Remembering the Storm
By Julia A. Keirns
The dark greenish-gray hue of the sky warned of a storm brewing in the west. Annie knew the color. The spring night air was too warm, and thunder echoed in the distance. Quiet lightning flashed across the window in the living room. The roar of the thunder increased as the storm advanced on her little house.
The weather alarm on her phone startled her: “Severe Thunderstorm Warning for the northern part of the county. Quarter-size hail and winds to 70 mph. Take shelter.”
The rumble of thunder continued as bursts of lightning flashed through the lace curtains. She checked the radar app on her phone and saw the storm edging closer to her blue dot on the map. It made her nervous. She was home alone. Her husband, Tim worked second shift and wouldn’t be home for a while. He could always calm her down.
Large drops of rain began hitting the windows hard, splattering against the siding and glass, pounding like a hammer in her head. Lightning snapped and flashed. Her anxiety grew with the storm. Feelings of nausea rose within her as her heart raced faster. The lights flickered and she wondered if the electricity would go out. Memories came flooding back.
She was nine-years-old in the third grade. One day at school a storm brewed, and the sky turned that same color out the window by her desk. The tornado alarm in the hallway and the siren outside on the water tower were so loud she had to place her hands over her ears. The school principal announced that a tornado was headed for the school. She lined up out in the hallway facing the wall with the rest of her classmates. They kneeled on the floor, placed their heads between their knees and wrapped their hands on top of their heads. She was scared.
The alarm continued to scream as adults raced up and down the hallways. She saw her daddy go by. Why was Daddy here? Was he looking for her? She kept watching. He walked by again and she hollered, “Daddy! I’m here!” but he didn’t hear her. When he came by a third time, she jumped up and grabbed his leg. He picked her up and she buried her face in his shoulder. Her brother Mark’s class was up on the third floor, but the tornado would be here soon. Daddy held her tight and ran to the truck.
Jolted back to reality by a snap of lightning, Annie went to the back porch and peered out the window at the trees in the yard. The limbs were bending sideways, and the entire yard was brightly lit from the continuous flashes of lightning. The rain fell harder now, pinging on the roof and windows. The wind blew strong, and the sound echoed in her ears. Then it was quiet…well, quieter. For a minute everything was still. A whaling wind suddenly pounded the rain violently against the side of the house. The pictures rattled on the walls. The air squealed through the doors and windows. It was loud. Why was it always so loud? She tensed and forced her hands over her ears. Sliding down the wall to the floor, she curled her head into her knees the same way she did as a child.
She remembered how Daddy sped away from the school. They only lived a mile down the road. He pulled in the driveway and carried her inside, then headed right back into town toward the school because her brother Mark was still there. She remembered watching out the kitchen window of her childhood home with Mommy and seeing the tornado hit the school. Mommy put her hand over her mouth and cried.
They watched the tornado pass through the school building and travel down the railroad tracks behind their house. It ripped up trees and blew buildings apart as if they exploded from the inside out. Then it was gone. The tornado was gone in a matter of seconds and left total destruction in its wake.
“What about Daddy and Mark?” she asked Mommy.
“I don’t know, baby. I don’t know,” cried Mommy.
Annie blinked as she came back to reality. The storm had passed and distanced itself from her little house, and she released the tight grip on her head. She hated remembering the storm. She relaxed as the rain quieted and she began to breathe normally.
She checked her phone; it was 10:45 pm. The radar showed that more storms were on the way. Tim would not be home until 11:30 pm, but she had to get up early for work. She crawled into bed and focused on the gentle sound of the rain pattering against the window. It was calming. Remembering the storm every time was exhausting and she wished she could forget. Her breathing slowed as she dozed off.
Bleep…Bleep…Bleep…bzzzzzzzzz… “The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning…”
The warning startled her awake. Her heart pounded faster. Her hands began to feel numb as her fingers curled in. The doctor called them panic attacks. After a few panic attacks, he explained what panic disorder was. Sometimes it led to hyperventilating. Hyperventilation led to the feeling of slipping away, being pulled backwards from the situation, and then being rendered helpless. Totally helpless, she was left to the aid of whoever was around. What would happen if no one were there to help? Tim wasn’t home yet. She had to stay in control.
She began remembering again. It was hours before she and Mommy saw Daddy’s truck coming down the road. Daddy drove much slower this time. As he turned into the driveway, Annie saw only Daddy in the front seat. He told them the tornado had torn the roof off the school and the third floor was completely gone. He cried as he told them the sixth-grade girls had gotten down in time, but the boys didn’t make it. The sixth-grade boys were all gone. Her brother Mark was dead. She could still hear Mommy shrieking in anguish as she fell to the floor and cried.
Annie focused as she came back to the present again. What is one thing I can hear…the thunder was rumbling; what is one thing I can see…the lightning was flashing. She focused on her breathing. She wiped away the memory and the panic attack and heard the back door open.
She exited the bedroom and saw that the clock on the wall showed 11:45 pm. Tim was rushing in the back door.
“Are you just now getting home?” she asked him.
“No, I’ve been out in the building trying to get the truck inside from the hail.”
SNAP! SNAP! BANG!
Annie jumped like a startled cat as hail hit the house.
“Calm down,” he said. “It’s okay. The worst of it is going around us.”
She stared out the window and watched hail the size of golf balls plummet the grass. Hail was not always a reliable predictor of a tornado. It didn’t matter though. It still scared the hell out of her. She was glad Tim was finally home. She would be okay now. Remembering the storm wasn’t as traumatic when he was by her side.