Saturday, May 27, 2017

It was 20 years ago today

This is a true story.

May 27, 1997. I am standing in my house with my dog, looking out the back window, watching the low, heavy clouds over my backyard coalesce into a swirl. A shaggy funnel dips down and back up, down and back up, over and over. My hand is on the dog's collar. We have no basement.

I stare out the window for a full five minutes after the last funnel sign, then I call my mother, who is watching my one-year-old son at her house ten miles away. We are moving to an interior room, she tells me. We'll get into the bathtub.

I walk out the front door of my house, locking it behind me with the dog inside. I worry whether she and it will be here when I get back. On my way to the car I meet a neighbor coming home who tells me I'm crazy. She tells me to get back inside. I tell her I can't. I tell her I have an appointment.

As I'm driving east, I look to the north and see a fully formed funnel cloud skipping over the horizon. I can't tell how far away it is. It doesn't look real. It looks like a cartoon. It's early afternoon but the sky is black as night. My hands tighten on the wheel.

I pull into the parking lot of a building that is made entirely of glass. Every wall is a black window, three stories up. Black windows against a black sky. The air is still as I get out of my car. There is no birdsong, but there's a distant howl. A sound of rushing.

I walk inside. I make my way down a glass-fronted hallway in this building made of glass and turn a handle, but the door is locked. I can see there are people inside, so I knock. A woman hurries over.

What are you doing here, she says. We're all going home, she says. Have you looked outside, she says.

I say No.
I say Listen.

I have been bleeding through my entire first trimester. I have hyperemesis so severe that I have to take Phenergan suppositories just to keep down water, much less food or prenatal vitamins. I have read the books and I'm pretty sure this is a molar pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy, twins, dead twins. I have an appointment today, right now, to hear the heartbeat for the first time. I'm going to hear that heartbeat.

The truth is I only said some of those things. The truth is that being taken out in a shower of glass and rebar was the least of my concerns right then.

I say Please.

She takes me back to a room. The exterior wall is glass. I lay on the paper-lined table and turn my head to the right. I watch the still air outside give way to shrieking gusts as I pull my top up to my bra and slide my pants below my hipbones. She tucks paper into my waistband and squirts cold jelly just above my pubic bone. Stunted trees whip in a frenzy outside the wall-window as she slides the wand across my abdomen and after an eternity during which I'm sure my house and dog and son and mother are obliterated by an angry or worse apathetic god I hear it: lublublublublublub. Faster than fast. A herd of frothing horses.

That's a good, strong heartbeat, she says.
Be careful out there, she says.

I say Thank You.
I say You Too.

I rush to my car. I drive home in a downpour so thick I can't see beyond my windshield. If there are funnel clouds to my north, ich kenn ihnen nicht. If there are funnel clouds to my north, I can't worry about them now. I am carrying a baby with a good, strong heartbeat. I am carrying an alive baby.

The 3.4 miles between the hospital and my house take thirty minutes.
My house, which is still standing.
My house, with my alive dog inside.

I call my alive mother. Later, she will bring my alive son home. Later, I will insert a Phenergan suppository and take a prenatal vitamin and try very hard keep them both inside.

Six months and two days later, I will look into the face of my beautiful alive H for the very first time.


  1. Damn, girl ... this is gripping and beautifully written. Thanks so much for sharing it <3

  2. Such terror, so beautifully written. Of Course you made that drive.