A Psychological Twister
By ADAM BUCKLEY COHEN
Published: May 28, 2011
THE earliest warnings came from my younger son’s school. “Due to the threat of severe weather this evening,” intoned the robotic recorded voice on my cellphone, “fifth-grade promotion at McKinley Elementary has been rescheduled.” A quick look at the National Weather Service Web site confirmed my worst fears: tornadoes. The Rapture, it seemed, might still arrive after all.
Since moving to Oklahoma 14 years ago, I’ve grown accustomed to “Doppler alerts” interrupting regularly scheduled programming, and to the statewide weather map that often occupies the upper-right-hand corner of my TV screen. It all seemed some sort of overblown, middle-American hysteria, a desire to adrenalize(1) an otherwise sleepy existence. But when a massive funnel cloud carved its way across the interstate only hundreds of yards in front of my car in 2003, I realized that my Northeastern cynicism(2) was no shield against gale-force winds.
Still, striking a balance between respecting the elements(3) and living in constant fear proved challenging. We purchased a weather radio that went off at all hours of the night, alerting us to potential storms hundreds of miles away. During a visit, my father and brother hatched(4) a crackpot(5) scheme to bury a car in our backyard that would serve as a proxy(6) for the basement we didn’t have.
After my divorce three years ago, I built a new home, and decided to add a safe room. The windowless six-foot-square structure doubles as a guestroom closet and sports six-inch-thick concrete and steel walls and ceilings. You enter through a steel door that locks with a trio of deadbolts. After a 2010 tornado missed us by only a few miles, it seemed that the universe, with its sense of irony, had granted us immunity from twisters — thus rendering my investment of several thousand dollars unnecessary.
Or maybe not. Because the batch of storms predicted to hit the Oklahoma City area last Tuesday, according to our local weatherman, would be of “historic” proportions. On the heels of the tornado that had killed more than 120 people in Joplin, Mo., this was saying something. The previous weekend, as local churches had planned Judgment Day services, I’d mocked their Chicken Littling(7). Now it seemed as if somewhere Harold Camping was wagging(8) his finger, saying, “I told you so.”
As businesses and schools shut down and canceled activities at a breathtaking pace, I hurried home. Flashlights. Check. Two children. Check. The boys’ baby sitter asked if it would be O.K. if he and his girlfriend stayed. When my ex-wife called to check that we had appropriate shelter, I reminded her about the safe room, and soon she, too, had joined us.
The boys — Will, 12, and Theo, 10, each wearing a baseball helmet — loaded the safe room with Wheat Thins, Cheerios, bottled water, Curious George dolls, the fifth volume of the “Harry Potter” series, comforters and pillows. Around 5:30, the tornado sirens began to sound. Thunder clapped in the distance, and the leaden sky lit up. As rain poured down, we sat in the living room and watched as the TV flashed to a black wall of clouds with a long, tube-like tail scraping the ground. “This is a brand-new tornado coming together,” said the weatherman. “It’s heading for south Norman” — us.
Mothballs of hail began pinging(9) our windows and roof. We moved closer to the TV as it filled with images of the vortex wiping the ground clean, swallowing barns, trees, cars and trucks. This storm, now only four miles away, was consuming everything in its path. And it was on a direct line to our home.
“If you live in south Norman, go to your safe spot!” admonished the weatherman. The boys obeyed, scrambling into the safe room. But my ex-wife and I lingered in front of the TV. Perhaps we feared the intimacy. Or maybe we imagined that we could will the storm off its course.
And, indeed, just as this tornado reached the outskirts of town, it vanished. Even as chunks of Styrofoam that had been part of people’s homes rained down on my garden, we could see from the radar that the dangerous storms had passed. In Oklahoma and neighboring states, tornadoes would claim 13 lives that day, but none in Norman.
Before everyone left, the kids wanted to show us the work they’d done to prepare the safe room. They led us to the closet(10), where one by one we climbed in — the boys, the baby sitter and his girlfriend, me, and, finally, Julie. We shut the door, threw the locks. The threat had passed, yet there we all were anyway. I stood across from my ex-wife and thought, maybe this is what Judgment Day is all about: confronting the past and accepting your life in all its complexities.
That night, I tucked my older son into bed. I remembered the many nights I’d sat in darkness patting his head, assuring him that he had nothing to fear from tornadoes. “Was today scary?” I asked him.
“No,” he said. “It was fun having everybody here.” Sometimes, the things that threaten to tear us apart end up bringing us together.
Q1. What is the Rapture?
Q2. What can be said about the author’s attitude towards the tornadoes?
Q3. What’s the primary purpose of the passage?
Q4 What are meanings of the labeled words?