It’s a crystal clear Saturday afternoon and I’m at party in my friend’s new house. An expensive affair of glass and wood, it stands glorious and serene on a vast plain. “My nearest neighbor is ten miles away,” my friend crows as I offer him the obligatory bottle of wine. “I’ve always wanted to get away from the city.”
The festivities are in full swing and the house is packed with people. Feeling a little claustrophobic I go into the kitchen to get a beer. After I pop it open I walk over to my friend’s six-year-old daughter, watching her as she furiously works on a coloring book.
“You want to help me?” she asks, offering me a red crayon.
“Sure,” I say, sitting next to her. “What part do you want me to color?”
“You can do the bunny’s ears,” she says.
“I think a bunny’s ears are pink.”
The little girl looks at me balefully. “His are red.”
“Okay,” I say, remembering that children see the world differently. After a minute working on the bunny’s ears the girl appraises my crayon skills. “You’re doing good.”
As we color, a shadow suddenly falls across the kitchen table and I look up. Outside the house’s expansive glass windows the sky has darkened into angry shades of green and grey. Massive thunderclouds are billowing malevolently on the horizon and hail starts to pelt the roof. Then I see a black funnel cloud start powering towards the earth.
“Oh my God,” I say.
The tornado touches the ground and starts churning up everything in its path. “We better get out of here,” I say to the girl. “Do you have a basement?’
“No,” she says.
I frantically start looking around, my mind running though all the things you’re supposed to do when caught in the path of a tornado. Should I open all the windows to equalize the pressure and prevent the roof from blowing off? Find a strong interior room? The house is made of windows and I can’t possibly open them all. Then I realize I’m inside a deathtrap.
The tornado makes a sudden turn and heads straight for us, causing the partygoers to start running around like chickens without heads. Terrified, they run outside. I know this is a bad idea and start yelling for everyone to hit the deck. No one listens to me. Fear has made them stupid.
Remarkably my friend’s daughter is unfazed, contently scribbling in her coloring book like she doesn’t have a care in the world. Her parents are nowhere to be found.
I pick the girl up and look out the window. The twister is bearing down on us, blasting great bolts of lightening towards the ground. As I hold the girl close to me I can smell the shampoo her mother used to clean her hair. Then the tornado hits.
People scream and everything begins to shake. I dive to the floor and cover the girl’s body with my own. The house’s elegant windows explode, sending shards of glass slashing through the air like razor blades. Then God lets loose a terrible war cry. I am Other. I am the beginning and the end.
The roof flies off the house and I close my eyes.
Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the tornado is gone. Remarkably, I’m alive and unhurt. Trembling, I get up, dust myself off and look around. The house has been leveled to its foundations. The little girl is gone.
I wake up to find my bed sheets soaked in sweat. So as not to disturb Ann, I carefully slide out of bed and go into the kitchen to get a glass of water. I’ve has enough dreams about natural disasters to know what this one means. A month ago I suddenly developed stomach pain and a 104 fever. My appendix was about to blow. The surgeons caught it just in time. “Another twelve hours and you might have been in big trouble,” the doctor said, sprinkling the conversation with terms like peritonitis and septic shock. “You were very lucky.” But I was blasé about the whole thing. “It was a routine operation,” I said. “Thousands of people get their appendix out. It’s nothing.”
But a few weeks later a friend younger than me had a heart attack and another got rushed into emergency quadruple bypass surgery. They survived, but they will never be the same. Death reached out for them and they know it. What I went though is nothing compared to them, but this was the first time I’ve dealt with something in my body that could possibly kill me. Weeks later, I realize I caught a glimpse of how fragile everything is. I tried to ignore that fact, push it out of my head – but The Other would not be denied.
Standing naked by my kitchen window, I drink my water and scan the horizon as the sun begins to peel night off the earth, feeling a little smaller.