As for so many, February was the peak of my pandemic depression. It nearly marked the first anniversary of the Covid lockdown, and the demise of my social life. But quarantining in San Antonio, Texas, brought an entirely new set of challenges.
My breaking point was around midnight last Tuesday, during the “Arctic blast” which, prior to last week, sounded like a refreshing juice-box flavor for children. Our house was 40F (4C). My father was outside boiling water on the grill so we could have a hot drink to get us through the night. My only link to the outside world was a horrendous internet connection, so I couldn’t even doom-scroll my way out of this frozen hellscape.
As I lay there shivering in my sister’s bed, under a pile of no less than six blankets, I finally lost it. What began as hysteria-laced laughter soon transformed into full-blown wailing. I had had it. Even my angsty teenage sister, who usually loathes me and everyone around her, comforted me with an awkward but much-needed hug. I fell asleep to the sound of my teeth chattering.
I was already a shell of myself prior to Texas’s weather anomaly, thanks to Covid’s brain-numbing consequences. Each day, I answered emails horizontally on my bed until I closed my laptop and fell asleep – to repeat it all over again the following day. I rarely ate. There was nothing left to binge-watch, and reading for pleasure was fruitless since I felt nothing anyway.
While these days were bad, they were at least consistent.
The week of the blackout, every day got progressively worse. At first, the state energy grid operator, Ercot, began rolling out power outages across the state. The electricity would go out, but we knew it would eventually come back on. And when it did, my family scattered like cockroaches freshly exposed to light, desperate to make the most of the power while we could. We cranked the thermostat to warm the house, fired up the kettle for coffee and tea, and cooked whatever took the shortest amount of time.
But suddenly, the electricity, which used to come on for 10 minutes every hour, ceased altogether.
Like any good eldest daughter, I decided to find something to burn for warmth. I trekked through the backyard to the wooded area behind our house like a character in Little House on the Prairie. I returned to the garage with thick tree branches and a rusty saw, and began hacking away into the wood until my father informed me that our rarely used chimney would most likely be a fire hazard.
The rare moments I had access to the outside world, I would give updates to my colleagues in the newsroom like a war correspondent in a nation under siege. “We lost power again last night. I’m not sure where my next meal will come from. Things are bad. This isn’t over yet.”
I also texted friends to check in. I learned some were sleeping in their cars because they had gone days without heat in their homes. Others were surviving on Ritz crackers and sparkling water. Things were made worse when pipes all over the state began to freeze and burst. People were forced to turn off the water in their homes to prevent flooding. Some were too late, and incurred damage reminiscent of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. When the water finally did return for some, every major city in the state ordered a “boil-water” notice, for fear of contamination. Not only were we turning into human popsicles, but now we had to worry about accidentally ingesting a brain-eating amoeba.
This state has been through its fair share of natural disasters, forcing Texans to come together. Neighbors will share food and resources. Volunteers will bring the vulnerable to shelters. And Texas’s favorite grocery store, HEB, will always supplement the pitiful support provided by the state government. Help is welcome, but not expected. Texas invented the term “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” – but make no mistake, this should not be a point of pride. Self-reliance is a way of life imposed on us because of poor leadership.
Perhaps the cherry on top of the shit sundae was our senator, Ted Cruz, abandoning his state for sunny Cancún, Mexico, while millions froze with no access to food or water. The image of barren grocery store shelves juxtaposed with memes of Cruz in a Texas flag mask with rolling luggage on my Twitter feed would have been hilarious if it wasn’t absolutely tragic. Governor Greg Abbott blamed a non-existent Green New Deal on the statewide blackout, and former governor and failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry erroneously said: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”
Perhaps the cherry on top of the shit sundae was Ted Cruz abandoning his state for sunny Cancún
While it might be easy to blame Texans for electing such inept people into office, don’t forget that this is one of the hardest states in which to vote. Voter suppression is as much a part of the state’s identity as barbecue. But the complete lack of leadership in the state during one of its greatest crises made me wonder all the more: what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Even sadder was when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman with no real connection to the state, raised $5m for Texans and traveled to Houston’s food bank to volunteer, while state leaders evaded responsibility and gave interviews to Fox News saying frozen wind turbines were the reason the entire state shut down, when only 7% of Texas’s power is generated by wind during the winter.
In many ways, I was the lucky one. My anger at “Fled” Cruz made me feel real emotion again. And despite freezing temperatures and hunger, our pipes didn’t burst. I had a roof over my head and blankets to wrap myself in. It’s 75F in San Antonio today and the sun is shining again, as if nothing ever happened. Just like our state leadership, the weather is gaslighting us.