The Other

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.


Comments

The Other — 12 Comments

  1. Powerful! Glad you are still writing. There is a lot of anxiety in that dream – I hope it’s part of the story and not real life! All the best to you. Take care – Barb from Portland, Oregon

  2. I understand how you feel and the fears. I went through breast cancer surgery and treatment this year and I know that I’ve changed down to the DNA after what has happened. Your mortality weighs a lot heavier on you than you can comprehend and find it coming through in your subconscious. Good luck with wrapping your brain around what happened and glad that you came through relatively unscathed.

  3. I guess at some point in our lives, we feel invincible. When all seems to be going well. And it’s these things; an illness, a death, a tragedy that reminds us just how fragile human life is.

    I try to remember that everyday.

    K

  4. My father called me the day after my 24th birthday to tell me that I should be more careful, since I was no longer “under warranty.” We both had a good laugh and of course, being young and dumb, I promptly forgot about what he had said. A couple of days later I started to get a nagging pain deep in my abdomen. I ignored it as being the after-effects of a solid week of celebrating my birthday. Two days later I was dragged in to the emergency room by my roommates and an hour after that I was in surgery for an appendix that was the size of a grapefruit.

    I wasn’t scared at all throughout the whole process, at least until the second day after the operation when I had a sneezing fit… I knew for sure that my whole body was going to explode like a video game victim who had just been blasted by some sort of disruptor ray gun. Finally I realized that I should start paying a little more attention to the fragility of my own life.

    Now forty years later, I still occasionally do stupid things, I still celebrate my birthdays to excess and I still hang out with the “wrong” crowd, but I am much more aware of what I do (especially to myself) and I am fully cognizant of the fact that my heart was programmed at birth for only so many beats. And the remaining number of beats is getting smaller on a daily basis.

  5. The only nightmares I have since I reached adulthood all involve tornadoes, so your description really hit home. My palms are sweaty from the detail with which you described it and the real panic I felt right along with you.

  6. Congratulations on a powerful piece of writing. I really like the reminder of how frail we are and how precious life is. I loved the touch of the girl frantically coloring the bunny and the fact that she insisted its ears should be red. There is something decidedly unsettling about that image. Well done again.

  7. I know that boat. Two years ago, I died. I was only gone for 18 seconds. I’d gone in for “simple, safe, routine” and gotten far more than the O.R. team bargained for. I coded on the table.

    I woke up looking like a rough draft of Baron Von Frankenstein’s bachelor’s project. But my surgeon had a sharp knife and was not at all shy about what he cut through when he was in a hurry. I’ll take it.

  8. Tornado dreams have been my most memorable. I haven’t had one for at least 5 years, but I remember every detail. I live in an active tornado zone, had one pass close to the house (2 miles), but have never seen one. However, the brain can make details in dreams so accurate and realistic that I feel like I’ve been in one. Stranger still, one dream predated an actual killer tornado by about 5 years. Same path.

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