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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

Something that Could Have Happened...But Didn’t


As promised, this morning’s session opened with the same exercise of 7 things we saw, 7 things we did, 1 thing we heard, and a doodle. We then did another meditation together - a meta or “loving kindness meditation”. I’ve written about these after having done them before. The first person you hold space for is yourself. May I be safe May I be happy May I be strong May I live with ease You repeat this for 2 - for yourself, then a loved one, then a familiar stranger and then a difficult person, then all living beings. Our leader observed that the room is silent and still until the part where you’re holding space for the difficult person. Then people wriggle about uncomfortably, and cough. We listened to a poem called Could Have by Wisława Szymborska. So good to fully listen, eyes closed.  Please look this one up - it’s worth it. Then, we wrote for 20-minutes on something that could have happened but didn’t. I thought about how in 1990, a tornado (the tornado) spared the unincorporated subdivision of Montgomery, spared Oswego, IL and spared us. But what if it hadn’t? What if Montgomery and Oswego had been decimated? So that’s what I wrote about and shared with 3 others. And now, I share it with you - raw and unedited....

As we pulled into the Kohl’s parking lot, my mom observed the darkening sky. “Looks bad.” She says, as if rethinking our decision to go back-to-school shopping on this late afternoon in August 1990. “It’ll be fine!” I say, hastily opening the car door and moving towards the store. Having spent a lifetime in Illinois, neither of us our strangers to bad weather. Many a time, we’ve ridden a storm out hunkered in a basement - emerging at the all clear. We selected our purchases and soon made our way home. Mom fiddled with the car radio and was met with static. As we entered our sprawling, unincorporated subdivision, trash and tree limbs littered the roads and yards. “It looks like a tornado may have gone through - or close.” Mom observed. I held my breath, hoping she was mistaken. Mom took the last turn onto our cul-de-sac and the front of the yellow home belonging to the high school football coach and his family was open to us - the front sheared off revealing the interior as if it were a doll house. Mom gasped and I blinked as if willing it away. A tree lay across the street blocking us. Mom stopped the car. We stepped out and around the tree. Another fallen tree rested atop the home where the mailman and his wife lived. His neighbors home was gone - as if it were a bad tooth plucked from the mouth of our neighborhood. An uneven smile like that of a ghastly jack-o-lantern. “But I didn’t hear the tornado warning siren. No sirens. Did you?” I asked. Mom said nothing - moving slowly ahead of me towards our home, #16, at the end of the winding cul-de-sac. There, where #16 had stood hours earlier was a blank space allowing an unobstructed view into the field behind it. Our home. Gone. Eviscerated. And yet, our neighbors home was untouched. I looked at mom, her face set in a stoic grimace. Our neighbor, Tommy, was leaning against his van, clutching a transistor radio in his hands. He approached us. “My God.” Mom breathed, eyes not leaving what was left of our home. “I’m sorry.” Tommy said, awkwardly draping his arm around mom’s shoulder. I looked down and saw papers at my feet. I knelt down turning one paper over - a scrap, nonsensical without the remainder of the note. I took a tentative step forward, kneeling once again, picking up and turning over what turned out to be a picture of me clutching our cat Scrapper years earlier. “Oh my god! The cats!” I cried, looking back at mom. “We have to call your dad.” Mom said in a steady voice. A tear slid down her cheek, silently betraying her. Call dad? How? I wondered but knew better than to voice this question aloud. “Power and phones are out.” Tommy said. I gazed around the neighborhood, taking in the random, indiscriminate path the tornado had taken. Our home was among many destroyed. Papers, photos, books and other personal affects littered the street and yards. I turned another piece of paper over....


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