She stifles her laughs. I laugh. I love these kids. I missed them so much last week, that when summer classes started yesterday, I reveled in the full feeling that was absolutely loving the exact moment in which life is happening.
Then a tractor trailer truck crashes down our quiet studio road, and the girls jump.
"Well, jeez, girls. If you're going to be jumping all over the place, at least point your feet."
"But, Miss Alivia, we have a tornado warning."
"Yes, but Miss Rachel, we live in Massachusetts."
"DID YOU HEAR THAT?"
"Ladies. Since when can you talk at the barre? Shh! It was a truck."
Well, Miss Alivia. Guess what? You were wrong. It wasn't a truck, it was thunder. And that was hail. And that was lightning.
"Girls, it's going to be okay. It's a thunderstorm, for crying out loud. Sometimes adults get a little scared of the weather. OhmygoshEmilypointeyourfeet!"
I did the only thing I know, without thinking, how to do. I taught. I made funny faces when they did the combination wrong, I corrected hip placement. My boss came into the room. I wondered if how I had just corrected was acceptable, conventional enough. I stood up straighter and spoke the combination with one side of my brain while listening to her with the other.
"We need...we need to get everyone..." She made a motion with her hands. We dancers talk this way. Words don't work so well in our mouths; movement is a better showcase of emotion.
"Kate, we need to get everyone together?"
I turned off the music and flipped a switch in my brain. Sometime in the next thirty seconds, I realized I was an adult. I wasn't going to be told what to do, I needed to be doing the telling.
Our newly-renovated, glorious studio is a former Dunkin' Donuts. The walk-in freezer we use for storage is the only semi-centered room in the building. The studio has no basement. In case you aren't aware (I wasn't), "walk-in" is short for "walk-in-and-walk-out-because-if-you-weren't-claustrophobic-before-you-are-now" freezer. No lights and low ceilings. At this point, there were over twenty of us. We got in.
Quickly, the kids with asthma were shuffled over to the door, still open, to breath air that hadn't been closed in a moldy closet for months. A few of us had climbed in, then climbed out as soon as the littlest were comforted. Outside was stifling hot, and quiet. Kate, Matt (another teacher) and I idled around the freezer door. Kate had taken up residence in the door frame, looking outside. I stood with her, unsure of how scared I should be. We live in Massachusetts. I repeated in my head. New England. We get ice storms, snow days. Not twisters.
Making small talk on the porch , mirroring the thoughts running rampant in my brain, we bounced on the balls of our feet. It wasn't raining and the air smelled funny. I felt, for maybe the third time in my life, the sense that something is wrong. Why are the clouds doing that...
I had gone quiet. "Alivia??"
"Kate," I pointed to our left. "Kate, I think that's it."
I remember yelling "GET IN!" with my boss. Get in, get in, get in. In case you've never seen a clichéd horror movie, or watched that episode of Punky Brewster as a kid, walk-in freezers lock from the outside. Kate and I held the door closed with a fraction of light piercing through. Yes, we still had power. I had seen a tornado, ran from it, and I was somehow more terrified of us suffocating to death in an old, locked freezer. My ears popped and I wondered if anyone's else had, too (they did). Later, while on the radio, (yes, on. I called in.) the meteorologist told me it was the drop in pressure that caused this to happen.
The adults took shifts at the door. Texting furiously, I willed my fingers to work. "Love you" was the only thing I could get out of them, and sometimes not even that. My Sent folder reads: "We're in a clset. Tornsdo." "Love you." "Tornado .ovng towards us" "On us" "Love you." I passed my phone around because lo and behold, the one time my crappy network has service is the one time the question "Can you hear me now?" was answered only in static and frustration. Suck it, Verizon.
The vertigo you get just before the drop in the roller coaster is what I felt as it moved over us. I thought about Joplin, and how clueless I was (still am) about their fear. I couldn't tell if my legs were shaking from inside or from the ground moving beneath them. Are we going to get picked up? How many of them can I fit in my arms at once? I was aware of my maternal instincts, and that brought me comfort. I don't know how long we stayed in the freezer, but when we climbed out and timidly opened the door to the building, we saw this.
And that was only after the first one.