A few months ago, I hosted a writer who wished to remain anonymous. And they’re baaaack!
It feels fitting to publish this guest post on the heels of the inauguration ceremony, as the author expresses many of the feelings I’m experiencing, and I’m sure others are, too. We’ve entered a frightening time that conjures up memories of a different era. Fears and concerns that would have seemed absurd a year ago weigh on us. We’re not in Kansas anymore. Perhaps to reclaim our sense of safety, we must build an emotional shelter.
I don’t really have a great track record with storm cellars (that’s what we call them where I’m from, like we’re all Dorothy trying to get out of the storm). My earliest memory of them: Mommy let go of my hand. Mommy look at the stars! Pointing. Staring. Loss of balance. What I can only describe as a large thump. Nothing. Lights, whirring, panic, my mother, my grandfather, concern. Waking up in a hospital bed.
That was my grandfather’s storm cellar. The next one was different, but I was terrified of it at first. It came to my attention during the second or third serious tornado warning of my life, when I was ten or eleven.
It sat at the edge of our property line and belonged to the nice old lady who lived in the house next door. She had what looked like was once a beautiful yard, with an enormous gazebo where she had housed dozens upon dozens of birds.
The shelter was big, almost the size of my grandparent’s living room. It was spartan; not a thing in it, except what we carried down with us. Everyone brought pool chairs and loungers and whatever they used as seating for their porches, and we sat and waited. My dad stayed up, listening to the radio in his work truck to get a sense of how close the danger was. He’d come down intermittently with news and then go back up to keep watch. We all talked and waited, and talked some more, until eventually the warning got called off and we trundled out of the cellar and went on with our lives.
Something about storm cellars changed for me after that. I no longer viewed them with fear.
I don’t remember if the old lady was still living in the house or not when I started treating her storm cellar as my playhouse. No, more like a clubhouse, my secret hideout spot. My mom told me not to go down there. That it wasn’t safe and it wasn’t ours. But I didn’t listen. On hot summer days, it was tundra-like refuge where I let all my worries melt away. I tried putting up posters, but there was no tape built in this world that would hold paper to cinder block. One of them was some variation of the “Hang in There” kitten poster we all had but would never cop to owning. I thought it fitting for the storm cellar. It’s probably still down there, rotting away.
I’m not sure when dad let slip that the cellars were probably built less as storm shelters and more as fallout shelters. I filed that away as fact, until it crept over me as a revelation: These things were made to preserve the life that many people, even in a small town like mine, thought they could lose at any moment.
I hadn’t given any thought to, much less stepped foot in, either of those cellars in over two-and-a-half, maybe three decades; I live in a two-story house, in a suburb with many more suburban houses, and there’s nary a storm cellar in sight. I hadn’t given much thought to the need for shelter in case the one over our heads ceased to be. I hadn’t thought about those nights in the shelter, huddled with friends and neighbors and whoever else dad could pull in to safety, when no matter what happened, we’d at least have each other.
The safety of the shelter came calling to me last night, though. Or maybe I went searching for it. It felt like an anchor in a sea of despair, a place to go when the worst came plummeting around us. The idea of having a hole to bury myself in and escape with my friends and loved ones appealed to me in ways it hadn’t since my childhood.
The imaginary monsters I was escaping back then pale in comparison to the monsters I am seeing now. I feel like escaping. I feel like sheltering in place. The storm cellar was a place I could do both. I don’t have that now.
Where do I go? Where can I hide? Can I provide an escape for my daughter? Do I want to? Shouldn’t I be teaching her something different? How to stay and fight?
What can I do in a world that is all chaos and vitriol when I am just now learning to use my own voice and fight?
Does someone have a storm cellar I can borrow? And will we call it something different, if and when that time comes?
Photos courtesy of Unsplash (Tornado by Tulen Travel; Lightning by Jeremy Thomas; Destruction by Jordy Meow)
Please feel welcome to use the comments space below to share a coping strategy, or just to vent, rage, laugh or cry.