When the Rules Matter

Sometimes I write because something has happened to me that I must present to an audience.  Even as the event takes place, I can see it becoming A Story, and in my head I already appreciate the qualities that are going to make it Big and Tellable.  That was the case at my house this morning.

It is February 6th and yesterday’s temperature was 74 degrees.  That is ridiculous, and it is a set-up for awful, chaotic weather.  Last night a storm brewed itself into a frenzy and tore across the southeast, killing people with wind damage and causing local flooding and generally wreaking havoc as we tuned our televisions to the destruction.  By early morning it reached east Tennessee.  Waking early, per usual, I watched the path of the storm and mapped out a disaster plan. 

There was no one home but Lucy and me and a bunch of stuffed animals.  We do not have a basement.  The first floor has an open floor plan with a large, deep closet where we hang coats and store the paintings that aren’t in use.  Oops, that’s a glass factory.  The only other enclosed place with no outer wall is the tiny toilet room in the master bath.  You know, the space that builders use to give us privacy inside the larger bathroom, the space that is about the size of your fireplace?  The newscaster announced that the storm was ten minutes from my suburb.  I gathered three pillows, my cell phone, and Lucy and moved us into the toilet room.  I left the television set volume loud so that I could hear the report. 

Leaving Lucy the floor with the pillows, I started off sitting on the toilet.  After a moment I realized that I was not following instructions:  get down and protect your head and neck.  I pushed her over with my foot and slid down the wall to the floor, wedging my ample butt against one wall and angling my legs toward the other.  Lucy looked at me from the corner of her eye, as if to let me know that the two of us sharing that space was a joke.  She didn’t move one millimeter; she never concedes her space, even in an emergency.  I just sighed and put a pillow on the toilet seat, handy for covering my head if I heard shattering glass in the adjacent rooms.  The sciatica leg fell asleep first, then my other leg tingled, then my bottom began to get numb.  I tried to shift on the pillows, telling myself the storm would pass in a few minutes.  Outside the wind was wailing and rain was pounding the house.  I listened for the freight-train noise that every tornado survivor describes, but it didn’t come. 

My cell phone rang.  It was one of my sisters sending a text.  “U ok out there” she wrote.

“Yes me & lucy r n the bathroom.”  As an afterthought, “Remind me 2 lose weight b4 the next storm.  this potty room is small!”  I was happy to hear from her.  At least they’d know where to look for my body.

It was another ten or forty minutes before the announcer said the storm had passed my area and was on to the next community.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I let the animal run out ahead of me.  Another disaster survived.   

You’re probably asking why I went into the teeny room.  After all, there are storms all the time, and people don’t usually get hurt.  Sometimes we even sleep through them.  I did it because that was the rule.  I am not usually a law and order person, except when I am, and that is when it relates to human safety.  I am a total uncontrolled stickler for safety rules.  I was raised on Army bases where there were whole departments of people to teach us about safety.  The Cold War was on, and we needed to know about getting under our desks in case of nuclear attack.  We had immunizations against every disease in the world, and our parents didn’t protest.  We sat in assemblies where somber young GIs taught us about firearms safety, and then set off hand grenades on the playground, making the school building shake. 

I did not take that early safety training lightly.  I have never run with scissors.  I don’t ride in a car without a seat belt.  I don’t breathe second-hand smoke.  I make children wear helmets for everything except walking fast.  I didn’t let my Girl Scouts hike in sandals.  With my wired imagination, I have always been able to see the end consequences of accidents and disasters, and my long-time experience in medicine has only cemented this.  I can clearly see those mangled brains, ruined SATs, and unplanned pregnancies that will result from taking one false, unprotected step.  I am Polly Prevention in a purple cape, and you will see it unfurl behind me as I run for the potty room during the next tornado watch.



One Response

  1. I think I would have a least hit the fridge first and brought some snacks to the little room.

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