Over the past couple of weeks, the threat of tragedy has set many people on edge. First Harvey swept into Texas, then Irma battered the Caribbean and headed for Florida. Meanwhile, Jose and Katia built, bringing more uncertainty of what they would become or where they would go.
People in the direct path of the storm faced the very real possibility of tragedy. They stood to lose their homes, livelihoods, pets, and even their lives. Many were called upon to tap into reserves of strength and courage to get through a situation for which they had little time to prepare.
Meanwhile, many of us outside the danger zone could only watch and wait. Although I didn’t have anyone close to me directly affected by the storms, my social media feeds were full of posts from friends who did have loved ones in danger. Lots of people were afraid of what might happen, but felt powerless to do anything about it. That kind of stress can have a huge emotional toll.
I thought a lot about the effects of powerlessness while writing The Smallest Thing. On the pages of the main story, Em finds herself stuck in the middle of an unimaginable tragedy that she is completely unprepared to handle. She does what any of us would do, which is to figure out how to survive. She doesn’t always make the best choices, especially at first. She has no role models or experience to call upon, but she does what she has to, and then she does what she needs to do. She finds her inner strength and a side of herself she never knew existed. And while she thinks she is powerless, she finds ways to take action.
Meanwhile, in the fictional world beyond the book, Em’s mother and little sister Alice experience the powerlessness that many of us felt last week as Hurricane Irma barreled towards our loved ones. Although their story isn’t told in the book, I’ve imagined them watching helplessly as Em and her father fought for survival.
I imagined that Em’s mother, like many us last week, would carry enormous guilt that she had gone to visit her sister and so had avoided being swept up in the quarantine. She’d feel helpless because there would be nothing she could do to protect her loved ones. She’d be terrified and probably frustrated that she didn’t know, at every second of the day, what was happening to them. She’d have moments of fury when others judged her actions or those of her loved ones, without full knowledge of the situation (hello, social media haters) and perhaps relief when one kind person asked how her family was doing and how she was holding up.
In fiction, and in our real-world tragedies, the stories of the supporting characters aren’t generally the ones that keep us riveted. But if you were a supporting character in the recent news headlines, you know, like Em’s mother, that you have your own story, too.