Last Wednesday evening I called my parents as I do most nights, but I wasn't able to reach them. I didn't think much of it until I caught the tail end of a news report about possible tornadoes in their area. I started to worry. I called again. I called their cell phones. I lost my temper with the children. I called some more. I turned off the television.
Just before I slipped into hardcore panic, I remembered something: this was my parents, they have been making everything okay for me for 35 years and so they would be just fine.
When I was pregnant with Big E, my obstetrician sent me for a thyroid ultrasound. As I lay on a table looking not at happy, gray-black pictures of my growing baby but at ominous heat-sensitive images of large nodules in my neck, the technician pondered aloud, "I wonder how they treat cancer when you're pregnant?"
Over and over, my husband tried to comfort me, to tell me that the ultrasound tech was wrong and that everything would be alright. Then and now, I loved him in a way my words cannot do justice and I cherished his support and efforts to cheer and console me; yet, I knew that he was human and so I argued that he, like me, had no way of knowing how things would turn out. He had never banished the monsters from my closet, so I wasn't able to stop shopping for my casket until my parents came and took us out for pancakes and told me that they just knew everything would be fine. As always, they were right.
The tornado, it turns out, bypassed my parents' town but devastated the entire area around them. They called later that night after driving through the wreckage until they could find cellular service. They came up the next day to babysit and enjoy our electricity and running water, as the storm had spared their property but left them in the dark ages. While here, they pored over news reports and exclaimed over YouTube videos of buildings demolished along the route my father had driven home under black skies and pounding hail just minutes before the twister hit. Everything was okay as always, but it almost wasn't.
The next night Big E asked me a lot of questions about tornadoes and how it was possible that they could happen in Massachusetts, and I tried to be matter of fact, pointing out the unlikelihood of another big tornado when the last major tornado in the state had been over 50 years ago. She kept asking and I knew she wanted to hear without equivocation that it would be okay, but I know I am human and so instead I hugged her and told her I loved her and pointed out that we have both a basement and the weather channel.
When she was still awake and teary at 10:00 p.m., I got into bed with her, kissed her forehead, stroked her hair and watched her drift into sleep as I whispered over and over, "Everything will be okay. I promise."
Today when I went to pick her up at Daisy Scouts the woman next to me turned and asked whether this was the last meeting of the year. When I told her yes, she laughed and loudly sighed, "Thank God!" Because I felt the exact same way but worried too much about Daisy-decorum to admit it so publicly, I liked her right away. I noticed that she looked maybe a year or two older than me, that she had pretty skin, a cute haircut and an enviably white t-shirt. Then I noticed that she had a bandage on her wrist covering two catheters that appeared to pierce her veins.
I tried to think of an innocuous explanation but came up short, and then another mother scurried over and asked her how she was in a way that told me the answer was not good. The woman told her about her first week of chemo and its side effects and the arrangements she'd made to be sure her daughter was cared for during the treatments. It all sounded very new and very scary and like one of my worst nightmares.
I wondered if just before her diagnosis anyone had told her that everything would be alright, and I wondered if before she started her treatment she had promised her Daisy Scout it would all turn out just fine. And I really, really hoped for both of them that everything really would be okay.
Tornado devastation photo credit: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
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