Toto, This is Why I Don’t Live in Kansas

It all started with a text from my mom.  It was this past Thursday evening, and I’d had a quick dinner with David and the girls before he ran out to a scrimmage with his softball team.  I was planning to give the girls a nice, long bath, put them to bed, then finish writing a post for this blog that was almost all set to publish.  It was one of those moments when I had it all under control.

“Man, I hope it doesn’t rain,” David mentioned, checking the sky as he headed out the door.  I wiped off the girls’s faces, then let them loose to play on the living room floor while I cleared the table.  On my way past the kitchen island, I picked up my phone, and when I saw the text I had to read it twice.  It was from my mom, and it said we were under a tornado warning–one was marching its slow, menacing way up the interstate that runs past Mom’s town and, a further on up the road, past ours.  Huge thunderstorms were escorting this tornado–and possibly a few more along with it.

David had no idea.  He doesn’t check his phone at games.  The field is in the middle of a vast, open park, surrounded by more fields and those big electrical structures that look like monsters in some B-grade sci-fi movie.  My mom was by herself.  I was alone to protect two children.  This, I thought, was not good.

Before I continue, let me tell you something about myself.  There are three things that frighten me most in this world.  And by frighten, I mean, terrify, cause the shakes, and so on.  These fears are, in order of least to most terrifying:   Cockroaches.  Fire.

And tornadoes.  For all of my adult life, whenever I’ve been under a lot of stress, I dream about tornadoes coming at me, my family, my home.  Only once did I dream that it actually caught up with me.  That was not a good dream.

Thursday night, the rain and wind and rumor of a tornado warning chased my husband back home and my brother to my mom’s house.  We made sure the kids were tucked into bed as calmly as can be, even though one of us kept surreptitiously running down to the family room to check the path of the storm on the TV.  The storm was rolling in, but wasn’t too, too bad yet.

Approximately a minute and a half later, I was in our bedroom and David was in the kitchen.  The wind hit.  It was like nothing I’d ever seen.  The rain was coming sideways, in gusts, in ocean waves-full.  And the thunder.  Oh my goodness.  The thunder, the lightning–it was enough to make a grown woman want to crawl under the bed with the cat and hide.  Our house is made out of solid brick, which is usually reassuring, but honey, I was scared.  The sky had turned this weird green/almost-black color and my heart was beating harder than the hail pummeling our windows.   I was just turning to tell David that we needed to move the girls to the basement when the this weird boom sounded and the world outside our window turned bright white, then green.  I freaked.  I thought a tornado was hitting our house.  I hollered to David, who was ridiculously calm, and it wasn’t until we were hustling the girls to the basement that I realized a tornado wasn’t barreling over our home–at least not yet–but we had witnessed lighting strike a tree in the yard behind ours.

Saoirse was not happy about being out of her bed.  I curled up with her and Quinn on a chair against the inside wall of our lower level.  We watched the weather reports until a light pole snapped in half and a power box thing exploded at the edge of our yard.  Good-bye, TV.   And phone.  And all the groceries I’d just loaded into the fridge.  And good-bye running water, since we’re one of only three houses in the area on a well.  David paced back and forth, checking the water level in the stairwell on the outside of our house.  Our house had some flooding last year, and ever since then a big rain has us scared that we’ll get water again.  He weighed the risk of getting electrocuted against the imminent possibility of a playroom turned into a swimming pool.  Saoirse huddled under Blanket, in a little voice, saying, “Mom, I don’t like this rain.  Please, will the thunder stop?…Mom, I think I might start to cry.”  Quinlan was just so excited to be out of her crib and with us that she spent that hour squealing with happiness and batting her big sister in the head.

Eventually, the storm did go away.  David did have to bail water, but I’m happy to report he did not get electrocuted in the process.  The girls were happily tucked back into their respective beds.  The house was hot, and heavy with humid air.  At 10 p.m., David went out to join the neighbors to survey the damage while I cowered inside at the windows, eyeing the sky.  At 2:06 a.m., he was back outside bailing more water when another massive storm came through.

And then the sun came up.  We woke to power and running water.  Saoirse was gleeful–“Hey, Mom!  Dad!  Look!  The sun chased the thunder away!”–and admonished us to never take her downstairs from her bed again, because it scared her.  David went to two stores to get milk, because the closest grocery store had lost power for so long the entire meat and dairy inventory was spoiled.  We heard a rumor that a tornado had touched down close to our house.

Our yard was covered with debris.  Saoirse’s basketball hoop was in the garden.  My newly planted petunias (yeah, the ones on which I’d worked so hard) where in the middle of the road.  But we were so lucky I’m almost ashamed to tell you.  By 7:30, our neighbor was cutting down the rest of the two trees the lighting got.  The house behind his currently has two massive trees hovering 10 feet above its roofline.  And the house on the other side of an adjacent neighborhood has a maple lying horizontally in its kitchen.

The girls and I drove to the store later that afternoon, and I felt like I was driving through the news I see at night about weather that happens someplace else.  Uprooted trees in cemeteries.  Houses with windows shattered.  Gigantic holes in the ground that used to have some sort of living thing growing out of it.

They’re saying about seven tornadoes touched down in the area that night.  I had to reassure Saoirse that I’ve never, ever seen a storm that bad in my whole life, so she doesn’t have to worry about witnessing something like that again.  I so hope I can keep that promise to her.  Because no stress dream I’ve ever had compared to what whipped through our area last week.

So.  Thursday, that.  Friday, clean up.  Saturday–oh, yeah, Saturday!–,my precious daughter’s first birthday, and the party that ensued.  Today, more clean up and a cook-out with a couple friends.  Our neighbor finally rid his yard of the capsized oak, but those trees are still hovering above that other house.  It looks like they’re inching closer every day.

It’s been a very long weekend, and I’m ready to go to bed.  In the air-conditioning, I might add.  Tomorrow’s weather is supposed to be blazing hot with sunny skies and not a drop of rain to be seen.  I will not complain once.

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