A check of the Weather Channel showed that I’d blown through fifteen minutes, but that tornado warning was still on, and thanks to those handy-dandy, non-panic inducing, blinking-freaking maps, I knew that tornado was still on its path through Amish country. Which got me thinking about why I was here, which got me reaching for my own phone to send one of those all-important last messages:
Hey Dad. Yeah, its 3:30 in the morning, and I’m awake, listening to tornado warning sirens, because you sent me to the mid-west during tornado season to work. So I might not make it to the courthouse tomorrow. Just wanted to give you a heads up, in case you called tomorrow to have me fax something and it didn’t get to you.
I may not handle crisis well, but I send one heck of a passive-aggressive text message. Which took about five minutes to type out because I hadn’t upgraded to a smart phone, and anyone who has ever typed a text out on a Razr knows the joy of trying to type any word that has a p,q,r,or s in it. I hoped the Lord understood why I cursed so much during that five-minute timeframe, but I was also really hoping I wouldn’t have to explain it to Him in person.
So by now we’re into the last few minutes of the warning. The siren is still going, and the Weather Channel anchors are cranked up to eleven, as they are want to do anytime there’s a weather occurrence at this time of night, because let’s be honest here, if you’re the anchor for the Weather Channel between the hours of one in the morning and five in the morning, something has gone horribly wrong with your broadcasting career. I’m sitting on the bed in the nicest comfy outfit I own, just watching, and really hoping this is going to turn into nothing. I’d like to say it’s because I knew I had more to give to this world. You know what I mean, like I felt as if there were things I hadn’t done, a novel I hadn’t written, a charity I hadn’t founded, a cure for cancer I hadn’t discovered.
Truthfully, I just didn’t want to die before I’d had a chance to get rid of all the things I didn’t want someone to find, without me being there to explain. You know what I’m talking about: all the things you keep that you love, but if someone just wondered upon it, they’d never be able to understand. Like why I have 12 phone cases for phones I don’t own anymore, or five humongous glass jars of cupcake liners, or three copies of “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.” Not that actually explaining these things in person makes them any less eccentric, but someone just randomly coming upon would have at least a few awkward minutes trying to figure out who really needed access to the story of the labors of Hercules on every floor of their house.
See what I meant when I said I don’t handle crisis well? There’s a tornado coming, and I’m trying to figure out a way to explain away my collections. Never once in those last few minutes did it occur to me to call down to the front desk and see what to do, and it apparently never occurred to the hotel staff to go through the halls and check on the guests, because if they pulled some Paul Revere-type warning, I missed it. Or maybe they just decided all of business-class people on the third floor wouldn’t want to be saved, that we would be happy holed up on our king-size beds or sitting on our couches, feet propped up on the coffee table, cold drink from our mini-fridge in hand. They would only save the ones who were already suffering, the ones stuffed eight to a room, three in each queen-size bed, one on the floor, and one sleeping in the bathtub. You know what I’m talking about, anyone who ever went on a spring break trip during college.
The wind was really whipping the rain around as the thirty minutes wound down. I swear I have never watched the Weather Channel with this much fervor. I just watched the map, watched New Philly lit up in red, listened to the rain smacking against my window, and waited, still with no plan as to what I would do. Okay, I actually did make a plan, but I hardly think resigning myself to wind-surfing on my mattress counts as a viable plan. Especially when I was already trying to figure out how I would steer around Dorothy’s house, should I run into it.
But then it was over. I glanced up at the television and New Philly was a normal green color again on the map. The tornado had taken a different direction, and the winds were already dying down. The Weather Channel was no longer warning us, now they were just going to keep an eye out on everything. The siren stopped blaring, and when I went to the window, the rain was letting up. My mattress-surfing plan was unneeded. I could get back into my pajamas, toss my bra back into the drawer, and sleep easy. I’d made it through, me, who has the same amount of knowledge on tornadoes as a desert sheik has on skiing. I was going to be fine, and the best part was, no one knew how I’d handled this crisis. No one saw me hustle to get my good clothes on, or saw me stare bug-eyed at the scrolling warning on the television. For once, I was all alone when an emergency hit, and for all anyone knew, I’d ridden it out like a pro.
Or so I thought. I made it to work just fine in the morning, a little tired, but no less ready to get on with my day. So imagine my surprise to receive a text in the early afternoon from none other than Dear Ol’ Dad. You’re probably surprised because it took him so long to reply to my text from the night before, but I know my dad way better than you. I was surprised he texted back within twenty-four hours, given his normal lead time is two days:
“Got your text. I guess you made it, since no one from the Hampton called me to say I needed to claim all your million pieces of luggage. Can you learn to pack light in case this happens again? Hope you still got into work on time. Tornadoes are no excuse in this kind of economy.”
That kind of concern for your child’s welfare is not going to translate into any spectacular elder care, I promise you. But I can understand why he’d reply like that; after all, he’s known me my whole life. That’s thirty years of crisis, of me putting rocks in my ears, and my car engine catching on fire in a no-cell- service zone, and me trapping a garter snake under a punch bowl in my kitchen. A tornado is just one more upheaval in a long line of them, a marshmallow in life’s otherwise bland bowl of oat cereal. And we can all act like these are the kinds of things that we hate, but the truth is, the occasional disruption is just what we need to remind us why we appreciate the days where the most catastrophic thing that occurs is having to wait while McDonald’s cooks up a fresh batch of fries. Which is why most of us, not just me, suck at handling a crisis: they just don’t happen enough so that we have a chance to get good at them.
Not that I’m complaining. Not by a long shot. If there is a pro-con list somewhere with my name on it, and “couldn’t handle an emergency to literally save her life” is on the con side, I’d be okay with that. Better that than having “scarred a roomful of perfect strangers because she didn’t put on a bra,” on that side.
Yeah call me a crisis over-reactor. But I’ll be the over-reactor wearing underwire, thank you very much.