Tuesday, January 8, 2008
waiting out the storm
Ok, so I still watch Desperate Housewives. Sue me. Lynette's whole family survived the relentless tornado (tornadoes typically touch down for mere seconds in a single space, but this one continued like a godforsaken hurricane for about 43 minutes), which was a relief. Victor died by getting a stabbed in the back by white picket fence (oh the irony), and Carlos is now blind. Also, a lot of the housewives are sans homes right now.
Although it's not yet tornado season here in the Midwest, I sure thought there might be one today. The past four days have been unseasonably warm--I'm talking 65 degrees when it should be -65 degrees. Accompanying the warm weather, pouring rain and lightning storms. On my drive home from Max's school this morning I saw the Chicago skyline like I've never seen it before. Invisible...all except for a middle portion of the Sears Tower. The skyscraper, both above and below this circle of breaking fog, was hidden behind the thick clouds, so as rendering the visible chunk of tower a levitating wonder. (I about kicked myself for, once again, failing to have my camera on me at ALL times!)
By 3:00 returning from school once again, the skyline had returned but with a background of strange-looking clouds, ranging from the darkest gray to a faint greenish tinge. I pointed out the green to Max and had flashbacks of all those tornado warnings growing up, which all began with a similar coloring.
So here is an anecdote I wrote a few years ago about one such day...
(originally published in issue 2 of Make This Magazine)
I was eight or nine years old. That Saturday my mom had to work, so my dad, to keep us occupied, decided it was time to teach my younger sister, Sheri, how to ride a two-wheeler. I stayed home. I was proving—to who, I’m not sure—that I was old enough to be alone. The two of them departed from our suburban cul-de-sac and headed for the deserted church parking lot at the edge of our neighborhood. The same parking lot where he let go of the back of my banana seat two-wheeler and sent me squealing as a six-year-old into weaving patterns among the faded and cracked white lines of spaces. And ten years later where he took me on the first snowfall to teach me how to do “donuts” in his car, somehow trying to instruct safety to a new-driver-to-Chicago-winters.
It was nice out that day, although July could be vicious, and I was unsure as to what the capricious weather might bring our way. Everything was still. As pathetic looking as the single tree by our mailbox looked, I knew it was capable of making some noise with the few leaves it housed. Nothing. I rode my bike around the circle a few times, a few of the revolutions one-handed. Even if Sheri succeeded in losing her training wheels, she would never attempt such a daring feat.
Round and round and round she goes…where she stops…nobody knows!
A low droning noise sounded in the distance. Its volume increased instantly. Could there really be a tornado touching down in Hoffman Estates, Illinois? Up until then I thought all those tornado-drills we participated in every spring at school were just useless precautions. I don’t have a math book to hold over my head out here, I thought. In fact, the entire sky (which had morphed into a sickly green ominous ceiling) could come falling down on me and my bike any second, or a whirling cloud could whisk me away to the land of Oz or an untimely death. And if that happened, a textbook--math or meteorology--was not going to be of any help.
Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Dad! Sheri!
I pictured them finding my lifeless body atop our roof in someone else’s backyard, which of course would have been ripped off the house the exact time gravity reversed and I got pulled into a spinning cloud of household objects and ordinary air gone mad.
Why weren’t they back yet? The rain started. A hesitant drizzle at first and then the green monster began spitting water out like it was choking on all four oceans. Terrified of being alone I ran to the edge of the circle hoping to see the familiar Honda headlights coming around the corner. Again, nothing. I pivoted and as I headed for the shelter of our car-less garage, I made it halfway when our next door neighbor, Paula, appeared at her front screen door. Her voice penetrated through the rain. “Alyse, honey, why don’t you come inside here and wait with us.” I had never been in their house prior to this. Only knew that the two boys, Mike, a year older, and Chris, a year younger used to threaten to beat me up or smash my pumpkins on Halloween and that I was best friends with their enormous dog, Morgan.
Their kitchen was nicer than mine. They had an island counter--the kind without overhead cabinets to bump my head on--which they let me sit atop like a princess. And they had a bay window; the kind you could sit in and read a book, although I doubted any of them took advantage of it in that way.
“Who wants some whip cream?” Paula asked. Was she kidding? I brushed a piece of wet hair out of my face. She was closing the refrigerator door, a squirt can of RediWhip in her hand. The two boys opened their mouths instinctively like two baby birds waiting for worms. I watched in awe as she pushed the red plastic tip with her finger and filled their mouths with the chilled delicacy. Never had I seen an adult so eager to spoil a child’s appetite before dinner. And without utensils!
Chris put one hand to each side of his face like he was going to deflate his expanded cheeks by aiming the edible ammunition at me. “Don’t you dare!” I squealed and lifted one of my dangling legs straight out in front me, threatening to kick him in the face. After all, I did have the height advantage. Mike giggled. I shot him a look that said he was next should he try anything. This counter sure gave me power.
“Your turn,” their mom said to me. “Just a little please,” I said, fearing that I would choke if I had as much as the boys and that my mom would be upset if I didn’t want any dinner. Everyone was all smiles, and I had forgotten about my mission to get in a basement. I didn’t stay much longer after someone announced that there was a car in my garage. I hopped off my throne and walked home through our adjoining yards with a new appreciation for nature’s wrath, eager to share with Sheri how big kids cope during a storm.