It was another Saturday—a beautiful one. I looked out the back door in the kitchen where blue skies sat on seven Leyland Cypress trees blocking our neighbor’s backyard from our own. My sister, Savanna, and I used to climb under the itchy needles to play with our neighbor until he hit Savanna with a monkey ball from a sycamore tree. Only I was allowed to be mean to her.
Savanna and I were home, and Mom had just left for the gym. We were enjoying the weekend, even though we were likely bickering over who would unload and load the dishwasher. I had just started sixth grade at a new school and didn’t have many friends, so I enjoyed being home.
Dad was on the laptop doing whatever he does for hours at a time. I had brought home three pieces of artwork the day before: two black and white drawings of dogs and a watercolor piece of blue mountains. They all placed silver in a competition and were lying on my bed in my just-cleaned room.
Mom came home. She’d only been at the gym for about thirty minutes.
“That was fast,” I said.
Dad even looked up from the laptop.
She didn’t respond and turned the TV on.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’m checking the weather, Pumpkin,” she said.
“Weather for what? It’s sunny outside.”
Dad and Savanna joined us.
“I was on the treadmill,” Mom said, “and I saw the pine trees swaying like this.” She held her hand up right and moved her fingers back and forth. “I figured Dad wasn’t looking at the weather, so I came home to check.”
A moment passed.
“We need to go downstairs,” Mom said. “Now.”
She had something in her voice I’d never heard before.
I remember Mom quizzing us a million times.
“What do we do if there’s a fire?” she would ask.
“Get our shoes and go outside,” I would respond.
“Do we stop to get Mom and Dad?”
“No,” Savanna would say.
I would stop to get them.
“Right. Where do we go if there’s a storm or a bad guy?”
“To the basement in the crawl space.”
“Why the basement? We never go down there.”
“Yeah. And it has bugs. The big ones that jump really high.” I shiver at the thought.
“Because it’s safe.”
“An emergency?” I asked, suddenly concerned. My stomach had knots.
“Just a precaution,” Mom said. “Grab your flip flops.”
I walked past the artwork on my bed and the fish tank in the corner to put on my shoes. Outside my window stands the giant oak tree in the front yard.
On the left side of the house were two pine trees. A wire fence in the back yard surrounded a bigger oak. There used to be a tree stump in front of our house where I sat to read. I cried when it was covered. Mom said it looked bad and made it hard to cut grass.
I held Mom’s hand as she led the way down the stairs, and Dad took the rear carry a flashlight.
“Why do we need flashlights?” Savanna asked. “The lights are on.”
“Just in case, Sweet Pea,” Dad said. Savanna loved peas, but I didn’t. I wondered if that’s how she got her nickname.
When we got downstairs, I looked out the only tiny window. The skies were still blue, and there were no clouds.
Suddenly, the lights shut off. The window was our only light.
“Time to get in the closet,” Mom said.
I recognized what was in her voice: fear.
I couldn’t see at all. Dad quickly turned on his flashlight. I looked back at the window for just a second and saw it was pitch black outside. Mom hadn’t been home ten minutes before we were all huddled in the closet with the door closed. There was no sound.
It was loud—but distant at the same time. The electricity flickered back on, and Dad clicked the flashlight off. He stepped out of the closet.
“Is it safe?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
I stood up. My shaking started to slow, and I walked out. I looked out the window again a bright blue sky. We had only been in the closet for a moment.
“What happened?” I asked, but no one answered.
There were pebbles at the top of the stairs. I furrowed my eyebrows. I saw a snail decoration from my fish tank and walked toward my room. The door was closed.
“That must have been the slam we heard,” Mom said.
I opened it.
On the other side of my door was a pine tree. It had come down and smashed the ten-gallon fish tank which was spilling water. Everything was still—aside from one fish flopping on the carpet. Pebbles were everywhere: on the floor, on my bed, on my prized art work. I began to step inside to grab the art, but Mom held me back.
“There’s broken glass,” she warned.
I said nothing.
Dad grabbed a red solo cup with some water and put the one fish we found in it, and he grabbed the artwork. Later, we found another fish in the kitchen. I never saw the other two. All four died.
Outside the front door, there was a giant oak branch blocking the stairs. We walked out back where the oak tree had fallen parallel to the house. The tornado tore it up from its roots which thick enough to pull up the fence. The roots were tall enough to tower over me when I stood on level ground.
Behind the fence, our shed had been lifted and carried into the neighbor’s yard where six of the seven privacy trees had fallen.
On the side of the house where my room was, both of the pine trees had fallen—one into my room, the other into the foundation of the house. I stood next to one of the fallen pines and saw a liquid. I touched it and discovered a sticky sap.
Savanna and I meandered to the front of the house. The oak in the front was still standing. There were small sticks everywhere, and not-so-small sticks impaling the roof of our house. The windshield of Mom’s car was shattered.
I talked to my neighbor. I think his name was Luke.
“I didn’t even know there was a tornado,” Luke said. “I was just in the living room playing on my DS.”
How unfair, I thought. His house wasn’t even touched, but ours had so much damage. If I was in my room, I would have died. After the tornado, Savanna and I didn’t argue much.
Later, I learned there were 80 tornados in Wake county that day. I know now I was lucky because if the oak had fallen on the house, we would have likely been crushed. The weather was too perfect—before and after the storm. It happened so fast, it didn’t seem real.
They say when a tornado comes through, it sounds like a train. I’ve never heard what a train sounds like. All I remember is the deafening sound of my door slamming and the damage behind it.