Texts and Tornadoes

Michael & Slade 10-29-15
Michael & Slade 10-29-15

“I love you, momma!” The text arrived at 7:30 on Wednesday evening from my son, Michael. In itself, not unusual. Yet, it was out of our regular pattern. A typical text from him was a picture of the St. Louis arch, or “Hi mom, in Arkansas,” or just a “Hi momma.” And those were generally in response to a text I sent initiating the conversation. Was his intuition perking up, as his face had come to my mind a couple times in the previous hour.
I sent a text back, “Glad to hear that. I was just thinking about you.” No response from him. Also, not unusual. As a long distance truck driver in the mid-West, I never know where he is until I hear from him. And many have been the times on the road when he could not answer me right away.

The next morning, Michael called me as he was unloading the truck at one of the retail bargain stores on his route. “That text last night might have been my last words to you, Mom. I was stuck in a tornado, worst one I’ve been in. Didn’t know if I was going to live through it.”

What? What?

“I texted you and Dorothy, in case I didn’t make it. I wanted you to know I loved you.”
My face froze, my body felt weightless, I felt a veil close around my arms and legs like sleeves.

The voice that spoke was mine, however it surprised me with its calm, even tone.
“Really, Michael. Where were you?”
“In Canton, Missouri. When the hail started, I knew this was it, Mom. The hail stones were as big as ping pong balls.”
“What did you do? Was there a storm cellar?”
“Nope. The employees and I huddled in the little women’s bathroom, one stall and the sink. Even inside the building, the tornado sounded like a stampede of boulders rolling down a hill.”

As I sat, so still, looking out my living room window at the acre of lawn in the park edged with hundred foot tall cottonwoods, I tried to grasp the enormity of what he was telling me and not panic, as I could hear Michael talking to me, and to others as he unloaded the roller carts from the trailer. He was out of danger – he was alive, safe, and on the job.

My job at that moment was containing myself. I was in disbelief, that ever-practical Michael, having recounted being run into by drunk drivers, his truck jack-knifing in a wind on an icey highway, being rammed by an oncoming eighteen wheeler when that driver lost control in a storm, and the list goes on, had been afraid he might die.
Living a sane life has required that I disconnect myself from the reality of the dangers Michael faces every time he gets on the road. I have programmed myself to believe that no news is good news.
I know, I know, I raised my children to have wings not strings.

This same disconnect has other useful applications: do we get on a plane, buckle our seatbelt and say, “I bet this baby is gonna crash.” I think not.

One of the magical powers I have wished for was a protective bubble around those I love. Actually, there have probably only been two powers I’ve wished for. When I’d heard others wish they could fly, or be invisible, or read other people’s thoughts, I didn’t relate to that. Until the prevalence of cell phones, I had abandoned wishing for magical powers.
When I see someone using their cell phone while driving, all I’ll have to do is blink and their phone battery will instantly die. The next time they turn the phone on after re-charging, it will say, accompanied by a tornado siren, “If you ever talk on the phone again, much less text, while driving, this phone and any other phone you will ever have, will implode.”
I’m not asking for much. Consideration and attention to safety.

My friend Char does have an amazing power: when her car alarm goes off, it sets off all the others in a stone’s throw radius. A symphony of protection.

So my protective bubble power must have been working, even six states and two thousand miles away. I’ll keep working on the other one.