A year or so after we settled here, I was werkin' at my new job when one of the nice ol' boys that I worked with -- really great old fella, wore a bow tie every day -- told me to come and look outside. I walked outside and the air had a distinct heaviness to it, and a weird, green/yellow hue to the sky. I got that giddy panic in my gut. It was only February and it was unseasonably warm.
'Not good,' he said, taking a swig of his coffee. 'Not good atall. When it's seventy in Feb-rary, it's ripe for a tar-nada.'
Now, I've had the unique pleasure of growing up in a state that is also a peninsula, and on top of that I grew up on a lake, so I was no stranger to tar-nadas. I got a smug look on my face, and told him so.
What I got in return were wooly eyebrows raised and a 'Whatever you say you little a**hole.' smile in return as he took another drink, turned on his heel, and walked back toward his office muttering, 'Yeeep, yep, yep.'
I wandered back to my cube and zoned out. About fifteen minutes later, I noticed a creaking sound and heard excited chatter flow through the place. The HR lady fluttered over to my desk to let me know that they were letting out early due to a tornado that had touched down less than five miles away. A 2:30 go time worked for me. Again, still smug, I grabbed my purse and walked toward the door.
Now, we've all seen disaster movies. The kind where Helen Hunt stares in dismay, hands on hips, across a field watching gathering clouds before a massive twister. I experienced that moment. The sky was a weird shade of green, and it was completely still. The roads were empty. The main intersection, usually always bumpin' from the mall nearby, was completely deserted.
I was feeling a little less smug as I walked quickly to my car. My boss opened his door and smiled a toothy grin and a 'Good luck!'. I swear he did a little 'Yeeehaw!' as he got into his pick-up.
As I pulled out of the driveway and flipped through the stations absent-mindedly, I couldn't help being taken aback by how dead everything was. The sky was a sick green at this point, and the air was so still. The DJ on the local radio station warned everyone to take cover. So, I pulled into a small one-building hospital parking lot. And to my dismay, people were flooding out to their cars.
'Can I take shelter in the basement?' I yelled to one of the nurses.
'No, we're evacuating! Everyone's trying to beat the storm!' I stared at the scene, completely flummoxed. Evacuating a building with one of the only basements in the region during a tornado? I must be in hell. I had no choice but to attempt to beat the storm and make the seven miles home.
The road home, the back way at least, is full of hills and surrounded by farmland and country estates. As I drove, I felt the wind pick up, and with it, the hair on the back of my neck raised. My palms were sweaty. This road, a main vein around these parts, was also dead, save for one lone car ahead of me. And it was hauling ass. I had made the transition from smug to unnerved, and was nicely moving into piss-yer-pants terrified.
And I should have been. I was about to do my best to outrun one of Mother Nature's lethal weapons. This was no tiny twister. No little pick-up-your-Fisher-Price-playhouse-and-toss-it wind storm.
It had caught up with me. And it was massive.
The tornado took up the entire right side of the sky. The winds threatened my car, and I began to cry. Cry! And sweat. I floored the gas pedal, and I maybe even prayed. Somewhere in all of this I called Dan, and I managed to choke out an 'Oh my god!' and maybe an 'I love you.' I watched branches fall, and leaves blast my windshield. I believe to this day that if I would have stopped I would have had the unique experience of DeLorean-esque car flight. I managed to outrun the eye of the storm and stay on the outskirt, all the way back home. The bathtub and I got real familiar, and I thought of all of the people who brave these things in mobile homes or structures with weak construction and I was thankful.
Thankful to hear the house stay silent while the world went wild outside. And somewhere in that storm was my smug smile that I'd worn earlier that day. Gone for good.