Today we had a tornado warning. Yes, mid-south in January. Aren’t we supposed to be in the middle of winter? I am endlessly fascinated by storms. Having lived through a tornado that hit my house, you would think I’d be the exact opposite. Instead it fed into my fascination with all things weather and how powerless we are to it.
I’d like to think it was my continuous research on weather that saved mine and my daughter’s life the day the tornado hit. There was no warning at all and we were playing in our above ground pool. Nat was a baby, not even a year yet and she loved floating in the water. It was not storming, the sky was blue and it was a typical hot southern summer day. It wasn’t until the birds stopped singing did I think something was wrong. It just became eerily still. Not a sound.
I grabbed Nat, wrapped her in a towel and was climbing off the deck to the pool when suddenly there were clouds in my yard. Not ominous clouds, but white fluffy clouds gliding through the yard. I raced toward the house, leaving the sliding glass door open behind me, remembering all those school drills when we had to open windows to create a through draft. I’m not sure how I knew for certain it was a tornado. I just knew as I grabbed pillows off the couch and ran into the spare bedroom closet with my baby just as the tornado hit the house.
I’ve seen all the movies, and Twister was one that most accurately portrayed what it’s like to be in a building as a tornado ravages outside. But what they don’t portray is the whistling of the wind as it tears through the house and sweeps along every board. It does sound like a freight train, and I could hear the boards being ripped from the frame and the roar as pieces of the roof were being thrown asunder. There was creaking and Nat was screaming, not understanding why we were huddled in this small, hot closet with pillows over our head. It sounded like it lasted forever, but it was only moments. Then it was gone. And the stillness and quiet were once again there.
I crawled out of the closet, Nat clinging to my hip and thanked whatever it was that needed to be thanked for sparing us. A wall was missing in the room we were in, pieces of the roof were gone and rain was now pouring into the room. I stumbled out into the living room and there was a tree crashed through the front door. I chose to go out the back sliding glass door and stopped in shock as the pool we had just been playing in was gone. Vanished.
We were lucky. There was some structural damage and the concrete block garage looked as if someone had picked up the upper half and moved it over a foot. Every tree in the yard and there were several, were either gone or on the ground. One of them was propelled onto my car and it dented the hood to the seats and flattened all four tires. The tornado changed my perception of things in my life. It was the catalyst for ending my marriage. I left my highly stressful and demanding job and moved away to raise my daughter.
When I moved back to my hometown, I remembered the endless sirens of Spring. Every storm had the potential to spawn a tornadic cloud. But today, as I videotaped the gray low moving clouds that brought with them the potential for destruction, I shrugged off the danger. I had lived through a tornado. What’s the likelihood I will have to live through another one. Of course this rationale isn’t the most intelligent one, but it does help me sleep securely. At least until the sirens start blaring.
Winter feels delayed
Only frost on the windows
Brisk air that greats me in the morning
But still no snow
The decayed looked of bare trees
The crunch of the cold earth
But still no snow
As if preparing for a guest
Readying yourself for their arrival
and they never come
Until two months later
When you’ve already forgotten
and they are on your doorstep
Yesterday was warm, almost like Spring was just around the corner waiting to surprise me. This morning, it was bitter cold and the flurries were like white confetti from the sky. Now, the wind is blowing hard again, but the sun is shining as if it were forcing its very will upon the cold. It’s not time yet, the sun seems to be saying. Just a little more time until the grayness permeates the sky.
I should not complain about impending Winter. It will, as it always has, occur every year for those of us in the areas blessed with four seasons. Although the trees are barren and the grass meekly clinging to the last vestiges of green, the landscape of Winter can be beautiful. The purity of falling snow, ice like glass hanging from tree limbs making them look like twinkling chandeliers in the winter sunlight. The puff of breath, visible only in the coldness, and the night sky revealing more of the worlds that lay beyond. Winter is bleak, yet such a disarmingly simple palate can be exquisite.
Of course there’s a metaphor in the harshness of winter. The trials one must endure always knowing there is a promise of ease from the unrelenting cold. Hang on, we tell ourselves, the sudden blossoming of trees, the sudden warmth in the air, is there in the distance. We can enjoy the delicate ice and snow, knowing there is the burst of life we need to sustain us in the future. And there it is. The promise of something better to come, if we just see our way through the nights that darken too early and the cold that sends us shivering to the sanctity of our beds.
When I lived in New England, I would begrudgingly endure the winters. I rarely left the house except for an occasional bout of playfulness in the snow. It was beautiful, intoxicating, but after mere minutes out in it, my feet wet, my nose painfully cold, I would retreat back into the warmth. My winters are milder in the South, yet my body is conditioned for hibernating when the first cold snap rears its ugly head.
In keeping with the metaphor of the seasons, I decided this year maybe I am meant to see something else in the winter. Maybe it’s not to just be endured, but to see something useful in its existence. Having been self-reflective for quite a while now, I believe there is something to be gained, even in the harshest of conditions. The last year was not always easy, yet there were so many wonderful moments. Each of them beautiful and unique like the snowflakes that are destined to fall soon.
Maybe this year, I’ll stand outside with my feet wet and my nose cold and look up at the sky devoid of any color but gray, and I’ll inhale deeply the crisp air and I’ll be grateful for it all. Even that which has caused the most pain. Because my gratitude for the first buds on the trees or a Robin hopping in the ever green grass, will be that much more. There is a lesson in it all, maybe I just have to be smart enough to study it.
How warm it is today
The bluster of a far away wind
Bringing with it smells from elsewhere
Winter held at bay
Ushering in the new year
With the promise that Spring
Is not so far away
Is there any sadness that can
ruin the beauty of this day?
Despite pain, there is indeed wonder
Look in the mirror and smile
You are part of it all
in the field
on the hill
the sweetest fruit
just out of reach
could wait until Spring
for the fallen
but hungry for the taste
the branches tremble
the fruit beckons
in my fingertips
I had forgotten how balmy spring nights can be in the south. The hint of moisture in the air, the heavy hang of clouds, but still no rain falls. But it is there looming on the horizon. In the distance there is a rumble of thunder that will bring with it the torrents, not needed this spring. You can stand outside and smell the soil and the hint of far off places where the clouds have traveled from.
As a child I would stand in the grass, smelling of the sticky heat of the day, my legs painted with clear fingernail polish to ward off the chigger bugs that would leave behind red bite marks. There would be the scent of the honeysuckle, not yet bloomed and the mimosa tree blossoms not yet open and I would search the bushes and the trees for the first flicker of light. A lightning bug meant summer was imminent and the nights would be as hot as the midday.
But the spring meant the storms would be fierce, the wind would howl and there was always a threat of tornadoes. The air crackled with the electricity of danger and everywhere else seemed very far off. I would count the caterpillars nesting in the tree and then worry for them as the rain sluiced great waterfalls against every surface.
After a rain, late at night when the breeze still managed to cool, I would step out onto the wet grass, my toes sinking into the mud and stare at the stars. Later, in college, when I took astronomy during the winter months, I would wish I could have seen those same spring stars and understood more what I had seen as a child. But then, I was just in awe of the dots of glittering somethings.
Life was not simple or uncomplicated then. I was not unfazed by pain or disappointment, whether it was in something or in someone. I was just a girl, waiting for the storms to pass, waiting for the flowers to bloom, waiting for whatever lay ahead. Sometimes I would try to will a future in existence, but it looks nothing like what I saw as a child. I am not living anything that resembles the life I would wish upon the stars for.
Tonight when I stood outside and I complained I didn’t remember so many bugs when I was a child, I stopped for a moment. I listened to the steady sound of whatever insect it was in the trees that hummed like downed power lines. I looked at the stars, barely visible behind what were bright billowy clouds during the day, but were like discarded crumpled wads of paper now blocking the light. I smelled the rain that will fall later when I’m asleep.
I am an adult now. Not unfazed by pain or disappointment, whether it is in something or someone. I’m just a woman, waiting for the storms to pass, waiting for the flowers to bloom again, waiting for whatever lays ahead. Waiting in the balmy spring night.
Since moving back to hometown, my life has been a whirlwind of chaotic. My mother is still addicted to prescription pills and my aunt has now received a death sentence since discovering her cancer has spread. My father is becoming brain addled and depressed. My daughter is angry her father has disappeared from her life. My immediate future feels thrown to the fates.
I’ve been told by a professional I am amazingly well adjusted to the stress in my life. Maybe it’s just my mind’s eye looking back at what was before. The chaos of a past relationship that left my soul bruised and battered. Left me less than what I was. Recovering from the day in and day out pandemonium of that time was a slow and arduous process that led me here. I’m no longer pretending to be happy, I’m optimistic I am.
I was told today by someone who can count down their days on the calendar that being happy is the most important thing. So many hours are squandered in the not. So many days mourning what is just out of reach. So many good things are rare in life, and we let them slip away out of fear and complacency.
I’ve taken many chances in my life. I’ve followed treacherous paths. Some were fulfilling, some were a dead end. I’ve finally figured out what chances are meaningful and which are not. I’m slowly putting myself out there, despite the fear of hurt and pain, and it’s been a growing ache. I try to fall into old patterns, I try to push away someone who means more to me than I ever thought possible. I try to say what I want, without letting loose the words. Because for the first time, words are difficult.
They expose me for the flawed and vulnerable person I’ve become. They reveal all my insecurities and fears. They damage and bruise those around me before I can even stop their flow. So many words I wish I could take back. So many I wish I phrased differently. It has become my burden, yet I know I must overcome it. Because happy is mine to lose.
I think of that someone who can see their life’s end on the horizon. They are at peace because they found love and happiness and thankfully not too late. As someone who prides herself on punctual, I’d like to get there fifteen minutes early.