Tornadoes may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
My first storm was at night. A surprise after such a smooth day. Todd and I golfed in the morning. Later we browsed thrift stores for an old Crock-Pot I could make soap in.
I knew all the warning signs, what to look for and think about. This is the person I am, or rather, had become. I used to be calmer, the kind of girl who didn't shop at sporting goods stores for clothes that block UV rays, but things change. Melanoma rates have risen dramatically over the past 30 years. This might have more to do with tanning beds than growing up on a farm, but that doesn't matter. Both girls get the same phone call.
I knew to eat small meals, avoid spicy foods. At the Mexican restaurant we went to after our nine holes, I had rice and a soft taco. A nice Saturday in our small town, that evening Todd grilled chicken on our porch while I drank infused water out of a wine glass, lounging in my wicker rocking chair, talking on the phone to a sister in Ohio. Even though I couldn't have the wine, I liked the feel of the glass in my hand.
Thus far, my pregnancy had been so uneventful it was forgettable. I only remembered when I felt her jab and hustle within me, but this is what you want: to have a boring pregnancy, to be in and out of your prenatal appointments.
"You're easy," one of the nurses usually said to me when she unstrapped the blood pressure cuff.
I would practically stride out of the office and back to my car. Me and my perfect, shrimp-shaped fetus. My better-than-average health insurance, my normal blood work, my on-target weight gain. Even my first trimester was uninteresting, my nausea so fleeting, like being on a ship as it passed through one rough wave, just one, but then docking and getting off, back to being a regular person, not one that has another person stretching to life inside of you.
In Oklahoma, tornado season is April, May, and June. So is my third trimester.
Complex interactions between the updraft and the surrounding winds may cause the updraft to begin rotating - and a tornado begins.
I lay on the bathroom floor, considered dragging a blanket and a pillow in with me, but I didn't want to walk back to the bedroom. My cats purred and revolved around me while I tried to remember what I ate that day. Maybe the chicken didn't get cooked through. Maybe my late night snack of chocolate-covered coconut clusters was a bad idea. Either way, my stomach whirled.
I threw up, again, letting the night teach me what would happen: sleep, wake up, lean over the toilet, give in. Tomorrow was April 6th. I didn't know it yet, but I would lie on the living room floor most of the day until Todd got the idea to heft the mattress from the crib out in front of the TV for me to lounge on. One of the perks of being small: a mattress meant for our unborn child also worked for me.
While I slept on the bathroom floor, yet another storm was forming. This time in the west, not me, but which is worse? We moved to Oklahoma last August. I was pregnant by October. Both states, that of Oklahoma and Being Pregnant, were new to me, ideas I tried to make sense of but always felt like I was squinting through a window during a deep rain. Nothing clear.
Todd and I often uprooted ourselves and moved. Over the last few years we had lived in Missouri, South Korea, Ohio, and now, Oklahoma. We would inevitably move again since my contract was only for three years.
Instability. A necessary ingredient for tornado formation.
May is the month when most tornadoes are born.
We decided to name our girl Mae. One of my students made me a blanket with the name stitched into the corner, so it's official. We have to. I have always loved the name, long before I lived in Tornado Alley. When I told it to Todd in October, he nodded.
"That's it," he said.
There were 943 reported tornadoes in the United States in 2013, 811 confirmed. The worst, an EF5, killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20. Peak winds reached 210 mph. The tornado was part of a disastrous, larger weather system that spawned other tornadoes over the course of several days, including five in central Oklahoma.
I live in Ada, roughly an hour from Moore. When I talk to my family and friends back in Ohio, none of them believe me when I tell them not to worry.
They say they believe me, but I hear the doubt, the quiver of worry, in their voice. I lied to my friend Kristin when she asked if I at least had a basement, hoping she wouldn't find out that many homes here lack basements due to the high water table, the moistness of the soil. Nature is cruel in this way. A state prone to such weather doesn't allow you to hide, but I don't tell people this. Instead I say tornadoes happen everywhere. Oklahoma just attracts attention. Florida actually has a lot of tornadoes, though they lack intensity, and therefore the news coverage.
Last week my brother called my mom and told her "the clouds are making circles."
"That's a tornado," she said.
So far, in Oklahoma, there have only been seven tornadoes this year. Usually the state averages about 50 in a year. Oklahomans are hesitant to release their breath, and I am hesitant to even type this sentence. If I weren't pregnant, I wouldn't care as much, but I have dreams about the storms sweeping me up, taking me out, while Todd watches, helpless from the ground. I wrap my arms around my stomach, as though that could possibly protect her.
Still, it's only May. We have time for disaster. I stand naked in front of the mirror and try to imagine her with me, safe. The semester is over so I am home most of the day.
"Now you're just waiting," my mother says to me over the phone.
"Yes," I say. "There's a lot of that."
The human mind is able to summon the worst storms. It doesn't matter how nice of a day it is outside.
Even though the tornado is dissipating, it is still capable of causing damage. The storm is contracting into a rope-like tube and, like the ice skater who pulls her arms in to spin faster, winds can increase at this point.
June drags itself along, slow and sizzling. The heat keeps me inside while Todd is at work, but I don't mind my days. June 15th is the unofficial end of tornado season. I know, like everyone, not to pin any hopes on this, but I can't help it. We're almost there. It's almost over.
At the same time Todd and I can feel ourselves rushing towards something, almost barreling. One minute I was crashing a wedding, having a dance off with the groom, the next I'm in a robe on a Friday night, sipping red tea while I watch cloth diaper vlogs. Here we are.