Tornadoes and Ice Cream

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
“Dad, I had another tornado dream last night.” My father glanced over at me from the driver’s seat, his hands at 10 and 2, the perfect model of good driving. He turned his glance back to the road and a grin peaked from the corner of his mouth.
“You should look up the meaning,” he said. “Especially since you’ve been having them so often.” He and I were driving home from a visit in the hospital, after a short detour to have a Mexican food feast in honor of my mother, who was recovering from her hysterectomy. The ride was predominantly silent, but every once in a while, lyrics seeped from the speakers. “If I ever feel better...” they crooned, mirroring my feelings of uncertainty. Despite my father’s whisper of a grin, I could see that he was tired. He had been staring at a screen for work, crunching numbers, and only taking a break to refuel his body. But even in that short reprieve from working, he still felt far off and lost.
My mother returned home from the hospital the following day, when the warm summertime glow of the earlier week had been suffocated in the sky, choked out by stratus clouds and a week-long proliferation of tornadoes in my nightmares. Her surgery had been harder on her body than she had expected. And yet she had still made me lunch: chicken noodle soup to settle both our stomachs.
“Where is Dad?” I inquired. “I haven’t seen him in hours.”
“He’s in an important board meeting.”
My mind flashed back to post-surgery images of my mother sleeping, wrapped up in warm blankets like an imam leading my prayers for her comfort and recovery. My father, as much as he wanted to join me in my benediction, was stifled by his work, sucked into his screen, squinting as if that would make the numbers resolve themselves.
The sudden scrape of my mother’s chair against the floor pulled me back to our conversation. “Do you think Beth is going to fire him?” I asked ruminatively.
“I don’t think Beth has that kind of power,” she responded, and without making eye contact, picked up our dishes and took them to the sink.
In my mother’s persistence to stick to her old routines, it was time to do laundry, and I got to pick the movie we’d watch to pass the time. Within the first few minutes of She’s the Man, my mother casually got up and left. She was gone for a long time, missing all of our favorite parts, causing my brain to jump to the worst conclusions possible: she was throwing up in pain, she tripped down the stairs and was injured, her stitches had opened up and she was bleeding out. My stupor only broke once I heard the sound of my father’s voice emanating from the porch. As much as his voice had provided me comfort in the car the day before, it’s new use of hushed tones was unsettling to me.
Walking down the stairs, I scanned the living room for signs of my mother resting on the couch. In place of her silhouette stood a laundry basket, the only trace that she had passed through the room. I almost began chastising myself for not helping her carry it when my thoughts were broken by my parents’ murmurs reaching my ears from the porch.
I stepped outside into the gray soup that was the sky. The air didn’t feel any different than it had in my nightmare the day before, but rather than seeing a tornado approaching from the distance, like in my dreams, I found my mother and father sitting across from each other. My father looked up at me and that same shadow of a smile returned to his fatigued face.
“So, Dad, did you get fired?” blurted out of my lips, but the bubble of nervous laughter that was meant to accompany it caught in my throat.
“Actually, yes. I did.”
Suddenly, my feet became very interesting. The sight of them was much easier to digest than the brutal honesty from my father’s kind eyes. “You’re joking, right?”
My eyes closed and the twelve skinny tornadoes from the night before swirled my vision. When they opened, the blurriness remained as my eyes and nose watered the roots growing from my feet, anchoring me to the chilling concrete of the porch.
It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.
“IT’S NOT FAIR!” I screamed as I wrenched my rooted foot off the concrete, my knee almost to my ear, and smashed it back down as if to teach the porch a long-deserved lesson.
“Come, sit by me.” My father’s voice was calm, and he waited patiently for me to gather my strength for the three-step journey to his side. “I actually feel very peaceful. I haven’t been happy at work for a long time.” Again, my mind returned to the hospital room and my dad crunching numbers instead of holding my imam mom’s hand. It was in that hospital that his eyes looked bruised from long nights of staring at spreadsheets instead of vivacious and jovial. He had always been the Jolly Ginger Giant, and for the first time in weeks, I saw some of that return to his tired, yet reposed face.
My father put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. My head, too heavy for my neck to hold, found itself on his chest. His heart beat steadily, matching the in and out of air from his lungs. His peace enveloped me, the sounds of what made him alive seeped through my ear, a small frog pond pooled on top of his belly from the steady flow of my tears.
We all sat in that silence, soaking in our new reality together, for a long time. My mom took a breath and looked over at my father and me. “Let’s go get some ice cream,” she suggested.
An unexpected laugh broke through the dam of my quivering lips. I looked at her across the porch and turned back to look at my father. The upturned corner of my father’s lips had grown into a full blown grin, his crow’s feet creasing at the corners of his eyes. He stood up and helped my mother out of her chair and to the car. Watching them walk together, hand-in-hand, I felt my stomach knots release, and though the skies didn’t clear and there wasn’t proverbial sunshine breaking through to shine light on the moment, the tornadoes and the turmoil of the last few days were scared off by the powerful serenity that ebbed out of my parents joined hands.
My father started the car, looked at my mother and grinned, made eye contact with me in the rearview mirror, and began driving. As we pulled away from our house, I buckled up, knowing that there would be some heavy winds in our future, but I felt peaceful in the fact that at least we were facing it together with some ice cream in our bellies.