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Weathering the Storm
Clinging to my mom's waist, I alarmingly stare up at the black and green sky that was clear and unthreatening only a few hours prior. Now, however, it's a tumultuous churning of heavy coal clouds that growl at me, purposefully forming distorted faces characteristic of jack-o-lanterns to frighten me and all the other youths on the camping ground. Too terrible to prolong my gaze, I turn my head back to my mom's waist: my eyes cry into the soft folds of her oversized sweatshirt as the wet gaping movements of my mouth chaffed against the top of her jeans.
I had never been camping before, so I can't understand the calm, leisurely composure of my Ohio family, who are outdoor living gurus. Through my wails I see Aunt Gretchen cooking Bratwursts under a tarp, and my Billy, Bobby, and Jimmy mocking my fear. It doesn’t matter to them that there’s been an official tornado touchdown only a couple miles away: the grilling must go on!
“Oh stop your crying, you’re not a baby,” Uncle Bill grunts while tying an electric lamp to a tree next to the tarp. I feel ashamed, embarrassed, but also confused. Why is no one else freaking out? The whirling wind is torturing tree roots, the leaves howling in pain. There’s a heavy moisture in the air that causes me to smack my mouth as if there were peanut butter in my mouth. And the sky is green! It’s green, people! That’s not normal!
My mom’s quiet, but her lips are tightly pressed and her eyes our searching the campground. I hear over my sobs and thudding heart her strategize with my aunt.
“There’s a ditch over there. Let’s send the kids to cover over there.”
“Bridget, don’t panic. It’s not necessary yet,” my aunt replied. “Do you want a bratwurst?”
As this conversation is going on I progress to sit on the log by the fire. I picture all of my first grade class, imagine how they’ll react when they hear I died in a tornado. I see my best friends Jeanna and Kari huddled in the corner, sobbing into each other’s shoulders, and my crush Mark devastated that he never got the chance to profess his love to me. I continue to cry.
The night progresses and we haven’t died yet. There’s still tension in my chest and a knot in my throat, but my panicked wanes. The parents are by the radio, staying aware of any updates, but the tornado has either moved in another direction or has dissipated; either way it still scares me. The kids are gathered at a picnic table playing signals, a ridiculous card game that I’m no good at.
I’m sulking. They all were right not to worry, leaving me to look like a fool and indeed a baby. I knew they were annoyed with me earlier, but I thought the tragic death of us all would prove them wrong. So now I’m sulking.
“Erin, do you want to sleep in out tent tonight,” Jimmy calls over to me. Suddenly all my despair dies away like the elusive tornado. Me sleep in the same tent with my cousins? I never got to do that, usually banished to spend the night in between my mom and dad, the latter of which always took up too much space in the tent. I was elated.
They didn’t see my as a baby, at least not a big enough one to ban me from the cool tent. My three older boy cousins wanted to comfort me, show me there’s nothing to be afraid of. I quickly gather my purple sleeping bag and red plaid pajamas and pile them into the kids’ tent. That night we hear the resulting rain from the storm hit the top of the tent. Pitter-patter, drip-drop. We laugh as we imagine it’s God peeing on the plastic.