The power was down, the water was gone, and the signal, nowhere to be found. By the first day, we did not even know about our relatives and friends in other towns. Old-school methods soon cleared that out, but for us, there was a bigger worry.
3/4ths of the Matias spent the hurricane together, the long lines together, the worries together, and built upon each other’s optimism at every moment to make the days more bearable; but just as we spent every minute by each other’s side, there was a quarter of the Matias desperate to hear news from us.
My older sister who studies in college in the United States heard no word from us in four days, hearing only the news about the “devastated” Puerto Rico yet having no power other than dialing our cellphone number time after time, hoping that one of those moments, by utter hope, we would answer.
It was all our desperate souls wanted. We dialed and dialed time after time ignoring the “No signal” on the top of the phone as if by merely wishing upon it, a miracle would occur.
My dad tried everything, everyone he knew who could get a message across. Just as he was arriving somewhere to speak to anyone who could have access to a working telephone, a man who was just leaving the place asked for all of my sister’s contact information because he was going to drive to the other part of the island to send a message across to many families. He was put in our way as if by a miracle, being in fact, the first person who told my sister that we were all right. We did not know that then, so we grew more impatient by the day for a chance to speak with her.
After the 4th day it was more than we could take. A gasoline crisis was starting to take place and we were halfway through the tank, when we took on the one hour drive up north to a town that supposedly had signal. We didn’t care if we had to wait hours in gas lines later, which we did, as long as we got the chance to speak with my desperate sister and tell her that we were fine.
It was driving into the unknown with half a tank of gas. We didn’t know where we were going, where we would find signal, but we just drove on with faith that if we had to drag the car back to our hometown, at least we got the chance to talk with my sister.
As we were passing by the town of Toa Baja, we came upon a hill filled with many desperate people jumping and crying. There was a different story beneath every face we saw as we walked up the hill with our phones and a growing hope of being one of them in the upcoming minutes. We waited for minutes walking around people who were looking for the beloved treasure in the form of signal just like us, when suddenly, we get one bar in our phones from a phone company that was not even ours. We dialed and dialed, but the calls weren’t coming in. Now more anxious than before, we just wished on one minute to speak, just one, and such a minute came. Instead of getting our call, fate aligned itself so that my sister was, at that very instant, dialing our number in one of her daily tries and the call came forward.
Our call lasted a great two minutes, half of which were spent breaking down in tears from both ends, but our wish came through. We told my sister to stop worrying, that we were all okay and that we would do anything to find signal again soon.
In the midst of emotional chaos afterward, came a strong-looking man asking whether we could let him use our phone to call his family in the United States. As soon as the call came through and from the other end he heard the voices of his loved ones, he broke down crying, as did every being who stood on that hill.
As we came down the hill that day, the weight on our shoulders from the past days was gone. Seeing the faces of mothers, fathers and other family members covered in tears, everyone with their own story, gave us a faint hope, while walking up, and the confidence of enduring anything, as we came down. There was much more to come our way, but it was those precious two minutes over the phone, worth of an hour-long drive, that gave us the strength to push through any more challenges awaiting us back home in the upcoming days, weeks, and months.