Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The storm

This time last night, David and I were anxiously watching the weather. We had planned to watch Super Tuesday coverage on CNN. We ended up watching terrible storms whip their way across the western part of our state. Every few minutes, the windows of the family room would shudder and creak, and one of us would worriedly glance up from the television.

Storms were headed toward us. Not just storms, but tornadoes. My father-in-law, Aaron, had called us just as we were putting William to bed. "Turn on the weather on television," he implored me. That's why we were perched on the sofa in front of the television.

For about 45 minutes or so, we watched the weather map on the screen light up with violent red and purple swatches of storms. The meteorologists tracking the storm started warning people in various areas to take shelter. We started to tense up. As lightning lit up the foyer, and thunder rumbled almost continuously, David suggested we started clearing out the hall closet, just in case we needed to hide out. We pulled out vacuum cleaners, William's toy fire engine, a basket of picture frames, two huge bags of Halloween candy (so that's where they ended up!), two suitcases, and God knows what else. David piled sofa cushions and the weather radio in the nearly empty closet, while I ran around collecting framed photos, our wedding albums, the folder with our birth certificates and marriage license, other photo albums, and my jewelry box. I added a canteen of water, a bag of Craisins, jackets, and a flashlight. And my purse. The TV droned in the background, the counterpoint to the soundtrack of thunder and violent wind.

Then the meteorologist on television started describing our neighborhood. Off 100, near the Kroger, just over the county line...all I could hear was him saying that the tornadoes were coming for us, for our house. I've never felt that scared of a storm before. I began to breathe harder.

David said, "I'll go get William."

"Don't forget to get Natty and his monkey. And his blankey," I said, shakily, looking frantically around the house. What else would I try to save? What else could we not do without? What was priceless, what could not be replaced? What else did we have room for, in our little foxhole?

David returned with William, who was wrapped in his blanket and looking around wide-eyed, clad in his Christmas pajamas and a mismatched pair of socks. David settled himself and the baby at the back of the closet against one of the sofa pillows. I anxiously paced around the family room, almost manically, trying to figure out what I'd forgotten. I grabbed David's iPod and his black Princeton ball cap. I made sure we both had shoes on, in case we had to walk over...well, I tried not to think about that. Did we have jackets? A blanket for us? Why do we not have a safe-deposit box?

"Jennifer, come in here," David finally ordered. I went into the closet and huddled next to my son and husband on the floor. We kept the door open so we could listen to the television. We could hear the television, but I was distracted by the rumbling of the wind, the thunder....I imagined it was the roar of a tornado rotating grimly, inexorably toward our house, the house we dreamed of buying, the house that we celebrated moving into. Toward our family.

William thought it was all a game. He snuggled up with his daddy but reached out and held my hand. "Hi!" he said. "Hi!" David was calm, too. I felt like I couldn't quite get enough air. I tried not to show William that I was afraid, but it was hard, so hard. I know now that I need to be especially conscious of that in the future. I am the parent, and I need to remember that even in scary times. Especially then.

The minutes ticked by. Finally, the storm seemed to subside. The noise lessened, and we could hear the television warning people near Hendersonville about the storm's progress. It seemed we had made it through unscathed. I couldn't quite believe it. I left all our precious belongings in the closet last night after we went to bed, just in case we had to flee back into our little hole in the wall for safety.

As I put William back into his crib, he smiled at me, and I exhaled. Here was all that really mattered. Not all those things that I piled along the walls of the hall closet. What had I really been so worried about?

The reality is this: if I had mere seconds to grab something and seek shelter from a terrible storm, none of those picture albums or folders or frames would be on my mind at all. I would grab William, and that would be the end of it. There would be no thoughts of anything else. None. If something terrible happened, would I miss my mother's pearls or moan over having to replace our birth certificates and car titles? Absolutely. Would I mourn the loss of my wedding photographs or William's baby photos? Probably, yes. Would it even occur to me to not just go straight for my son and make sure he was protected? No, no, no.

That is all that matters. As long as I have David and William, that is all that is really important. And the storm just reminded me.

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