Like Disaster

August 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

My mother was always on the lookout for disaster. She kept the TV news on a steady hum all day long, and would call me if anything happened in my general direction, or in the seven states nearest me.

“There’s a hurricane coming toward the Outer Banks,” she’d say.

“We’re about five hours from there,” I’d say.

“Looks like y’all will get a lot of rain. Be careful. People can’t drive. You never know.” She thrived on any type of disaster, though weather events were her favorite. She’d also call me at random to tell me that someone I barely knew had died.

“Dr. Jones died,” she’d say. Who needed to bother with hello?

“I don’t remember him, Mom,” I’d say.

“He used to live next door to us on Montavesta,” she’d say, as if that would clear things up. “You were friends with his daughter.” I was six when we moved away from Montavesta Drive. I did not remember. I had no idea why I needed this gloomy news in my life, but she couldn’t help sharing it. It was a compulsion. Maybe it was genetic.

Jeff always wonders why I always expect the worst, always qualify good news, why I can’t relax and believe the fantastic idea that “everything works out for the best.” Where I come from, to court disaster is to live. Not to acknowledge it is certain death. If my mom could have been a storm chaser, she would have. One of her best pilot friends, who reported the weather for local news from his helicopter, Captain Tag, had his ashes scattered into the eye of a storm. She loved that. I’m not sure whether that counts as conquering the storm, or giving in to its fury.

My parents were at my house on September 11, 2001. I had just walked Cole to kindergarten and was pushing Jack Henry, who was three months old, home in the stroller. They met me on the porch. “A plane flew into the World Trade Center!” my mom said. “Are you sure, I said? That’s happened before.”

“Stephanie, this is horrible,” she said.

“I’m sure it’ll be ok,” I said, positive she was overreacting. I had had no sleep in months, very few showers, and I needed to change the baby’s diaper. They had my TV cranked up, loud as it would go. “Can you turn that down?” I said. I looked toward the TV, just as the second plane hit. For once, she was right. I did need to be afraid. Our day was spent getting in touch with my sister, Katie, who lives in Manhattan, and her friends. We fielded calls for people who couldn’t get through. Somehow, calls from outside the area had a better chance of making it through. My mom was sparking with energy all day long.

From that point on, my mom would call Katie whenever she heard of the slightest disturbance in the tri-state area. We made jokes about this. “I’m fine,” Katie would say. So, my mom would call me. “Have you heard from Katie?” she would say. “She says she’s fine, but there was that plane went down in the river, right near her.”

Recently, there was a shooting at the Empire State Building. Katie called me. “I’m OK,” she said. “But it’s kind of weird mom didn’t call me.”  It is strange not to be warned of any impending doom. It seems like all her worrying did offer some odd protection. Now, nobody’s on the lookout; nobody’s got an eye on the storm. Now, anything could happen.

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