Monday, November 17, 2014

Let's Talk About Weather

One night during my senior year at Kalamazoo College in Michigan I drove a few friends home after Half-Off Long Island Night at a bar. Most of the people lived within walking distance of the bar, but it started to pour so I snaked my way up and down one-way streets to get my passengers home safely. The last person I needed to drop off was Mark, a guy who I was semi-dating at the time. As I pulled away from campus and onto Main Street the rain became a monsoon. I could hardly see in front of me and was grateful there were no other vehicles on the road so that I could drive at 5 mph. A siren started to sound from behind me, but the rain was too dense to see where the ambulance or fire truck was coming from. Luckily I was near Mark's street so I kept driving.

Parked in Mark's driveway, we sat and listened to the rain and sirens for a while. I'm not sure what Mark was waiting for, but I was biding my time hoping he would invite me inside. Mark was not the most "physical" guy I had ever dated, but he was a sweet man and just what I needed after my boyfriend of three years had stomped on my heart the previous summer. Any action I got from Mark was initiated by me, but I had never been ballsy enough to invite myself inside Mark's home.

We started to comment on the weather, the lightning illuminating the sky, and we gradually approached the subject of "us". Somewhere in this conversation I received a text from one of my housemates: Where are you? I replied: In my car with Mark. What's up? Immediately my phone rang. "What do you mean you're in your car?" Laura snapped.

"Uhh I was driving people home after drinking at Roadhouse and now Mark and I are in my car?" I tried to send Laura telepathic messages saying, I am trying to make a move here and you're cramping my style. Unfortunately, our telepathic language is normally relayed in wide eyes and eyebrow movements so she wasn't picking up on my message.

"Don't you hear the siren?"

"You hear it too?" I said, looking back to the road. Mark lived one street over from my house so it was possible that I could hear the ambulance if it was near my roommates. "It's moving really slowly. Oh my god!" Suddenly I wondered if the ambulance wasn't moving. What if it was stopped because it was tending to whoever was hurt? What if it was stopped at my house? "Is everyone okay?"

"That is a tornado siren," Laura said, "there is a tornado in the area."

The brief panic I felt that one of my housemates may be injured deflated. "Oh," I said, turning to look at Mark. I'm from the coast of Georgia. I wasn't sure if I had ever heard an active there's a tornado seek shelter now tornado siren. I had heard the ones they tested in Kalamazoo from time to time, but the unending siren I was hearing that night hadn't registered as the same sort of siren. Mark was from Michigan, however. What was his excuse? "Should we get out of the car?" I asked more hesitantly than I should have.

"YES GET OUT OF THE CAR. We're all in the laundry room."   

I relayed all of this information to Mark. We went inside his house. The tornado never came to our street or our college, but I was grateful for the sudden temperamental weather because it got me what I wanted -- and invitation inside. 

I was reminded of this night in my car with Mark when I woke up this morning to tornado sirens in Milledgeville, Georgia. Having grown up on a small island off the coast of Georgia, I forget that there are areas of the state where tornadoes can actually form and cause some damage. It was 9:30am when the sound of the siren woke me up. After a fever-and-sore-throat fueled night kept me from getting much sleep I felt delirious and thought, "I don't remember hearing them test the sirens before. Oh well. Maybe they test them once a month and I never paid attention." I pulled my comforter over my head to go back to sleep. On a typical Monday, I would have already been at my assistantship for an hour and a half at this time, but when 1:30am rolled around and I was still tossing and turning I emailed my advisor telling her I was too sick to come in. Before I shut my eyes I instinctively checked my phone. My daily TimeHop app was waiting for me to view it, I had a few texts from some MFA friends, and a weather alert: Tornado Warning in effect until 10:15 a.m. Seek shelter now.

I sat up and took out my earplugs. The siren was still blaring and it was pouring. My cat, Belmont, stretched on the body pillow on the floor and looked at me sleepily. I couldn't remember the difference between a warning and a watch so I called one of my old housemates, Christine, from Kalamazoo. When she didn't pick up I checked my texts from my classmates. They were from Penny and Kera asking if we were all going to meet at the local coffee shop at noon for our Monday writing date. I responded to the group text: I'm not going to make it out today because I am super sick and it hurts to swallow. I had to call in sick :( Btw, is there a tornado warning?

Kera responded: Yes - we're all downstairs taking cover! Stay away from windows. She asked if I needed any medicine and offered to pick some up later. Then she added: Also, tornado is actually heading in our direction from Macon, so this is no joke!

I stood up and reached for Belmont. My cat gets scared if I move too quickly and she darted from my grasp. I chased her into the second bedroom, picked her up, and dropped her when she dug her claws into my chest. Instead I grabbed my laptop, told Belmont she was on her own, and went into the bathroom. 

This seemed humourous to me -- four years out of college, living on my own, having dealt with a few harrowing storms during my time in Chicago and yet I was still relying on friends to tell me what to do during a tornado. Tornadoes are one of  two natural disasters I just don't think about because they're never been huge threats in places where I lived (the other is earthquakes). On the southeastern coast we get tornadoes with hurricanes, but usually you're more worried about the hurricane as a whole rather than the tornadoes that come with it. And truth be told, hurricanes in coastal Georgia were awesome because we would always have the threat of the storm, schools would be closed, and sometimes we had to evacuate, but the hurricanes never actually hit the Golden Isles. They would get close enough to make businesses board-up and then suddenly they would catch the Gulf Stream and ride it straight into the Carolinas. My memories of Hurricane Season include eating at Chic-fil-a with friends after school was closed in the middle of the day, driving through flooded areas in golf carts, and sitting on the beach watching the Atlantic ocean waves battle each other. My family and I wouldn't even evacuate until it was mandatory. When it came to hurricanes, I did the minimal amount of preparation required. Tornadoes, however, are so unfamiliar that I will do whatever people tell me to do. Seek shelter? Done. Sit in a door frame? Got it. Pull my mattress into the bathroom and create a bunker out of my bathtub? I'm already there.

I did not bring my mattress into the bathroom, but I did spend the next hour sitting on the floor with my back against the tub texting storm updates with Kera. She was being fed information by the people at the college and I was telling her what I was hearing outside -- rain, the siren, and possibly hail at one point when suddenly the rain was so loud that I thought a window may have flown open. Penny reported that everyone in the library was also taken to a basement area. Jeanette began texting me and told me how to duck-and-cover should a tornado actually pass over my apartment. A tornado entered south Baldwin County, the rain became so deafening that I could no longer hear the siren and then suddenly it all seemed to stop. A voice replaced the siren, but I couldn't understand it. By the time I left the bathroom the voice had stopped and there was a series of low honks, a sound that I learned during a snow emergency in Chicago meant "all clear." I started to text Kera when the voice spoke again and said, "All clear. The emergency is over."

As I left the bathroom I noticed blood on my hand. I looked down and saw a bright red streak where Belmont had sunk her claws into my chest. "You little bitch," I said to Belmont, who I knew was still hiding under my bed, "I was just trying to save your life." I had to use the last bandaid in my apartment to cover the small hole. I guess if Belmont and I are going to go through this for the next three years I'll have to get more bandaids.