.  My dad came running in.  Usually he wore a towel around the house.

Now he was in shorts and a T-shirt.  That’s how I knew even he was scared. My dad said, “We have to get out of here.”  He reached for the door and said the pressure was sucking it closed.

We were stuck.

The next day, the sun came out, and so did the neighbors, but nothing was the same. We had brought in the coconuts, but the coconut trees were gone.  We had put the patio furniture in the shed, but the aluminum shed was scattered across the neighbor’s tennis court.  I didn’t pick up the metal pieces.  I didn’t put the potted orchids back on the patio.  I was stuck on the couch with a fever.

My boss, Gwen Margolis, called.  She wanted me to help pass out water bottles and fans at the shelter.  “I need you,” she said.  I told her no.  Andrew shook me so hard I couldn’t get up for two weeks.  I sat in front of my own fan, drinking my own bottle of water.

I wasn’t the person I thought I was, the one you’d call in an emergency.

You can read more personal essays like Andrea's when you visit our “Remembering Andrew” Storify.