Securing oneself into a seatbelt is the first step to safety. When the metal clicks, it is a commitment to staying in that car. But when we shared our first kiss in the rain, hidden between cars in the parking lot behind the school, we weren’t concerned with commitment. I had a girlfriend, and we both knew we were going on a ride. We just couldn’t waste time putting on the seatbelt.
The Lead Foot:
We ignored all speed limits. On our one-month anniversary we rode in my Honda CRV that we named Clifford, and you told me you were scared. Your hands tugged at the scarlet dress that you had squeezed into. The words “I love you,” fell like the apple from the tree. We went from 0 to 100 in 30.
The Distracted Eyes:
Eyes on the road. If one looks away, then one could end up somewhere they didn’t intend, or forget where they were headed. We both got distracted. You got drunk on weekdays. I skipped class to spend time with my friends. For you, the beginning of college was like fumbling through the CDs in your glove box, trying to find your song. For me, the end of high school was like trying to pull over at every landmark to take a picture.
The Drift into Another Lane:
Flirting with the yellow line has always been dangerous. When you pulled up next to me at a stoplight, and she was in my passenger seat, I told you I was just giving her a ride home. It was true, but I didn’t want it to be.
When my lips collide with hers, my mind goes blank. My life does not flash before my eyes. I do not remember how your head nuzzled my neck, your curly hair tickling my chin. I do not remember how you snorted when you laughed. I do not remember how your glasses made your eyes seem more alive. In the moment of impact I do not think; I do not feel.
I watched you slide off the couch, onto the floor. You parked yourself in the furthest corner of the room. Your hands trembled. Arms wrapped around your knees. Eyes pleaded. Lips mouthed, “no.” It was too late. We had driven too recklessly. So I left the scene of the crash, forcing you to search for love among the wreckage.
Do you remember saying I love you?
You were seventeen; I was fifteen. It was a month into our relationship and I had fallen for you the way most love stories start—head first and unprepared. I was mesmerized by your subtle smirks and goofy giggles. You had the type of confidence I wanted to recreate in myself. You were the parts of me that I didn’t know how to be yet. That’s how I knew that I loved you.
I had contemplated all week on how to tell you. It was going to be my first time saying I love you and I wanted it to be perfect. I even wrote a poem for the occasion. I wanted to speak so eloquently that if you hadn’t known you loved me, then after I spoke you’d realize with complete certainty that you loved me too.
We were watching Lord of the Rings in your room. I was nuzzling my head into your neck, searching for a way to bring up the poem I had written. You smelled like cherry almond lotion, and my heart was drumming to the rhythm of love so loud I couldn’t hear the movie. You seemed to know I wasn’t paying attention; you asked me what was wrong. Fear flashed across my face. It suddenly occurred to me that there was a possibility that you didn’t have the same feelings; I told you I just had some things on my mind. You pulled away from me then, looking concerned. Your favorite grey V-neck t-shirt was falling lower than usual and I could see the paleness of your breasts. I shook the observation out of my head, telling myself it wasn’t what I should be thinking about. You asked what was going on. I started to sweat. I decided that I couldn’t hold back any longer. I told you I had something to say, but I needed you to wait until I was done to respond. Your eyes showed caution, but you nodded. I spoke:
“In everything I do
I have thoughts of you.
From the smile that appears after the first teddy bear
To the kiss we share when we are married.
From that night we get wild
To our first child.
From growing old with age
To living with God on the next page,
I want to forever be with you
So I can lift you
Because Laurie, I love you,
I’ll never put someone above you.”
You kissed me then. You held onto my face and kissed me with the passion of life. I had to pull myself away. I had to ask, “Do you love me back?” You smiled then, the most magnificent smile. “Of course,” you answered.
Do you remember telling me?
You started off by informing me that you hadn’t had your period yet. You told me not to worry—the odds were slim. The next month we sat across from each other at Olive Garden. Our section was practically empty, our basket of breadsticks already devoured. I could feel your hands gripping mine, your eyes searching my face for an answer. You whispered as if you were afraid the waiter would hear our secret. “What are we going to do?” you asked. I glanced around, hoping the waiter would bring out the two Zuppa Toscana soups we ordered; I needed more time. The waiter didn’t come. I remember sounding stronger than I felt. “We’re going to keep it.” It’s the right thing to do. After that, you sat up straighter. Your hands slid from mine. Your eyes broke contact—focused on the fork next to your napkin—your thumb rubbed against its prongs. I watched you in silence, hoping you knew of a way out. You began to nod. Slowly at first, but eventually it grew into full swing. You looked up at me and smiled that smile again. “Of course,” you answered.
Do you remember when we lost Her?
You called me, crying. I couldn’t understand every word but I managed to make out one: Blood. My body tensed. I felt my heart sink into my stomach. I asked you where you were. You let out a moan. You began gasping as if drowning in your own tears. I couldn’t find the air in my lungs. I couldn’t save you. I started a sentence, but I couldn’t finish it. You hung up.
Do you remember therapy?
You started planning our wedding, and I started to see a counselor. You wanted to get married in two years, after I turned eighteen. I wanted to die. You showed me wedding dresses. I pointed to my favorites like you asked me to. We’d fight about why I couldn’t tell you what I talked about with the counselor. I couldn’t tell you that I had wished our baby to death. I couldn’t tell you that I was sixteen and trying to understand how I could feel relief that she had died. I couldn’t tell you that even though I’ve always dreamed of becoming a father I had prayed to God to stop it from happening. I couldn’t tell you how I wanted to love someone else. I couldn’t tell you that looking at you made me want to save you. I couldn’t tell you that I knew what you couldn’t tell me. You couldn’t tell me how conflicting it was that you’d lost something you loved when you’d never really had it in the first place. You couldn’t tell me how ashamed you felt. You couldn’t tell me how scared you were that you might never be able to feel like a full woman. You couldn’t tell me how you saw my eyes change when I looked at you. Instead, you’d ask me how I felt about a June wedding. I’d tell you that sounded warm. You’d ask me what kind of cake we should get. I’d tell you red velvet since I know that’s your favorite. You’d ask me, “Do you still love me?” and I’d answer without looking you in the eyes, “Of course.”
Do you remember the end?
I stopped going to the counselor. I found a woman who didn’t look like you. She had life in her eyes, joy in her laugh, and an innocent smile. I started lying that I had schoolwork so that I could spend time with her. I think you knew. I wasn’t going to stay. When I told you I was leaving, you yelled at me. You weren’t yelling out of anger. Your voice trembled with something else—with pain. You had lost us both.
I need to know, do you remember?
I can’t seem to forget.
Have you ever imagined your death? I don’t mean the dream where you pass away peacefully in your sleep because of old age—push past that. If your life was going to end, what problem, what pain, what power would end your life? For me, it was tornadoes. I’m not sure why, but I always knew the day would come when the winds would wrap me up and whirl me through the sky. I imagined it as an exhilarating, terrifying feeling. My body would feel weightless. My heart would struggle to pump fast enough, and my fingers would tingle as the tornado tossed me about. It’d sound like a freight train speeding through a tunnel, and I’d scream—or at least try—but my voice would get lost in the rush, a whisper in the wind. There would be too much air and not enough, all at the same time; I’d be surrounded by air but the pressure pushing against me would be too overwhelming.
I knew the wind wouldn’t kill me. I’d die by the debris. Something hard and strong would hit me. I could never guess what it was going to be—a brick? A car? A bathtub? I could never fully imagine what would be strong enough to break me—strong enough to knock the last remaining wind out of me—nor could I decide how it’d hit me. Would it hit me in the head and I die instantly? That seemed too easy. It’d hit my body. I’d feel myself crumple and the air escape. I wondered what it’d feel like to be empty. I imagined it as a mini tornado, as pieces of my broken body would continue to fly around me, orbiting a center that was now simply air. Maybe that’s where my soul would hide—in the eye of it all.
By 2014, tornadoes are a natural disaster Americans have somewhat conquered. We know the warning signs: an eerie calm after a storm, a dark greenish sky, a rotating funnel shaped cloud, a loud roar of wind, and a cloud of debris. We’ve developed sirens that shriek through streets so no person will be left unaware that the threat is coming. The meteorologists have even taken to categorizing the Tornados. In 2007, at the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University, a group of meteorologist and engineers created a universal way to categorize the tornadoes—the Enhanced Fujita Scale. This scale ranges from EF-0 to EF-5, denoting wind speeds between 65 mph to over 200 mph. Along with wind speeds, the scale denotes what kind of damage will be done, describing the ratings EF-0 and EF-1 as “light” and “moderate”, while deeming EF-4 and EF-5 as “devastating” and “incredible”.
In 2014, the United States experienced 839 tornadoes. 14 of those tornadoes were killer tornadoes (tornadoes that resulted in a fatality) and not a single one was an EF-5. The breakdown was as follows:
|Enhanced Fujita Scale||EF – 0
|EF – 1
|EF – 2
|EF – 3
|EF – 4
|Number of Killer Tornadoes||
In 2014, those 14 tornadoes killed 47 people.
Eric Garner was not one of them.
By 2014, the killing of Black people by police officials is a national disaster Americans have yet to overcome. Because of the multiple motives and variables we have only been able to create one warning sign: police officer in the presence of a Black person. After the devastating 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, a young boy shot while walking to his house with a bag of skittles, this generation began to focus on Black bodies being brutalized. The activists Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors were not going to take these killings lightly; they responded by creating a nation wide organization called #BlackLivesMatter. This organization brings Black issues to the forefront, starting with the most basic—we don’t want to die.
In 2014, the United States experienced 1,111 police killings. 281 of those killings were of Black people. The damage was immeasurable—there is no scale. Armed or not, Black people began to live in a perpetual state of warning.
Unlike most of the murders caused by police officials, Eric Garner’s was caught on tape. The video showed Eric Garner being accused of selling loose cigarettes, denying the charge, mildly resisting arrest, and then getting put in an illegal chokehold by an officer. 11 times Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe.” The lack of oxygen induced a heart attack; he died.
Studies show that the inside of a tornado experiences a large drop in air pressure, resulting in a lack of oxygen. The average pressure at sea level is 1013.25 millibars (mbar), and the record drop during a tornado is 194 mbar below the average. A human can tolerate a drop of 538 mbar. Meaning, the air pressure inside of a tornado does not kill, but causes discomfort—your ears pop. The lack of oxygen will not be the cause of death; it will be the vicious winds surrounding you.
Sirens—police sirens—shriek as cops show up to investigate the fight down the street. I had already broken it up. The police officers arrest the two fighters, and the moment comes to a close. The tensions calm. Two officers, one in a dark green shirt, and another wearing all black, circle me. Their questions assault the air between us: What were you selling? Were those loose cigarettes? Who was the guy you were talking to? I wasn’t doing anything. I stand my ground, feet firm. There’s a rush of movement. An arm wraps around my neck. Bystanders roar in outrage. My body is tossed to the ground. Pressure all over. Heart pumping. Fingers tingling. More cops come. Crumple my body. Voice lost in the rush. “I can’t breathe.”
The day I saw Eric Garner killed was the day I saw myself die. He spoke with the booming bass of my father, carried the pride of my grandmother, the body of my grandfather, and the skin of my ancestors. I could feel the familiarity in his movements. I could feel the tension in his muscles. I could feel the sweat on his skin. I could feel the fear in his voice. I could feel I could feel I could feel… He was real. He was human. He was me. His humanity is impossible to convey, yet it is the most true piece of knowledge I have ever had. He had wanted to live. He deserved to live.
On July 17th, 2014, I watched as I was taken by the new killer tornado.
It started from pain.