by George Bailey
The windows were boarded. The sandbags were stacked. Unused batteries littered the kitchen table. Canned foods filled the pantry shelves. Flashlights were placed in every room. We had everything. Everything was ready. Everything was there. Everything but one thing—my father.
The darkness spread through the sky as the clouds began to roll in. It proliferated like a virus—a plague to the light. The wind penetrated through the walls of our home filling its halls with a chilly draft—its sound resonating throughout. The rain still hadn’t come. We waited. We waited until there was nothing to wait for. Thunder began to rumble in the distance. The hurricane was here, but my father was still missing.
I often imagined the events happening simultaneously. The thunder bellowed softly only to crescendo. The tension built up, rising like his blood pressure. The wind howled as my father winced at the pain that coursed through his left arm. Everything brewed together. The storm surge crashed onto the coast as my father fell to the floor of his office at work. A blast of thunder erupted as he fell into cardiac arrest.
The power had gone out by the time we got the phone call. It came through the land line a few hours after the rain had come. The streets were flooding as hurricane Dolly unleashed its fury. Rain plummeted from the sky, drenching everything. It had saturated the drought-ridden dirt within a matter of minutes.
My mother answered the phone almost immediately after it rang. I could hear her voice from the inside of my room where I sat motionless on my bed listening to the chaos outside. The wind hushed for a short time and I could hear her voice grow quiet as her volume dropped to a harsh whisper, I couldn’t understand anything she was saying, but I could hear the trembling of her voice.
I slowly got out of bed and walked to the dining room where she sat with her hands covering her face. I could tell she was trying to hide her tears from me. She got up quickly and tried walk away keeping her face in the shadow of her palms. I asked, “What’s wrong?” She didn’t answer. “Mom” I pleaded. She remained silent and continued to walk away from me. I moved and caught her in my arms embracing her as she let it out. In the hospital was where my father lay, fighting for his life, and all I could do, all I knew how to do, was stay strong. When word got around to my sister about him there was no attempt to hold emotions in. She fell apart without hesitation. The three of us, my mother, my sister, and I sat at the dining room table together, our silence offering the only comfort to each other as we waited for more news to come.
The silence in the room was a sanctuary of reflection. I was still young. At the age of sixteen I was immature and held almost no responsibility, and it seemed as if my world was crashing down on me. What was going to happen if he died? He was the main source of income in the family. Would my mother’s salary be enough? Would we lose the house? Would I have to drop out of school to help support the family? I was plagued by these questions as my mind struggled to come up with some sort of resolve to answer these things, but like my father, those answers never came. I was placed into a situation where the only options were to sink or to swim, and it felt like I was being pulled under, but I told myself that I had to stay strong.
The day drifted through without a visit from the sun. The rain pummeled the ground,unending, as it swallowed the city just as I was being swallowed with emotion. I retreated not to my own but to my parents’ room after some time at the table to hide under the covers searching for some comfort of my own. When I was young and I would have a nightmare I would run to my parents’ room and sleep in their bed finding the warmth to provide security and a sense of reassurance. I returned to them again to be reassured but this time the trouble was something real .
My sanctuary of reflection was an illusion. It wasn’t helping. Like the city being drowned in rain I was being drowned by my own thoughts. “Will he be okay?” I asked myself. I kept picturing how I imagined his funeral to be. I was a pallbearer—carrying the weight of the family upon my shoulders, an inevitable consequence that I was already beginning to face. I grabbed my iPod and listened to a few songs, but they offered no peace. I didn’t want to feel the pain. I didn’t want to face the truth, but there it was right in front of me. It was as much of a reality as the tears that began making their way down my face.
The night came. It was too hot to sleep without the power so I opened the window, but I continued to toss and turn throughout the night. My mother and my sister were sound asleep on the same bed, worn out by the pandemonium and hectic flay of emotions. We stuck together just in case any of us needed each other in this double catastrophe. I grabbed my iPod and set it to the radio and listened to the news about the hurricane: widespread flooding, blown over buildings, trees, and telephone poles. “Sounds like a mess” I said aloud. My sister turned over to astonish me that she was awake. She asked me, “Are you okay? You’ve hardly said a thing since this morning.” “I’m fine.” I replied with a monotoned and slightly defensive voice. Afterwards she told me something that’s been engrained in my head ever since. She said, “We’re going through this together. You aren’t alone. You don’t have to be the strong one. We can be strong together. You don’t have to hide your feelings. We’re a family for a reason. We can be strong together.” I remained silent. I felt distant from them despite our physical proximity. I thought about what she said. I wanted to be strong for them. To do that I needed to pretend as if everything was okay when it really wasn’t. I couldn’t let my emotions show. I didn’t understand what she meant by “being stronger together” when all the two of them could help to do was cry. I pondered these things until I eventually fell asleep.
In my slumber I dreamt of my father. Things that would sound kind of silly to anybody else but myself. I was falling off a cliff with a drop that seemed to go on forever, and right before I hit the ground, he caught me. I woke up remembering the words he would say to me when I was younger, “I love you from here to Pluto and back.”
The storm had passed and the sun was out. I got up out of bed and walked out of my parents’ bedroom in a bout of depression. I lethargically dragged myself to the bathroom and glanced in the mirror. My face reflected my emotions, so I masked them as best as I could and mustered the courage to go see my mother. I was hesitant, but I needed to know my father’s situation.
I entered the family room where she sat on the couch reading a book, the name of which I have long forgotten. Her eyes left the pages to follow me as I walked in. I let my weight fall onto the seat beside her and let my head fall onto her shoulders. I asked her, “Anything yet?” She replied in an astonishingly cheerful tone, “The cardiologist said he’ll be fine in a few days. We’re going to visit him later if the streets aren’t flooded.” Like the sun that rose from the clouds of the night, my heart had risen out of the torment and into joy.
It was ironically then, at that moment, that I began to cry. I let it out. The emotions that had built up inside me over the last day rushed out, leaving only a calm within me. He had made it through the storm and I had made it through the tempest inside myself.
George Bailey grew up in Edinburg, Texas along the Southern Texan-Mexico border. He is a member of the MIT class of 2014 and is a brother of the Sigma Nu fraternity; he is currently declared course 6-7 (Computer Science and Molecular Biology).
On writing “The Tempest”: The simultaneous landfall of a hurricane and severe heart attack that my father had is one of the most influential moments of my life. I tried to convey the sense of confusion, worry, and the growth of character that I experienced. I feel that these kind of events happen to a lot of people and I really tried to make the piece relate-able to that audience. It really goes to show how one event in your life can affect who you are today.