A Death in the Street and How to Feel About It
A Completely Unhelpful Primer (or, Ruminations on a Coming Storm)
Alright then, let me a propose a trap for today, a place we all meet to discuss the unfathomable. It is possible I intend that as both metaphor and semaphore. I will try and remember to drop breadcrumbs as soon as I orient myself to the stars.
They say we might have a tornado coming, we might have a lot of tornados coming, they’ve been saying it since yesterday. Early this morning a small twister in Texas picked up a pick-up truck and bowled it, rolled it across the highway, tires over tits, but the driver recovered and drove onwards. This was a video my smart phone thought I needed to see, maybe it was something about the resiliency of the human spirit or maybe just about how even a storm is capable of expressing mercy.
It is useful that we get alerts about weather events and miracles but nothing to remind us that heartbreak is coming.
It certainly seems immanent, and just to be coy, I am here referring to the big storm. The wind is clattering my tin-roof shed and billowing canopies of dust and leaf clouds, scratching at windows, roaring into helpless dark rooms and swaddling itself in ignored space. There are children playing somewhere, and while yes, that’s undoubtedly true in the abstract, I mean that there are actual children very nearby to where I am, they are probably my neighbors. I can hear them shout and laugh, an uneasy harmony woven into the deafening crescendo of another gale announcing itself as the prequel to the end of time-as-we-knew-it-five-seconds-ago, like a wave crashing, like a planet careening, like an army of Hindu gods avalanching into a darkened realm. Everyone knows the sound of wind, everyone knows the guilty and delicious scent of despair, it moves like a terror which enwraps the heart and trips a sensory ecstasy that is both like running away from doom and trapped in a white-knuckle embrace of it in the same breath.
The headline arrived this morning, but it was long after the word of mouth had already gone around. A thing you may not know is that this city is expanding, and yet shrinking ever smaller, simultaneously. We are bound by the ghosts of promises and the whispers of death, and the blind reverence of history and the relentless forgetfulness of creating it, we are not moved by horror or elevated by joy, we float at a certain level over the comically marred streets, we create our spirits and embrace them, and erase them, and laugh about them dying as we mourn the act of crying. It is a place that is literal with ghosts. To be haunted here is to know the way without a guide.
Yesterday in the afternoon, an elderly woman was carjacked, cast from her seat in the parking lot of a supermarket. Four young teens fell upon her and then raced off in her car, but stories like this are never quite alarming enough, because darkness sets in like the sudden arrival of a descending twister. An arm caught in a seatbelt, she was dragged for blocks, bystanders running after, horrified and helpless. Finally her battered and lifeless body dropped to the street, separating at the seam of her shoulder, finally freed from her tormentors, who themselves had already been authored into their own secret books, musty and yellowed pages full of cryptic mystery and dark revelation, epiphany, sorrow, tragedy and unfinished climaxes, falling off the page like falling off a cliff.
Tornadoes can come from the inside, too, from hidden, internal winds crossing in the hearts of children. These, also, are not preceded by text alerts.
By evening time, people were talking about it over drinks in the neighborhood bars where that car had careened past tugging it’s unexpected passenger. Streetlamps came on as usual. It was a clear and temperate night. Tornadoes were forecast for the next day, and all the other tomorrows, but they were still only an idea then. They were still concepts, like the vagueness of memory that recalls inhuman brutality, and the oxymoron that describes the phrase ‘inhuman brutality’. This abomination, this human event, had happened only hours before. A friend related the incident to me over drinks at the corner bar. It happened right here, she said, and then repeated it several times, as if to remind herself where we were.
The river is still flowing calmly and wordlessly past the great crescent arch of shoreline where the city blinkers and sways on it’s banks like a guilty bandit hiding his eyes under the brim of his big hat. Yesterday a woman died in the street. Today it’s the wind, as predicted.
I wonder how much of my immediate landscape it will carry away, how much it will roar into the soundless void of a million hearts beating alone and together, imagining a self-invented legend to life, and their own bodies a rapture.
A rattle of an untethered door tapping against its frame somewhere, the shriek of bending metal, the silence of the absence of chattering birds and of children. This I notice suddenly. A longer space between gusts, as if I might forget how powerful and catastrophic that last one sounded before it whispered to an end, an eternity of solutions and absolutions arrived and passed in those few seconds.
They say that right before a tornado, the world goes still, everything is silent and eerily calm, and the sky is bathed in an ethereal yellow glow. That may also be what they say about death or enlightenment, I can’t remember which. I’m not sure if it’s true that they say that.
The ground underneath me is clear and spotless for miles. I can’t remember how I got here. I wish I could be of more help.
~New Orleans, 22 March 2022
Update: This piece was finished about an hour before a tornado ripped a swath through the city of New Orleans. Hurricanes and random violence are common here, but twisters are not. It passed about a mile from the author’s house. At roughly the same time, the news announced that the 4 teenage suspects in the carjacking––one 17-year old boy, one 16-year old girl, and two 15-year old girls––had been taken into custody, having been turned in by their parents. The condition of the man in Texas is unknown but assumed unharmed. The condition of the author is safe, if not still dropping breadcrumbs.