It started with a phone call. “A storm is coming. Are you watching the news?”
I wasn’t. I had been listening to music on my computer while the television replayed the MTV Movie Awards in the background. Come to think of it, I hadn’t stepped out or even seen the outside since I had taken the trash out a few hours earlier. It was pleasant then, warm but not too humid. The tank top I was wearing was the perfect accessory for the day, though the jeans might’ve been an uncomfortable choice had I been hanging out outside for hours. At the very least, I would have to trade my flats for a more breathable pair of flip-flops.
I caught some mention of a tornado warning over the line as my thoughts drifted from my chores and summer attire back toward the conversation at hand; the warning was issued near my sister’s county. The voice sounded worried. Unconcerned, I politely thanked my grandmother before hanging up the phone, unmuting my computer, and glancing back at the TV.
If a storm was coming, my sister would’ve picked up on it. She’s been terrified of storms since I was little. Any time the lightning or thunder picked up, she and my mother would grab their flashlights and run for the basement with shrill voices yelling about cover, blankets in hand. My dad and I dodged them on our way to the living room. There, we would open the blinds to the picture window and sit down to enjoy the show. That’s the way it always was.
I didn’t give the storm much more thought until my mother came home. She began recounting her night spent with her ladies’ book club to me and I off-handedly responded with a comment about grandma’s warning. There went the MTV Movie Awards; she clicked over to the news. And could I turn down my music too? I muttered back that a phone call might be more helpful to my sister than sitting passively and watching for a tornado to touch down near her house. At that, my mother picked up the phone while simultaneously urging me into the basement.
I’m reminded by this that I miss the old days. I miss my dad, not that he’s gone for good. He’s traveling now in Brazil for business but he would’ve enjoyed a storm like this.
I let my mother lead the way to the basement while I stole quietly to the living room, shutting off the lights along the way. Once there, I nestled into a plush armchair facing the window and watched as the lightning sparked across the sky and illuminated the frenzied storm before me. Horizontal strikes. Diagonal strikes accompanied by a few which seemed to connect directly with the earth. I couldn’t help but notice that the show was slightly impeded by the young sapling which my family had planted when I was a child in our front yard. I leaned forward and craned my neck to see the width of the trunk. It certainly wasn’t a sapling anymore.
Seemingly undeterred by the leafy arms of a single, unremarkable tree, Mother Nature created a breathtaking scene for my viewing pleasure. My silent surroundings inside the house served to heighten the electricity I felt running through my veins with every crack in the sky. The furniture loomed ominously, echoing the weather warnings and reminding me that I was alone at ground level while the rest of the neighborhood had appropriately sought shelter below.
Breaking through my nostalgic appreciation of the storm was my mother’s voice. It rang out, crying, “A tornado has touched down between here and the airport! Would you come downstairs?!”
Our home is approximately twenty minutes from the airport. A tornado located between the two locations could be an even ten minutes from each or better or worse with regards to my seat in front of the picture window. So I sighed as I caved in to the safety of my mother’s watch and descended the stairs with a sweatshirt in hand.
“It touched down on Merriman Road… It’s close.” she informed me, almost in a whisper.
Merriman road is one half mile from my home, perhaps slightly less.
I sat down and listened carefully for the tornado sirens above the screaming news bulletin, which began scrolling across the television screen for the third time in a matter of three minutes. The robotic voice coming from the television listed off the effected counties and attempted to compete with the crackling thunder outside. There however, amidst the noise, I heard it. It was the sorrowful, aching cry of a siren that had grown accustomed to sounding only once each month in test.
As the siren screamed out its warning, the wind hastened. Faster. Louder. It claimed a garbage can or two as it whipped through the streets of my neighborhood and all I could think of with the sound of those bins bouncing around outside was, “I really hope that’s not the one I put the chicken fat in.”
My mother was snuggled beneath a blanket on the futon and as I joined her, she pressed closer to me. “We’re fine.” I suggested, wondering how close the obscure crossroad the news had mentioned was to our own off of Merriman Road. As if in response, the wind began whistling and escalated quickly to a howl. Close. That crossroad, it must be close.
My mother shrieked when the lights went out, causing me to jump. In my excitement and lack of coordination, I threw up my hands awkwardly and was quickly met with a painful cry. “Sorry, mom. You know I hate that!”
With my vision rendered useless, though not as severely as my mother’s with her now aching eye-socket, I picked up on the audible moaning of the house. “Mom, have you ever been through a tornado?” I asked timidly.
She reached over out of the blackness and grasped my hand. “Do you have your phone with you, just in case?”
Avoidance! And my answer was no. I left it upstairs in the front room. I really had thought this was going to blow over and I would be found gloating in my chair minutes from now.
The wind continued to bellow outside and though I couldn’t be sure, I thought I heard a crack unlike that of thunder. Who could say? I also felt the pressure in the basement change, as though the house was breathing or flexing in the storm. Or so I imagined. It gave me goosebumps.
“You don’t have your phone?!” I yelled over the now rampant wind.
“I think I set it on the table in front of us!” my mom rebutted.
As quickly as it started, the wind subsided. I had thought it would be a relief but our neighborhood seemed painfully silent without the howling of the wind. The calm before the storm? My mom’s “mom sense” perked up and I could sense every nerve in her body primed for reception. After a few minutes, she let go of my hand and turned away from me, returning with a beam of light. “You had a flashlight?! Are you kidding me????” I pouted.
She pointed it to the table and there was her phone, just as suspected. I used it to look up the weather. The report confirmed that the tornado warnings had swept east.
I threw off the blanket and we made our way cautiously through all of my moving boxes covering the basement floor. We ascended the stairs and walked side by side to the living room. Once there, we stood quietly together as we watched the lagging lightning brighten the sky. That’s when I noticed our once sapling. The young tree was now nothing more than a root system supporting a split a trunk. The bulk of it blocked the street and its leafy arms now lay outstretched and battered across the pavement, asking out for help. It took down one of our garbage cans with it too, although the other two were, much to my surprise, still standing. The downed bin was the one containing the chicken guts. Its contents spilled across the road, intermingling with our neighbors’ scattered trash. Figures.
I sighed heavily as I turned to catch my mom rubbing her eye.
“Let me get you an ice pack.” I offered. “You can ice it while I call my sister.”