Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Storm Windows

This afternoon at the office, I heard the distinctive buzzing and whirring of the Emergency Broadcast System coming through the small clock radio on the bookshelf. We usually have it tuned to a Westchester station, the Peak. The music is soft, but it’s there, keeping us amused with a selection of 80’s tunes and the occasional blues number. I assumed it was "only a test," but then I heard the words “tornado warning.” I went to the radio and turned it up.

There was a tornado warning in Westchester? Sure enough. Instructions were issued to listeners about the safest places to be during the storm, and they advised everyone in certain areas – including ours – to take cover immediately.

Delia, my colleague, looked slightly stricken. “There’s a tornado here?” She asked. “Yes,” I said. “A tornado warning - that means someone actually saw a tornado.” We looked at each other, and at our other colleague Rachel, who was buried in a phone conversation, oblivious to the circumstances.

Delia immediately got on the phone with her family, in White Plains, speaking to them in Portuguese. I checked NOAA’s website. A waterspout had been sighted by the Tappan Zee Bridge – the bridge I drive over every morning and every afternoon. NOAA was warning people about flooding, especially just south of us, in Hartsdale.

I looked out the window… it was overcast, but not raining. Nothing looked, or sounded, or felt threatening. When the emergency broadcast ended, I turned the radio down… and went back to my desk.

When Rachel got off the phone, we briefly discussed communicating with executive management. "I don't think we need to," I said. Rachel and I looked out the window. It was quite calm outside. We just looked at each other for a minute. "We're going to be fine," she said. "Yeah," I said, "We are."

I was thinking more about my commute over the Tappan Zee and down to Hackensack than about my immediate safety. And all of us just seemed to know we were going to be fine, at least for the meantime.

A half an hour later, the tornado warning had been canceled.

At 4:30, I drove out of the parking lot into an enormous traffic jam. We may not have been hit by a tornado, but there had been some nasty accidents, and traffic was backed up in several directions. Police officers were present, blocking one road and scowling at the drivers, who were getting surly. For the most part, everyone behaved themselves, but the going was slow, and the traffic was tight. I made it over the bridge into Rockland county, and turned the Buick onto route 9W, heading for the Palisades Parkway.

It was drizzling. At first it was like mist, and I wondered if it wasn’t my eyes. I realized I was ever so slightly crying. G was on my mind. I knew he’d never been in danger, and I knew I really hadn’t been either, but I’d just been through a tornado warning, and out of habit, my loved one came to mind.

The rain came down, and I flipped my wipers into high gear. They don’t work so well. The left one drags, making an annoying phbbbb sound. I flipped the air conditioner off and lowered my window. The Buick overheats easily. The wind whooshed just inches from my ear, and I cranked up the radio.

“Ain’t no other man – can stand – up next to you –
Ain’t no other man – on the planet – does what you do –
You’re the kind of guy – a girl finds – in a blue moon –
You got soul, you got class
You got style, shake your bad ass
Ain’t no other man, it’s true
Ain’t no other man but you
(D-do your thing, honey!)”

I swung onto the Palisades parkway, wipers PHBBBTing furiously, tears sliding down my cheeks, smiling, singing along with Cristina, feeling… calm. I drove in the slow lane. I slowed the wipers – the rain was letting up. The sun shone through the trees, giving me flashes of light, like a disco ball. I rolled the window back up – how the waters didn’t come in the car I’ll never know – and treated myself to some air conditioning. I began composing my wedding vows.

Right there, behind the wheel.

I promise to take care of myself, and to get help when I need it.
I promise not to keep secrets. I promise to trust you.
I promise that when the day comes that you need me more than I need you, that I won’t let you down, although I can’t imagine that ever happening.
You are my best friend and my love, and as we choose each other as life partners, I promise to keep you laughing, to bring beauty into our home, and to be a constant presence along your journey.
I will be loving and kind to your parents, and a good mother to our children.
I will try to be everything to you that you have been to me.

I found myself on Route 4, headed toward Hackensack, the sun poking long yellow rays through the clouds, my right side tires splashing through some formidable puddles that had collected along the side of the steeply mounded road. I turned the radio off, and just drove.

I remembered the last time I had slept in my parent’s basement during a tornado warning. I had been in high school. I’d brought my favorite teddy bear with me, partly because, at seventeen, I still found him comforting, and partly because I had anthropomorphized him to the point that his safety was a concern, and I couldn’t stand the thought of losing him to a tornado. I remembered curling up on a small jogging trampoline, wrapped in a blanket that someone had knitted, wearing warm flannel pajamas and socks, with my teddy bear in my arm. I wondered if anyone had ever noticed how very childlike I was at seventeen – the same year I lost my virginity.

I held this image in my mind as I navigated rush hour traffic in a beast of a car, my glasses perched on my nose, my engagement ring sliding sloppily sideways, inhabiting my almost-35-year-old body while being simultaneously present in my seventeen-year-old memories. It was a profound experience. Almost like time travel, or like being in two places at once.

So many times during my youth, I felt genuinely afraid of tornados, and went to sleep in the basement just the tiniest bit afraid that we might be hit. This time, I knew there was never really any threat, in spite of what the weather reports said. I had every reason to head for the basement again – my colleagues and I had considering alerting the executives, in case they wanted to evacuate the second and third floors – but something inside me told me we’d all be fine. It was one of those very rare times in my life that I felt completely safe.

Let me type that again: I felt completely safe.

Once more: I felt completely safe.

Having two vacations in a row and three weeks off of the day job gave me an opportunity to get some little things out of the way that I needed to do for myself – including catch up on sleep. I renewed my license plates, I cleaned out my clothes closet, I spent some time visiting with my nice upstairs neighbors. I pulled out my Goddess in the Office booklet, and read it, with the upcoming new temp assignment in mind. This week, I’ve been doing little things the author suggests, to feel more connected to the divine.

I’m in an interesting place right now. It’s not a transitional period. It’s a work period, and it’s a bit of a bubble. On some superficial levels, I feel more connected to my classmates and my co-workers than I do to G, because I see and interact with them far more. However I’m aware of his life force, living inside me every minute of every day, even when we don’t email or talk on the phone for a day or more, and all I see of him at the apartment is his inert form, asleep in bed long before I get home from class. He’s outside my bubble, and yet he’s not. But I’m definitely somewhat isolated from the rest of the world.

It’s been like this for awhile. It comes with the territory. This is what it takes for me to excel at school, do well enough at work to earn a decent paycheck, and eat healthily so as not to get sick and derail everything. My focus is entirely on my studies, earning money, and my diet and exercise routine – in that order.

And as odd as it sounds… it’s good.

Somehow I’m finding a Sunday to attend a BBQ at a friend’s house in White Plains. G and I love this couple and haven’t seen them since football season. I also may be singing in church again at the end of the month, but that’s not definite yet. Stepping outside the bubble has more to do with other people pulling me outside of it. I wouldn’t be doing either of those things if G and my accompanist weren’t asking me to. I think it will be good for me to do both. But I’ll admit… I’m not really thinking about those things. I’ll do them, then they’ll be over, and I’ll be right back into my neurology class and Shiatsu training.

And the tornados can pass me right by. And I’ll be fine. And G will be home waiting for me when I’m tired.

And blessed be.

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