Life without power

I am cleaning out my refrigerator. Two jumbo black garbage bags are ready. Everything is going inside the bags. At least I think everything is. It is Thursday afternoon and power went down on Monday at 4:04 p.m. according to the electric clock upstairs, the result of a powerful storm that roared through Chicago.

I toss in an unopened carton of a dozen eggs plus the carton with three eggs. Why didn’t we give these to the neighbors? They came over Tuesday to tell us that they had an extra refrigerator in the basement and they could take as much as we had. The other side of the street has power, as does our neighbor to the left.

We took the milk, the half-n-half and lots of frozen goods that had already thawed. I realized on Wednesday evening that the thawed frozen goods will likely have to be tossed by the time our power comes back, according to the company by 11 p.m. Friday.

I toss the mayo and the vegan mayo, the ketchup, the mustard into a bag. I can’t face emptying them all out, rinsing and recycling. But the guilt weighs heavily.

I open the cheese drawer. Goat cheese crumbles, Feta, two unopened blocks of sharp cheddar, two unopened packages of Parmesan Reggiano. I wonder if cheese will last. I can’t face throwing all of it in the garbage bags. I’ll keep it for now.

And then my mind wanders to Puerto Rico, which has been without full power for over 300 days. My husband’s dentist, who is from Iran, said that when he lived there they had power for the morning and had to use generators for the afternoon and evening.

I clear out the freezer, the puff pastry, the salmon patties, the vegan meatballs. I place the formerly frozen homemade vegetable broth by the sink to wash and next to it the leftover homemade Minestrone. The soup has to be strained because the garbage disposal needs power and I don’t want lots of liquid in the trash bags.

When I get to the vegetable and fruit drawers, I toss blackberries, raspberries, spinach, celery. We had just gone on a major shopping trip the weekend before and couldn’t eat it fast enough. We find a decomposing cucumber at the bottom of the vegetable drawer, which went bad long before we lost power, but is now a mess.

I think of all the things I should have/could have done with this food. I could have used all the thawing fruit—purchased in the Spring when COVID triggered some hoarding—to make pies and give to the neighbors. They could have been delivered with a little note telling them what temperature to bake them at.

I could have done the same with the thawing vegetables and the veggies in the fridge. I could have used them with the eggs and cheese in frittatas made on top of my gas stove and shared them with others who lost electricity.

But I didn’t. I check the my phone and realize all the cheese has to go. I have a vague idea of how much wasted money is in those bags, but it has to remain vague or I’ll tip over into extreme anxiety.

The clearing and cleaning of the refrigerator is the last straw. I want to feel sorry for myself. I want my hair dryer, my dishwasher, my refrigerator, my computer, my television, my wifi, my phone, my air conditioner, the lights in the bathrooms, the fans, I want all of them to work. I am hot, depressed, anxious, immobilized, unable somehow to know what to do with myself.

But I can’t give in to these emotions because I can’t get Puerto Rico out of my head. I can’t forget the families in Detroit that don’t have safe drinking water, the millions of people around the world who struggle every single day to find food and clean water.

I don’t know quite how to end this. I’m at an impasse. I have found a routine, a new way of making coffee at home, then a trip to Starbucks to charge the electronics and get online, then time outside on the patio to write and watch the birds. I have found my headlamp that I use to walk the dog in winter and I use it to read when we head up to bed around 8:45.

It is life as we know it, and though I am grateful for this life, for the pure privilege of being able to buy Parmesan Reggiano, for all of these things that run on electricity, I am also feeling isolated. This home has been my safe place during COVID and now it is no longer a place of comfort.

I simply can not imagine living 300 days without power, and it hurts to know how many in this world are suffering. Still, when 11 p.m. on Friday arrives I will embrace the arrival of power, get the refrigerator ready for new food and close all the windows to keep the air conditioning inside.

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