At first, I think I, and everyone else for that matter, paused in place and inadvertently held our breath for the power to come back on. As though the power had gone out from our overuse of oxygen and would only come back on with our held breath, tense positions and force of will. I heard an unified exhale from everyone in the room when we realized that the power wasn’t coming back on, at least within the length of one breath.
Now, I had in place a plan for such a situation. Given the way I was living my life, the impact of a power outage loomed large and so I had thought in advance and prepared. However, my plan, at least in this particular situation, was short sighted. Given that I had only ever taken myself into account when preparing, I was left unprepared for the additional 15 strangers I was suddenly required to account for.
It was at this point that I remembered how my day had started and all the irritating things that, by pure chance, had struck me since. Suddenly it had become clear, I should have expected that this was going to happen. All the signs had been pointing to disaster, the entire day had been out of control already. I blamed the other Margaret in that moment, if it wasn’t for her, it wouldn’t have happened. In that moment, I blamed a dead woman with my name for the power going out during my tea party. To me the other Margaret was chuckling as she skied the snowy slopes of the afterlife.
My plan for a power outage included a kit of emergency supplies, a set of instructions, a single flashlight with a spare set of batteries and a comprehensive set of neon glow stickers installed throughout the house to help navigate. The emergency supplies consisted of:
-a box of salteens
-a small jar of peanut butter
-one jar of kosher pickles
-a can of butternut squash soup
-a wool sweater
-everything needed to start a fire
-a guide to morse code.
The instructions, written to myself, dictated the following:
1. Do not panic.
2. Stay focused and don’t let your imagination wander in the darkness.
3. Check the fuse box for blown fuses, new fuses are kept in the spare room closet.
4. Test to see if your landline still works.
5. Call the power company at 403-514-6100.
6. Ration battery power with the flashlight. If necessary, resort to candles, which are kept under the sink in the kitchen.
7. If the power outage persists, dispose of any food from the fridge that will go rotten.
8. If the power outage persists for a long period, ration food and consider collecting tap water in the case of apocalypse.
9. Grandpa’s shotgun is under the bathtub.
If I had been on my own, in a power outage, this plan may have provided me with everything I needed to feel safe and secure. With people over, the plan made me feel like a twelve year old on a date. I might as well have packed a teddy bear.
One flashlight was not going to do much for the fifteen of us in the room. Immediately, some people pulled out their cell phones and used them as lights. Everyone else got a mason jar and a tea candle, which I found hundreds of under the sink, as per my instructions. Luckily, a young man with a smoking habit brought a lighter and so we were able to light the candles, because for all of my planning I had provided the candles but not the fire. There we sat, in a circle around my living room, as before, but in the glow of cell phones and tea candle light. I hadn’t the slightest idea what to do next.
It became obvious to me that everyone was likely to leave unless I said something to convince them to stay. This might seem obvious to most, but keep in mind that hosting people was still relatively new to me and all of my recent experiences leading up to this moment had followed my well-prepared plans for success. While it became obvious to me that everyone was likely to leave, what I hadn’t decided was whether or not I wanted them to stay.
Despite the way the day had spun completely out of control, as I sat in the living room surrounded by these strangers, in that humble glow of digital and natural light, I felt as though I didn’t want them to leave, not yet. People had gone back to their glasses of wine and bottles of beer, a gentle din rose louder as conversations which began as whispers grew to compete with one another. It appeared as though activity was breathing in the party once more. To prevent that activity from walking out the door without me, I decided I would say something: “Hello everyone. This is a bit of a setback, but, but-"
But I didn't have the words. I wanted to say: "but I don't want you all to leave, because I would like to leave with you but I'm not quite there yet. If we could just relax for a little while then I'm hoping I will be ready to walk out the door with you."
Instead, I was left with my mouth left slightly open and askew, searching for what I was going to say. I couldn't tell them what I wanted, they would think I was ridiculous. These were strangers, why would they stay? So I can build up the nerve to go outside? They could have left right then, so I sought out a reason for them to want to stay. All I could come up with was: “but I have a feeling the power is going to come back on soon. Plus, you haven’t seen the rest of the house.”
With that, I painted myself up as a housewife from the fifties boasting about my home as though it’s the epitome of my existence, but in whatever way it worked because everyone gave out a small cheer and round of applause. They seemed genuinely excited that this small disaster had occurred, completely out of our control, and we would carry on as though it was part of the plan all along.