Elisa Tatiana Juárez - Hurricane Andrew - Brown University
On one of the two walls of bookshelves in my new room, you will see a photo album. When you open this album, images of my past appear. You may notice that what makes my photo album different from most other teenagers’ albums is that it starts when I was 8. Not because my parents didn’t love me or take cute baby pictures of my brother and me, but because I was confronted at that age by a meteorological monster named Andrew. On August 23 our family really didn’t think the storm would hit Miami, but we cleaned the entire house from top to bottom and did the other hurricane preparations. My mom’s logic was that we might not have any electric power or water for a while, so the house should be clean. We lived in a two-story house, so my brother and I set up a place to camp in a closet downstairs, just in case. At about midnight, the storm path had turned its course and headed directly toward us, so our parents moved us into the closet in their bedroom.
That night is still very vivid in my mind. I remember lying on a blanket on the floor of my parents’ bedroom closet and being awakened by a very loud noise. I later learned that it was our backyard play fort that my dad had set in concrete, slamming against the side of the bedroom. I remember that my papa was holding a portable battery-powered radio and muttering things to himself, “vientos a 200 millas por hora...nos está pegando fuerte...el ojo de la tormenta ca s illega...lo peor todavía falta" Yes, the worst was still to come. Until that moment, I had never felt so helpless. My house was blowing away around us, chunk by chunk…there was very little keeping my family and me from being swept away. Worse, there was nothing I could do, nothing anyone could do, but wait and pray. Suddenly there was silence. Complete and total silence. There was no noise, not even the chirp of a bird. My papito got up and ventured beyond the closet door. He forced the door open, only to realize that he was pushing against insulation and dry wall from the remains of our house. He said almost everything was gone, but everything was calm, there wasn’t even a breeze in the air. I felt that I shouldn’t even breathe, for fear of disrupting the silence. What was next? Who knows? We weren’t prepared for any of this.
Suddenly out of nowhere, the silence was broken. The winds picked up again, and we braced ourselves for more. The next few hours can be played in my mind, like a movie. I can pause it whenever I want, zoom in and out and fast-forward past the most terrible moments. I clearly remember my father calling my mother to help him keep tornado-force winds from coming into the bedroom. The walls were cracking around us…water was pouring into the room. The air pressure dropped drastically within the house.
Then, as soon as it all started, it was quiet again. We didn’t know what to do. Was it OK to wander out? Was it over, or was that just another false hope? My parents ventured out first. They came back and told us quite simply “Well, you know what? God gave us a beautiful sunroof." A sense of humor, I learned, is essential at a time like that. They made a path through the rubble to allow my brother and me to see what was left of our rooms. I walked out of the cubbyhole that had kept us safe for the past eight hours, and was not at all prepared for what came next. Mom was right when she said we had a sunroof, well if you can call it a sunroof. There was nothing. I looked up and saw the cloudy morning sky from what had been our living room. In the place where my room used to be, there was only a huge, empty cavity. The floor was pink and fluffy with building insulation materials. My great-grandmother’s piano was totally covered in wet fiberglass and the remains of a popcorn ceiling. The family heirloom piano had just arrived at our house, a gift from my grandmother in Texas. It was destroyed. My dog that we had locked into the bathroom across the hall was whimpering in a corner. To this day, she is terrified of storms. I wanted to crawl into a corner myself, but although I was only 8 I felt I had to be strong. As a family we walked into the rooms, or what was left of them, to inspect what had happened.
I stood in the doorway, separating what were once the kitchen and the backyard. Looking out I saw the real damage. Houses were no more than piles of toothpicks. Looking around me, I shed my first and only tear. There was no time to cry. We all had to get stuff out of the house before the mildew set in.
We found our way to the main doorway and dared to walk outside to find out what the rest of the world looked like. The rest of the people in our neighborhood had the same idea. All of us were in total shock. Everyone looked at each other, standing in what was left of their doorways and an unspoken understanding was communicated. Our next-door neighbor, a former Green Beret, assured us that “someone would be here to help us soon." Less-confident neighbors started to move trees from the middle of the street in order to clear a path, just in case help couldn’t get to where we were.
The first night, we moved in with our cousins, who lived a few blocks down what used to be a street. Only part of their house had caved in, the bedrooms were damp, but livable. As I tried to fall asleep that night I realized that yes, I had lost everything that I had valued on a material level, but I still had what was most important, my life and my family. I could replace the things I had lost, even the piano, but my father’s smile, my mother’s protectiveness and my brother’s sense of humor were all irreplaceable.
I survived. It was almost as if I had been given a second chance at life. At that early age, I realized that our family easily could have been killed. If we had been in a different room, if the hurricane had hit us at a different angle or if the tornado had entered the room, I wouldn’t be here. Life is delicate and precious. I knew I couldn’t live my life as a silent impartial observer. I had to do as much as I could and enjoy every day because we only have one life and only one chance to make a difference.
Why This Essay Succeeded
While not every student experiences a tragedy as traumatic as Elisa did, you can describe yourself through a difficulty that you’ve overcome. Elisa does an excellent job of relating not only what happened to her family during and after the hurricane but also what she gained from the natural disaster.
Throughout her essay, Elisa uses vivid, dramatic descriptions of specific moments to help us understand the experience of riding through a hurricane. But just as important, Elisa shows us how her parent’s reactions - whether it’s her father’s calm composure or the joke about having a new sunroof - made this occurrence more than just an act of Mother Nature. Anyone can write about wind and rain. It’s the storm or calm inside that counts in your essay.