it was one of those moments you knew you would write about later just because you were going to remember exactly how it seemed the whole city had emptied out except for the two of you and the cars that kept insisting on running into each other out in the street. you see the electricity was out and we lived at the corner of an intersection of two streets each of which thought it was the thoroughfare and so drivers coming all directions assumed they had the right of way and this was after two days of “severe weather” as they call it down south for where I live now never gets severe weather except in their imaginations so buildings had lost walls and windows and power lines were down all over.
we had a battery powered radio because for some reason we kept up with things like emergency kits for the home or maybe it was because at that time I had no stereo in my car but carried around a radio cassette player and listened to the dead kennedys on a little mono speaker and I guess that was punk or it was pathetic or something there were a whole bunch of us struggling to survive our young adulthood which is difficult enough if your sanity is not in question well every single one of ours was. by that I don’t mean that we drank too much and ran naked down the street but rather that we drank when we could and took whatever drugs we could afford and various ones of us either put out our lit cigarettes in our own flesh or bled ourselves in closed door rituals that at the time no one else knew a thing about or some of us would starve ourselves and others of us fall out of windows three flights up without wings.
later I heard that a number of people did not expect me to live but this was no news to me as I did not really expect to live either. on the other hand the drama itself was mostly nil and although we did not know what else to do but self-destruct we did seem not to have the full-on jones for death that would have been necessary actually to have killed any of us.
stories get written of sordid city lives where he drinks too much and hits her and next door they shoot up between police raids and whore themselves out to pay for the habit and all the shit that goes on and has gone on and will always ever go on but no one yet has written about what it is like to come out of the suburbs slightly damaged and keep oneself on the borderline between respectability and everything your mother meant when she talked about that book she saw once that she knew was evil just by looking at it no one writes about part time jobs held one after the other and never once being fired but always at some point simply walking out because you could not stand it anymore not that anyone was cruel to you or harassed you or threatened you but you knew that simply doing the job was going to kill you if you kept going in even though it probably never had and never will kill anybody else.
we poured out of long paved or concrete driveways down into the sidewalked city where it was actually more likely that we could survive in close quarters than inside the insides of insulated isolated punctual ranch homes although friends and family would wring their hands over rumors of living rooms turned into ever-evolving performance art and imaginary snuff films the stuff of ad hoc scripts pulled from short lifetimes of mundane abuse. whether we were bored to tears I cannot remember so much as being overcome with long-term futility as though it were the only possible conclusion. thus boredom signals but less than half with the rest jostled by a heterogeneous headache of a party thrown between couch sitting resigned and drunken bottleneck punctuated meandering rage.
in the mornings I would carefully layer my body with two, three, four shirts as though dressing a future wound. clothing chosen from secondhand wire hanger racks for hue and quantity of fabric only style did not matter. this particular apartment was full of overflow from the one other corner in the city where those of us who appreciated architecture without right angles found places to our liking and this one building stood isolated on a street mainly of small businesses and slightly more upscale housing but still we often opened our front door to have fall in a homeless sleeping body which we would try gently to prop up so that we could close the door but we didn’t kick them out everyone’s got to sleep somewhere.
now I would worry about a burning cigarette in the hands of someone barely able to stay conscious but this was before the fire so fire was not yet possible as far as I could tell it happened to other people.
it was so dark that night without streetlights or neighborlights or even ambient citylight bouncing back to the ground from the low rumbling clouds until the lightning sent brilliant shards crashing through windows otherwise completely opaque and we could hear the storm approaching on the radio which if you tune to the amplitude modulation band will register with a crackle of interrupted order every strike within fifty miles or so and after some time of listening to staccato of radio waves ripped apart each louder and longer than the last until finally the flickers at the horizon began to play in time with the bursts from the speakers and although I could play a burning of atlanta metaphor I will just stop short and note that a certain karma plays itself out between the clash of the warm gulf waters and the cold arctic air every summer and spring but do the tv preachers ever seem to notice this no only if a storm manages not to destroy a church will anyone be able to make out god’s hand in any of it.
her mother lived in an apartment not that far away but far enough that there was electricity and carpet and television and a refrigerator and air conditioning and the sofa bed we slept on that night and even though I would rather have been underground where things like tornados cannot really come after you the simple dispersal of light from functioning lamps seemed sufficient storm cellars as though their circles of enlightenment would send an implacable whirlwind winding off in another direction when it saw us gathered there for comfort.
whether any came near I cannot say though I suspect if I do not recall waking to a roar we were never in great danger. I slept very soundly and had to get up and go to work the next day and now I cannot remember if this was the same storm that was followed by yet another line of storms if it was that same day that same year when a squall line raced across alabama the entire morning and entered georgia by noon and was upon us by 2pm I had my eye on which ditch to dive into across the parking lot from the strip mall warehouse I was working in which would probably have killed us all if the blanket-issued warnings had rung all the way true to my imagination which had an unbroken undulating line of twisters reaching from Columbus to Rome and advancing mindlessly towards fields and cities swirling tentacles of cloud and thunder reaching down to tap the earth and decide who was going to die that day.
I never quite understood the architecture of the deep south in that almost no protection from tornadic storms is built into any building on purpose. some are partially underground so you can always take cover in the basement if there is one but in many there is no basement at all and barely even a foundation especially alarming is the number of cementslabbed, corrugated steelwalled, open floored, flat roofed warehouses in which a worker has no protection whatever from flying, usually sharp metal debris and no place to shelter from the winds themselves. that was the sort of warehouse I worked in then and why I thought if I heard a roar behind us–we faced east; they usually come from the southwest–I was going to jump off the loading dock and drop myself into the ditch across from us about fifty feet.
the sky darkened and the air raid sirens sounded and we waited and although the trees did themselves blow in violent circles nothing much more happened than usual large hail explosive lightning and that still green sky that tells you something somewhere is developing into something you’d rather not see or hear or touch. when the air pressure drops your body will tell you that you are in danger and I have run before in front of mud tinged clouds bunching up and circling around and I have sat in the hallway while bolts hit the ground and trees all around the house and I have listened to a deluge made concrete by balls of ice as big as my fist but the one thing I dreaded seeing has still only come upon me in nightmares.
now that I am old I can tell them what to do when I see them but at the same time I am never surprised when they show up which renders the scene at once more and less tense rather than stare one down right into its column of occulted terror I tell myself that they disappear when I look away which is true but I still don’t know what lives inside of them and cannot persuade myself to find out even when I know the dreamscape is internal to me and is no bodily threat.
it may be that the primary trauma will only ever dress up and that there would be nothing to see in there but terror itself absolutely sheer so that even if it were invisible there is no opening the eyes to it without losing one’s sight or something more dear.
it would not be entirely inaccurate to suppose that the maw at the eye of the cyclone is that of saturn himself or more accurately jehovah voraciously gulping down his children into eternal torment in the fire of his own creativity the reverse narrative of life arising out of the swamps on an island of rock accreted from dust expelled by exploding stars having run their course as ovens where births matter itself from itself after gathering itself to itself the sun you know does not think through the consequences of what it is doing but ejects daily enough energy to keep us spinning for another three billion years.
where we were forged there will we be consumed again but what they got wrong what they forgot to tell me is that the horror show they cast from the mechanical procession of matter and energy is only a dream of an ego that assumes its immortality which is to say which grasps at life as though it wanted to witness its own destruction. death is a bed of flowers loam and moss and the draught of dreamless sleep whereas hell is the waking hallucination of he who refuses to let go even when it would be the most compassionate gift he could bestow upon himself and everyone around him.
to protect me from death they gifted me with a livid riot of careening razor edged shrieking demons surrounding a shapeless yet grinning face made of gristle and cavities. remember this when you tell your children what god does to little girls who lie. then act surprised when they complain of visions of a future hostile and deformed.