Easter, but unremarked upon, incredibly irrelevant in this distended quarantine time.
Until recently, I used to love watching the weather. I liked, I guess, the endless changeability of it. It was indulgent, in some ways. Observing the shift and shift of the skies seemed like one way to stay aware of the ongoingness of the world’s huge mechanisms.
These quarantine days though, I stay inside and don’t watch the weather. Buried inside the house I’m jealous of it, and don’t want it impinging on my tomb any more than it has to, like when the rain came down so violently a few days – a week, more? – ago, or when the wind went horizontal and yawled through the streets and made the walls and roof groan.
Way back, though, I was afraid of the weather. I woke up one day, almost suddenly, and was deathly afraid of dying in a tornado. This started when I was 11 or 12 and stuck with me till I went to college. And because I was already laboring – although maybe I didn’t know it – under my obsessive compulsive disorder, this terror of tornadoes became an all-daily, all-consuming fear – more than a fear, but a condition of existence, as much an inescapable element of my life as the actual weather was.
I would try not to go to school on stormy or possibly stormy days. I missed school trips. If I was at school when a storm started, I would try and go to the bathroom, simply for the excuse to pace the halls, taking the long way to and from, dawdling, trying to minimize the time I would have to be locked at my desk, as powerless in my panic there, I felt, as a passenger in a crashing plane.
If I was at home, I would stand at the window anxiously and wait for to develop. If I knew one was coming it was virtually impossible for me to do anything else but stand at attention, anticipating it, pacing the parapets. I monitored them on the internet, watching the radar slowly blotch in the green, yellow, red, and orange storm cells in early-era broadband.
One early evening I looked out the narrow windows on either side of our front door at a sky that was green, weltering, stormsick; stood there watching in a blank, almost bland, yet still overwhelming fear, like a submariner watching some immense and unclassified monster swim its bulk past the porthole. My dad came up behind me.
“You see that tree?” he said, pointing at the one in our front lawn, shorn of leaves and wetly black, moving back and forth in the wind like a rune trying to peel itself away from its stone.
“You see that tree?” he said. “You know when you have to start worrying? When that tree is pthlurp!” – he made a farting sound – “upside down out there.” I heard my mom laugh from somewhere in the house.
It was a problem then in me and is still one now, that when I’m afraid in this way I can’t accept any comfort from others. It doesn’t translate, doesn’t make it past the barriers into my skull.
Tornadoes were the second of several major fears that each, in their turn, defined big sections of my life. When I still lived in Omaha I saw a story about e. coli on the news and became horribly afraid of dying from eating raw or undercooked meat. I obsessively checked my and my family’s meat for pinkness (representing potential rawness), before any of us ate it; once we went out to dinner with another family and I was convinced the opposing dad was going to die, because his chicken, to me, looked pink from across the table.
Fears follow their own internal logic. That’s the secret to the horrible sway they have over us. They’re worlds unto themselves, separate from this one, but you inhabit both their world and this one simultaneously, attempting to abide by the weathers and rules of both; consequently you become, despite your best efforts, absurd. Once, I refused to use the butter on the dinner table because the light of setting sun, coming in through the dining room window, made it look pink to me.
As the tornado fear continued, also I started to believe that I had cancer. This was actually one of the smaller fears, small enough that it could exist concurrently with the tornado fear; a moon to that one’s planet. Each morning I woke up and anxiously checked my pillow, to see if my hair had started falling out because I thought that was a symptom of the disease, not a side effect of the treatment.
It probably wouldn’t’ve mattered if somebody told me the truth. Fears brook the intrusion of no other logic than their own.
One time I went on a school trip, a day trip to a space center in West Virginia, against every inclination inside me. I was blandly bullied into it by a bland, bullying, insensitive science teacher named Mrs. Franklin, who always had a sort of expansive disappointment stamped into her face.
I realize that’s not a way in which you can physically describe a living or once-living person. She had curly brown hair, done up in an outdated, loose 80s perm. A small chin, brown eyes. A mole somewhere on her face; I can’t remember where. She was in her 60s, probably.
The space center was in West Virginia, somewhere out in the rugged hilly part, away from towns and other buildings. The bus ride took us on a winding road through the mountains – broad, forlorn, half-crumbled mountains, standing like widows in long gowns of russet and moss, trussed in bodices of evergreens and still-dead trees; the unbloomed bones of early spring. The weather was gray, hot, humid, pregnant.
The space center was empty except for we students, the teacher chaperones, and the center employees who shepherded us through the days activities. They told us about Apollo 13. They had us recreate crudely the Mailbox that the crew used to filter the air they needed to breath. It was while we were doing this that it began to storm.
I knew it was going to because I saw the sky darkening in the smeared reflections on the closed blinds over the windows in the room. The storm broke in that way that spring and summer storms have, coming down in a furious all-powerful onset of wet and light and noise and color, spectruming from dark to lighter and lighter as the wind howled and the clouds emptied themselves over every millimeter of exposed surface in that weird, lonely place.
I tried to appear casual while giving my fear maximal rain; I feigned a casual interest in the storm, so that I had some excuse for going over to the window and looking out at its omnipresent motion outside.
The storm drained itself quickly, and changed nothing fundamentally. The rainlashed, soaked trees were in a stupor, drooling from all their mouths, and the mulchbeds were blackly wet, but not long. The sun half-shone through whitened, lightened clouds, burning the moisture back up in the air, rehumidifying it. Only in the places where the sun couldn’t pry its weightless fingers did the water linger a while longer.
And, now it was over, I felt like my mind expand in all directions, shooting outside the circumference of my skull, unfolding like a massive lotus and lavishing its benediction on every inch of this earth, which had just weathered its 100 billionth storm. My chest swung open like the doors of a mausoleum, exhuming itself, letting the corpses of fear tumble out into the unfreshened air. My fingertips were as long as the jetstreams; my eyes burned with unsleeping excited fatigue. I became jocular, giddy almost. We finished our Mailbox.
We got back in the early evening and the sun still lingered behind the clouds, turning everything a soft soporofic lavender-purple. Mrs. Franklin stood at the steps of the bus, not to bid us goodbye as we departed, but because she felt that was where she had to stand. She stared vacantly at one thing or another, smiled vacantly at one thing or another, as we passed.
When I went by, she asked, “Well, are you glad you came?”
“No,” I said.
[Image: Approaching Thunder Storm by Martin Johnson Heade (1819 – 1904)]