I was walking the dogs when the siren started to wail, the three of us directly under a speaker, the sheer intensity of the volume nearly caused me to drop the leashes and cover my ears. But we were close to home, unlike the last time I remember the emergency warning sirens going off maybe a decade ago when I was on my mountain bike across town on a trail. It was likely the fastest I’ve ever pedaled a bicycle.
The dogs and I trotted down the block to get home but I didn’t rush to the basement when we arrived and sat on the couch with my daughters and half watched something on the TV as I checked email. The weather alerts on my phone are what sent us dragging living room chairs to the basement; they were insistent and dire. A tornado is in your direct path, take cover immediately.
The fact that I didn’t feel particularly stressed about the tornado headed our may be attributed to the fact that this wasn’t my first rodeo. Tornado warnings have a regular seasonal quality when you’ve grown up in Kansas. Every year one hits somewhere in the vicinity. But there’s something else to my apparent detachment – I’m experiencing more endings and transitions than usual and I’m a bit worn out by it all.
My daughter graduated from high school last week. We celebrated her last day of high school with bubble tea, snapped pictures as she walked across Allen Fieldhouse to accept her diploma, and watched with tears as she performed her senior solo in ballet. I am trying to envision her living somewhere else next year when she goes to the University of Kansas in August. This letting go is harder than I thought it would be – how can I protect her from the tornado in her path when she is not under my roof? How can I protect her from anything?
My daughter and I spent last weekend in a hotel with her ballet company for a dance festival. I had some intense dreams the first night, including this: I was at a party socializing casually when I followed someone down some stairs. There was a bed propped in the corner in the room with someone sleeping in it. It seemed unusual that I would be entering a private space. When the person rolled over and looked at me it was my dad, who said nothing. I woke up puzzled. I don’t often dream of my dad who has been dead for twenty-two years, why was he turning up in my unconscious now?
The tornado that landed was close, maybe even five miles from our house. It was enormous and devastating; while no fatalities have been reported that I know of, the damages appear to be catastrophic in nearby areas. We were lucky, we dodged a bullet.
(a photo of the actual tornado outside Lawrence, KS on 5/28/19)
I’ve thought of that dream of my dad since the tornado landed, his piercing stare from the reclined position that I saw him most often in as he experienced his long, slow death from AIDS. In life, my dad was rarely without words, he loved showing off a large vocabulary, so his dream-silence was surprising. This morning, as others are assessing the wreckage from a disaster beyond their control, his stare says this to me. Sometimes life is so predictable that boredom and monotony are stifling. Sometimes you aren’t worried at all about the thing that is about to take you down. Sometimes you worry but there is nothing to be done. Sometimes you dodge a bullet and sometimes you don’t even see it coming.
I was safe in my basement with my family this time. Today my house is intact, my health is good, my family is safe, it has stopped raining and I have electricity. Sometimes that doesn’t seem like much but today it seems like more than enough.