Story Time:  a Prayer to the Gray Man

September 2018 — Wilmington, North Carolina

In another life, I looked after houses for other people, and looked after the day-to-day minutiae of keeping the houses making money. That responsibility comes with a few burdens: when the home needed repair, I found the solutions for repair; when the homes were empty, I rallied the troops to make them appealing to rent; when disaster was impending, I did what I could to hedge the odds the bad moon rising would shine on someone else’s home.

When a hurricane is impending, you may be fortunate enough to have a week’s notice. The seven days between the storm brewing out in the office and stepping foot on the coast is spent chewing on nails while you wait to find out how bad the storm will be. The locals boast about the storms they’d endured, how they had no plans of leaving their homesteads, and would give the mercy of telling the transplants they had nothing to worry about. In the world of obtaining bids to replace roofs and knowing what mold smells like as soon as you walk in the door, there is no room for such mercy.

Hurricane Florence was approaching the Carolinas and was picking up steam by the minute. If you’re familiar with the name Jim Cantore, then you know that his presence is a clear indicator the shit is about to hit the fan. I hope to never hear about Jim’s arrival in Wilmington again.

My ex-wife was an alarmist, terrified of tornados, burdened with the anxiety of a severe weather event bringing her harm. The days leading up to Florence were a back-and-forth about what we were going to do, evacuate or stay. It’s never easy seeing panic in someone’s eyes, especially when you’re helpless to remedy the tension. My ex-wife, and I, and her sister’s family who lived on the other side of the house made the call that if the hurricane was any stronger than a category three, we were going to evacuate the house we owned to Pennsylvania.

There are two things guaranteed to sell the news: sex and disaster. The days leading up to zero-hour, I was inundated with coverage about the impending hurricane. Anchormen stood in front of green-screen maps, spewing prophecies in their coverage about how bad it could get, what we should have done three years ago to prepare for a disaster, and just how supremely fucked we all were. The fringe coverage wasn’t much better. My social media was flooded with those click-bait articles like “the ten worst hurricanes that killed authors named A.P. Miller,” and “You didn’t evacuate yesterday? Prepare your will!”

One fringe article that caught my eye was the legend of the Gray Man. A legend from South Carolina told the story of people who see a man in gray on the beach just before hurricanes. If the Gray Man was on the beach, the hurricane wouldn’t harm anyone (I’m paraphrasing). For one reason or another, it gave me a sliver of hope. Others had been in this predicament before and a ghost comforted them. I needed that. My mother passed away earlier that year and I was emotionally falling apart. I would have welcomed such a haunt.

On Thursday, September 14th, Hurricane Florence was predicted to be a category four hurricane. The company I worked for had us pack up the office, preparing for bedlam. When I got home from work, I packed all of my clothes, took pictures of the inside of the house in case we needed them for insurance purposes, and loaded everything into the vehicle we’d rented because it was large enough to carry all of us. As I was loading the cats into the vehicle, I could feel the bad wind blowing at my back. The sky had turned a sinister shade of purplish-black, the wind had the bitter taste of fear, and even the ghosts that haunted the shores had taken refuge.

When we pulled out of the driveway, I prayed for the safety of my home. My brother in law was a devout Muslim and said a prayer in Arabic. After his prayer concluded, I looked around the yard for a man in gray, hoping for his tidings the storm would torment someone else.

We stayed in Pennsylvania for about two weeks. When we returned, the home was still standing, if not for a hole in the roof. While the gray man didn’t see me off himself, he still stopped by to check on things while we were gone.

I didn’t know just how bad the storm had been until I returned to work and had to go through the reports of the carnage. Roofs had been torn off, homes had flooded, and essential services had been interrupted. I spent the better part of eight months seeing the homes in my portfolio to complete recovery. I spent days that never seemed to end meeting with insurance adjusters, helping file claims, and inventorying the resulting difficulties to living in those homes from the tenants.

While writing this blog, I Googled the Gray Man, to find out if anyone had seen him. Sure enough, there is video footage of the Gray Man walking across a pier on Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. I can’t explain it, but it still gives me a sense of comfort to know he’d been seen.

Thank you for joining me on this trip across the Millerverse! I’ll see you next time.

Songs listened to while writing this blog:

  1. Riding the Storm Out – REO Speedwagon
  2. Riders on the Storm – the Doors
  3. Help is on the Way – Rise Against

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