Saying I love weather is like saying I love breathing, it’s part of who I am, and has been for as long as I can remember. There is a home video from Christmas ’89 where I am playing in the snow, making snowballs, and generally being a kid – then I suddenly look up at the camera and with the authority of a meteorologist I state, “this is the first white Christmas in New Bern since 1898.” Then I go back to playing.
I would watch the weather channel for fun. For hours. I devoured hurricane news coverage, using paper tracking maps and making my own predictions. In elementary school I did a year-long project on hurricanes and tornadoes, putting more energy into it than any other educational endeavor before or since. In college Steven and I would get liquor and chips and watch meteorologists cover hurricanes like it was the Super Bowl. Jim Cantore is our MVP.
Sometimes this passion intersects with anxiety in unfortunate ways – the irony of Seasonal Affective Disorder is not lost on me. In the 5th grade a local meteorologist came to speak to our class during tornado safety week, and while the other kids wiggled in their seats eager for recess, I sat with rapt attention soaking in every word. Unfortunately, many of those words had to do with the ways tornadoes could sneak up on you and kill you unexpectedly. He didn’t use those words, but I could read between the lines. Tornadoes wait until you were asleep and then they take you down. You can’t see them in the dark. They can happen even when you think the storm is winding down.
I panicked, convinced that a nighttime tornado would be the end of me. Major thunderstorm during the day? Bring it on! Rain shower in the middle of the night? Cower, awake and paralyzed with fear, for hours. First, I feared sleeping on the top bunk, because what if there was a tornado and I couldn’t get down in time?! Then the bottom bunk became suspect, because in the event of sudden tornado it might collapse on top of me. Eventually I started sleeping on the floor if thunderstorms were even in the forecast.
To cope with this fear over which I had no control I made control where I could. I silently planned my escape routes. I went through all the possible catastrophes and came up with the best approach for survival. Somewhere along the line it crossed into legit OCD territory. Probably around the time that I decided attaching my childhood stuffed monkey to my wrist with my security blanket would protect me. Booboo was willing to sacrifice himself to save my literal neck. I told my family I just didn’t want him to get lost under the bed. I was a weird kid, but I’m not sure I was weird enough for that to be believable.
If Booboo was not attached to my wrist at night it was an invitation to the universe to send a tornado. Somehow I was directly responsible for the weather, and it was all up to my relationship with a stuffed monkey in red overalls. Also, socks. I had to sleep in socks. The better to escape over broken glass without cutting my feet.
Dreams and nightmares about tornadoes were frequent. Are frequent. Dreams of being in a car and seeing tornadoes all around me. Knowing a tornado was coming and having to find shelter. I’m sure I’ve had hundreds of versions of these dreams. One night the details shifted. I dreamed of tornadoes surrounding my house, and I peered at them, terrified. One of the tornadoes started swaying and playing a flute, and he wasn’t so scary after all. Maybe I had been playing too much Super Mario 3. After that the dream version of me took charge a bit more, in a new role as the person who must lead everyone to safety. Secret basement hideouts, where tornadoes can’t get us.
Technology has been my saving grace. The ability to have multiple hyper-local alert apps on my phone has made it so I can sleep on a stormy night. We bought a brick house with a basement, and though I may overreact, I rarely over ACT. I may stay awake refreshing the radar every two minutes, but if I say it’s time to go to the basement, take me very seriously.
These days I sleep in socks only when my feet are cold. Booboo sits atop my dresser, still attached to the blanket, but decades from the last time he was attached to me. I still feel the surge of adrenaline anytime storms threaten at night, but my smartphone has brokered a tenuous peace treaty with the fear.
Moral of the story: I really shouldn’t pay attention in school.