The phone rang late one night and woke me from a deep sleep. I didn’t know it then, but the words I heard on that phone call would alter my life path forever.
“Hello?” I answered. My voice cracked as I struggled to say the word. I was still half asleep.
Two of my aunts and my uncle were on the phone. My dads two sisters and his brother. I thought to myself “This is odd.” I couldn’t figure why everyone was on the call and why were they calling me at 11:30 pm?
“We need to talk to you” was the next sentence I heard. I could tell by the seriousness in their voice that it was something major, but I never could have imagined what was coming next.
I cant remember the exact words after that, but it was something like….. “There was a bad storm last night. There was a tornado in Southern Illinois by your dads house. It hit your dads house. Julie (my stepmother) and Danny (my half brother) are at the hospital.”
Then there was a long pause.
“Is everyone ok? Where is dad?” I replied.
The silence was now terrifying. The next five words I heard changed me forever.
“Your dad didn’t make it.”
Confusion set it. What did they mean? He didn’t make it to where? Where was my dad?
The sudden feeling of a three thousand pound weight on my chest was heart wrenching. I couldn’t breathe. I was frozen in time.
When I finally came to, all I could think to do was to call my dad. I hung up on my aunts and uncle and immediately dialed my dads number.
“This is Steve. Leave a message.” I got his voicemail.
I hung up and dialed again. Same thing. Panic began to set in.
I called my brother. No answer. I called my sister. She answered, although I’m sure now that she wishes she never did.
“Have you talked to Dad?” I said as quickly as I could.
“No…why?” she answered.
It immediately became clear to me that she didn’t know. I was silent. I couldn’t be the one to tell her. I wasn’t even sure that I could bring myself to say the words.
“You’re scaring me. Whats going on? Where is dad?” she asked me.
“Are either of your roommates home?” I asked my sister. I knew she was going to need to have someone with her when I delivered what would be, the worst news of her life.
“Yes why? You’re scaring me. What’s going on?” she said.
“Put the phone down, go get your roommate and let me know when your back.”
How was I going to do this? How was I going to tell her that our father was dead. She was going to hate me for being the one to tell her.
I began to focus on her. On her feelings. I resisted my own emotions. I needed to be the big sister right now. I needed to get my little sister through this. I needed to take charge.
“Ok I’m back and they are with me. Tell me what the hell is going on!”
I could hear the fear in her voice. I knew she felt something was wrong. I knew she felt like whatever I was going to tell her was bad….very bad.
“There was a tornado in Southern Illinois tonight. It hit dad’s house.” Then I paused.
“Ok so where is he? Is he ok?” she asked?
“No………………………………… He died.”
That three thousand pound weight was back on my chest. I gasped for air as I heard my sister on the other end of the phone whaling in agony.
Her roommate took the phone and asked me what happened. My sister was crying so hard they couldn’t understand what she was saying. I yet again delivered the horrible news and asked her roommate to pack my sister a bag and to bring her to my house.
This had to be a terrible nightmare. It couldn’t be real. Who dies in a tornado? This was giving a whole new meaning to the movie The Wizard of Oz.
I hung up the phone and started to pack a bag myself. We were going to immediately start driving down to my dad’s house.
I couldn’t think. At that moment, I couldn’t put an outfit together to save my life. I was stuck. There were so many thoughts going through my head at the same time that I couldn’t comprehend any of them. It was all white noise.
I had to stop myself. I had to sit down. I had to exhale. I had to process the depth and the reality of what was happening.
May 6, 2017 marks the 14th anniversary of that fateful day. Although I would prefer to wipe away that memory, I will never forget that time and that place. The night I got that horrible news. The details of that night are cemented in my memory forever.