The Day Conan O’Brien Saved My Life
There are times in your life when all the day-to-day bullshit is stripped away. When nothing else matters anymore. Maybe it was my body’s refusal to give in to hypothermia as I laid trapped on the frozen driveway. Maybe it was my stubborn inner will to survive no matter the odds.
Maybe it was the fact my mother and brother stood in the window of a warm house just feet away, sucking down my cup of hot coffee.
“Dammit!” I groaned as I rolled onto my knees, still gripping the handle on top of my cat Conan O’Brien’s carrier. “We’ve got to get up this hill!” I cried, my voice muffled by the eerie sound of icy tree limbs cracking in the distance.
I put my entire weight on top of the carrier, using it for support as I struggled to my feet. I slid one foot forward only to slip and fall to my knees again. “Well, Conan,” I whispered to the orange tufts of fur poking through the vents, “I guess walking is out.”
“Ywwwwoooooar,” he said.
I quickly decided the only way up the steep hill was to traverse in a zigzag pattern.
On my stomach.
How long would this journey take? My guess was at least a half hour. That’s if I didn’t slide back down. If only I had something that wasn’t covered in ice. Something that would dig into the glazed hill like a mountain climber’s crampon.
“MEOW! MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!” Conan protested.
“Sorry, bub. But mama needs her java.”
I heaved Conan’s carrier in front of me a few feet to gain some traction and dragged my body across the ice. It’s working! I plodded on, the promise of a cup of piping hot coffee swirling in my mind.
With each climb we slipped back down a few feet, but I was certain we were gaining at least a few inches with every attempt. My mom still stood in the window, offering me a frown and a slow half-hearted wave of her hand for encouragement.
I imagined how my death would be reported on the local news that night:
GOOD TO THE LAST DROP? WOMAN AND CAT DIE FOR CAFFEINE-FIX
JAVA-JUNKIE SUCCUMBS TO ELEMENTS, MIRACLE CAT USES DEAD BODY FOR SHELTER AND SURVIVES!
Our grueling ascent up the hill continued as I repeated the process for another 20 minutes, growing weaker with each cat-toss. I’d allow myself to rest only if I reached the grove of white birch trees in the center of the lawn. Inch-worming a path up the hill on my knees, I soon developed a rhythm: Cat. Crawl. Slide. Cat. Crawl. Slide.
Finally, we reached the front steps. My brother reached out to haul us both to safety.
“Hey! You made it!” he said, knocking back a slug of coffee from his mug.
“Yeah, thanks for your concern,” I said between slurps, already two cups of cold coffee settling in my stomach. My mom’s power had gone out almost as soon as I arrived.
We stood out on the back deck looking at the dark forest in silence. Every few minutes a heavy tree limb in the distance cracked, booming like a shotgun blast as it crashed to the ground.
“How the hell you get here?” I asked. He had finished his shift at L.L. Bean’s distribution center down the road and walked to my mom’s house the night before.
“Oh, I was stuck on the ground for over an hour on the soccer field. Had to crawl most of the way. Might have blacked out a few times. At one point, I thought death was near. But whaddya gonna do?” he shrugged in the typical Mainer way.
Eventually, more family members arrived and we spent a few chilly nights sleeping on the living room floor inhaling toxic kerosene heater fumes. Soon a rumor spread through town that a place not too far from us had power. Not only did they have power, but food. Hot food. And running toilets. It was risky, but we were determined to make the trek.
But nothing prepared us for what we would witness once we arrived at the restaurant:
The zombie apocalypse.
A long line of people snaked out the front door of Friendly’s, all of them hunched over, their hollowed faces weary from an ice storm that was now dragging people into their second week with no power in sub-freezing temperatures.
“Unga bunga ugga….” mumbled an old man with a scruffy beard as he shoved past me to get in line for a cup of broccoli and cheese soup, maybe a Caesar salad if he was lucky.
Civilization was finally breaking down. In horror, I surveyed the line of people in front of me to find a sea of disheveled unwashed clothes and dirty matted hair. A pungent cloud of collective body odor hung over the crowd. Women young and old had abandoned their make-up routines, their faces revealing dark under eye circles and pasty white skin. It was chaos.
But we survived. Us hearty Mainers conquered the Badass Ice Storm of 1998 and lived to tell about it. It’s taken me 16 years to break my silence as I still suffer from nightmares. But I managed to learn a thing or two.
Things the Ice Storm Taught Me:
- Winter sucks.
- Power is good.
- Don’t feed your cat a steady diet of cheeseburgers and milkshakes because you might have to haul his ass up an icy mountain one day.
- Maintaining good hygiene is the most important thing in life.
Eventually, power was restored across the state of Maine.
Darla did get to eat her grilled cheese and bacon that day at Friendly’s.
Darla’s mother lost power for 5 days.
Darla’s apartment had no power for almost 2 weeks.
Darla’s toilet was replaced by her landlord.
Conan O’Brien lived a good happy cat life for the next four years and was never used as a crampon again.
Tales from the Ice Storm of 1998 — Part One (click this link if the above story made no sense)