I sit down on cold tile and start praying in my head. Please. Not again. I count the squares that line the floor but keep losing track. I am distracting myself. I am bargaining with God. I am begging that the world is not so cruel.
I understand the chances. That the likelihood of living through another bad storm is slim. But I feel what I know is different. That statistics aren’t real. That logic goes further out the window each minute a siren climbs.
Within a few minutes, most of the twenty kids around me are restless and no longer willing to sit still, trapped in this dormitory basement. They are making jokes. Why aren’t they taking it seriously? It is almost a year after the storm.
“Do we have to stay down here?” A girl asks our RA, muttering something about the lack of danger.
He tells us we are free to do what we want. “No one really dies from tornadoes,” he says. He is also a kid.
A group of students move to the adjacent mailroom to look out the large windows and watch the rain. My friend T asks if I want to join them. I tell her no but she keeps asking me why. “I don’t mess with this stuff.” She remembers. She tells me it will be fine. I don’t tell her I’ve become afraid of windows.
Another girl runs into the basement from the mailroom. She is laughing. She tells us that the boys are running outside, trying to see how far they can go without getting scared. T joins the girl. I am sick. My head is spinning.
I realize it is just me and one other kid left. I have seen him before but I don’t know his name. He has brown messy hair, large dark eyes, and an expression that always made me think of him as strange. He puts on a white construction helmet I hadn’t seen him holding.
“My mom made me bring it and promise I’d wear it,” he explains with no intonation of shame. He tells me he is from Minnesota or Wisconsin, that he was taught to take these things seriously. “Me too,” I tell him. I tell him I am from Joplin. I tell him about Will. He tells me he is sorry. The two of us sit and wait for the storm to pass but the sirens are still in effect. We feel the building begin to shake.
There is a loud, booming sound, then a swirl of screams. My heart stops. The screams are piercing. They are not stopping. They are caught in someone’s throat. They are full of fear. Another person screams and then another. Rain drives harder into the building. I feel the vibrations of whooshing wind. The screams grow even louder. There is all types of noise.
The boy with the helmet looks at me, and I meet his gaze. He is scared and I am scared too. This isn’t right, I think. This is the end. The winds will pummel through the concrete walls any second. We will be crushed before we are sucked into the air, or we will be sucked before we can be crushed. My loved ones are not here. I tell him goodbye with my eyes.
A door flies open, and the girl from before comes running in, soaked with water.
“We’re okay,” she says, out of breath and smiling. She explains that they had all been outside and were scared by the nearby lighting strike and thunder. This had been the noise. She leaves for the mailroom to watch again.
I cannot stand up. I dissociate. Helmet boy and I sit there. Time blurs. At some point the RA finds us still sitting and tells us we can go back to our rooms, the storm has passed, completely. I climb the stairs back to my suite, past my roommates busy with other things, and I lock myself in. I take off my shoes and lay face-up on the tiny bed. I sob more than I did that whole year before. I call my mom to tell her I miss Will. To tell her it finally hit me. The sky took it all for good.
“I didn’t feel it until now,” I start. I turn my body to face the wall. “I can’t believe he’s never coming back.”
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