I’ve never been in a tornado. But the landscapes of my childhood dreams were ravaged by them. Brought on by the trauma in my waking hours, my tornado dreams were prolific, and proved to be, prophetic.
The first, an EF-1, to spin its massive cone into my dreams, did so when I was 6 after my father, for the first and only time, had beaten me. He had done so until my bladder gave way and urine drenched my pretty pink nightgown. I learned two things that night: my father was a bully, and, my mom, two brothers, and my sister were paralyzed by his behavior.
That night, in my dreams, I see the tornado as I look through my living room door. Its tail, dropping from a large funnel cloud, begins to rotate. Somehow, I know, it’s coming straight for my house. My mother is the only one home. She doesn’t believe me that a tornado is coming, and she won’t look for herself. The dream ends here.
Once, while my mother relaxed in a bath, I had to pee. I was seven. She had locked the bathroom door. My father got mad when my mother, instead of unlocking the door, asked to have someone take me to our other toilet in the basement. (Certain a million cockroaches lurked in its dark corners, I never ventured there alone.) Swearing, he stormed up the stairs. He ended up, with the aid of a 10-pound dumbbell, breaking the glass doorknob off the door, and then, as if nothing had happened, announced, “There, no one will ever lock that door again.”
An EF-2 followed.
I rush to the front door. There it is, tail lowering, raging forward, as always, directly for our house. My heart beats frantically. I race from room to room. No one is home. I run to the basement, cockroaches be damned, and tuck in behind the toilet. Suddenly, it’s all over. I go outside. The sky is blue. The air is calm. I stand in amazement at the vision before me. Doors are everywhere. Our bathroom door dangles from the now tornado-ravaged maple tree in our backyard. Below it is a multitude of shattered and semi-shattered glass doorknobs, reflecting the sun like diamonds.
I was 12 the day of the blizzard. Speeding down a one-lane country highway at 70 miles per hour, the snow, falling fast and hard, wrapped around us like a blanket.
Incensed by the pleas from my mom, my sister, and me for him to slow down, my father accelerated and pulled into the oncoming lane. He barreled down the road, until he jerked the car back into our lane, throwing me into my sister, and said, “Now, goddamn it, you can either shut the hell up, or you can get out and walk your ass home.” When we arrived home, he showered, shaved, and left with a “kiss my ass” to my mother when she asked when he’d be back.
My EF-3 was born from this blizzard.
“A tornado’s coming,” I shout above the uptick of wind and the ripping of tree limbs from their trunks. No one in my family believes me. It’s right there. If they would only look, they’d see. They’d believe their own eyes. But they won’t. I realize no one will go to the basement with me. I run down, tuck in under the stairs, and listen while the tornado rips through my home.
My father left my mother on Valentine’s Day of my freshman year in college. Two days before, he called me and said, “I’m through with the obligations of parenthood. I’ve been held back by you kids and your mother for far too long.”
I have an EF-4 dream.
Like previous dreams, no one believes me, and none of them will look for themselves. But I know the tornado is real. I look. I see. I believe. Crouching under the stairs, behind the toilet, I cover my ears. The noise is unbearable. I cannot distract myself from the knowledge that my home and my family are being destroyed.
On a late summer day, two weeks before my senior year, my father was shot in a park on the outskirts of my hometown. He was having lunch with a woman. She was murdered. He miraculously lived.
I asked my brother, “Where was Dad shot?”
“Right between,” my brother said, leaning forward, and while punctuating this statement by tapping his index finger on his forehead, his eyes wide, his expression both hysterical and comical, he blew me into the stratosphere with, “the fucking eyes. The bullet lodged in his third eye.”
An EF-5 leveled me.
I’m on the landing, when suddenly everyone and everything, except for me, becomes motionless. Shards of glass are suspended in air on their trek across the living room. Stationary, but rotating, right outside my front door, the tornado speaks to me.
“Excuse me,” I say.
“Excuse you,” it says.
“Why are you mocking me?” I ask.
“Because you still don’t get it, do you?” the tornado says. “For years, you’ve tried to get your family to believe I was coming, and no one would listen to you. Today, I’m the wrecking ball in your life. You have a choice to make. Do you stay up here and die with them, or do you run to the basement and save yourself?”
“I don’t understand why they won’t look. You’re always right here waiting,” I say.
“Oh, but I’m not waiting anymore. And it’s not important why they won’t. They’re not going to. So, what is important, is what are you going to choose?”
I roll the tornado’s question around in my head.
“You get one more try. Run, Connie Sue, run,” its menacing voice deafens me. All motion is restored.
Seized in panic, I run upstairs, downstairs, into the dining room, into the kitchen. I plead. I yell. I physically turn heads. No one will look.
I choose the basement.
After the tornado has ransacked my home and my life, I go outside.
A gentle breeze, and the sun, feel good against my face as I, one determined step followed by another, walk up the Locust Street hill into the unknown.
Two weeks after I graduated from college, I packed everything of consequence I owned into my VW Golf. With two hundred dollars in my pocket, and grave determination, I drove up the Locust Street hill in search of my life.
Constance Malloy was a former professional dancer at the beginning of her writing career. Her first book, TORNADO DREAMS: A Memoir, was published by Orange Hat Publishing in September 2018. As a choreographer, she often mashed styles, techniques, and forms of dancing together in one piece. As a writer, she enjoys doing the same. She has many influences in my writing, and love writing in different genres. Her submission is a compression of Part I of her memoir. It is tight, and moves with breathtaking speed. Gut-wrenching and terrifying are apt descriptions of this 1079 word piece.