Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I woke up sweating. Tornado. The covers were disheveled, wrapped around my right leg. My mouth was dry. Had I been gasping? I’m not quite sure, but I did hear that word, clear as day: Tornado.

It was Suzanne’s voice, just her voice. Do they have tornadoes down in Atlanta? I got out of bed and turned on the Weather Channel. No, it was going to be a clear, warm day down there. Maybe it was metaphorical. Maybe it meant something bad, perhaps a “windstorm of danger” or something like that.

I never really thought about Suzanne’s voice. It’s pretty. But then again, could it possibly be otherwise? I have a beautiful younger sister. I grew accustomed to my high school friends’ seemingly innocuous questions: “Yeah, we could drive around town for a while . . . hey, do you think Suzanne wants to come with?”

I noticed that. I noticed the lingering stares from my friends. I noticed the slight lowering of decibel level in the cafeteria when Suzanne walked from the lunch line, tray in hand, (she and I always joked that the trays looked like barf, with the colored splotches mixed in with the grayish plastic), and took her place at the table. While in college she dated a Green Bay Packer football player. He had a million dollar signing bonus, but she ended up moving on because “he just wasn’t very smart.”

To this I would respond in that most brotherly of terms, that term that says so much with so few syllables: Duh.

We would fight. Not as older, ostensibly mature high school kids, but as awkward, gangly, uncomfortable in our own skin, middle schoolers. I would chase her around the house. Once she ran for the basement, and suddenly my foot kicked out and she was falling, down the stairs, knocking bottles of cleaning supplies off the shelf along the edge of the stairs. She landed on the concrete with a bloody nose. I remember a faint twinge of remorse, of sadness. I also remember looking at a stool she had turned into a kind of mock-stove, to be used in her mock-kitchen, with stuffed animals filling in for her mock-family. On this bench cum stove she labeled the shut off switch “oof.” That was during the divorce.

She was not beautiful then. At eight years old, she had red glasses, and these glasses were her trademark. She did not make her own decisions, as her glasses were bought for her, her trademark given to her by parents who wanted to insert a specific identity into that existential blank. Looking back now, her hair was a disaster. I enjoy reminding her of her hair back then, the short front and the long back. She had a boyish, hamster-like face. Her hair seemed to accentuate the confusion and represent a sort of mullet-by-default.

Tornado. But it was just her voice. Not her image. I haven’t seen her since Christmas. We talk though, on the phone. We talk about our parents, both divorced now, a second time for each. That’s three divorces between us, we say.

I would drive her to school. She wrecked her car on the first weekend of having her license. “I was only going fifteen.”

“But, you flipped the car.”

“Still, I was only going fifteen.”

So, every morning, we would take my rusty white Escort to school. On this day, the country road we lived on was covered with a dubious layer of either snow or ice, depending on subtle atmospheric conditions that I do not really understand. I took a corner too fast. Or, more accurately, I intended to take the corner too fast. I intended to let the rear end swing out just a little, to release my pent up seventeen year old’s energy or aggression or whatever in the momentary feeling of freedom, of gliding, of careening. I meant also to scare my sister.

I heard a thump.

Suzanne had slammed her right hand against the door, probably in an effort to hold on to something. She sat rigid, her legs held an inch off the seat. She looked at me, crying. There was no happiness at all in her face, just tears. Her face was all sad. I realized at that moment that there would be no more sliding. I would drive to school slowly, deliberately. I put my old Bob Marley tape in the tape deck. We would be safe on the way to school.

There are no tornadoes in Atlanta. There are other things, though. And there is just a voice, disembodied, identified by caller ID with a strange area code, and with a voice that is absolutely not strange. Not strange at all. We talk about our dog Margalo, about the time when we put pants on her, and about the time when Margalo ran into the screen door. She was embarrassed. You could tell.

In the winter, we would go outside and Margalo would sneak up and snatch the mittens right off our hands. We would run after her, laughing, tripping, sliding in the snow, Margalo’s stumpy tail wagging. Sometimes, Margalo would even take the hat off my head.

One time, Margalo clamped onto Suzanne’s scarf. The scarf cinched and Margalo dragged Suzanne across the field. I remember looking out our big picture window, seeing Suzanne on the ground, hands waving, Margalo making jerking, backward pulling motions. The scarf cinched so hard that it broke the blood vessels in Suzanne’s neck. It was black and blue for days.

I sat next to Suzanne on the couch. “You can have the remote Suzanne. You can watch whatever you want.” She smiled an awkward, six year old’s smile. It looked strange because she had been crying. Mom clanked pots and pans in the kitchen. Dad was not home. When I thought about it, interspersed with thoughts of school and of burning things and climbing trees, I thought that something didn’t seem right. Mom and Dad didn’t talk to each other much. Neither Suzanne nor I had ever heard the word divorce, but it was looming, tracking our direction. It can send a toothpick through a telephone pole. I looked at Suzanne’s swollen, bruised neck. She almost died.

These days, Suzanne and I talk on the phone about once a week. We talk about her job at Bloomingdales, though I call it Bloomingtons. We talk about memories, some remembered, some half forgotten, some patently made-up. They swirl around in our conversation, pick up others, gain speed, and soon I am not in New Hampshire and Suzanne is not in Atlanta, but we are somewhere else entirely. Somewhere that doesn’t now, and never did, exist.


Anonymous said...

Ok...first, I think I have to clear something up. All this time I thought you were writing about "tornadoes." But, from the title, I can see that this story is really about "toradoes." My mistake. And second...I rock. Love moo.

Jay Knower said...

The mistake has been corrected. Thank you for bringing it to our attention,

The Management

Anonymous said...

You're funny The Management...