Last night’s storm was incredible. The high winds driving the sheets of icy rain over our home with such force that it sounded as though it might knock out our skylight and start flooding our bedroom. The university near our home used its alert system to let everyone know there was a severe thunderstorm warning in effect until 2 a.m. And so I found myself lying in bed wide awake until after 2 a.m. looking at Instagram and feeling uneasy.
I’m not typically afraid of storms, but I am typically afraid of that alert system. They test it a few times a year, and I am filled with terror every time. The siren reminds me of the air raid sirens from WWII, and my reaction to it drives my conviction of a past life during that war even deeper. Quite frankly, I lose my shit when the damn thing goes off, internally of course, I still look totally calm on the outside. It is only made worse by the fact that in between siren blasts, notifications and instructions are given by a disembodied, apocalyptic voice, and we live just far enough away that I can never quite make out what it is the voice is saying. It makes me feel that I am missing something of dire importance, something that could save my life, maybe.
I woke up this morning with the air raid sirens still going off somewhere deep in my psyche. I am not good with dates. But when I looked at my phone and saw that it was Feb 25th, of course I knew that it was my youngest daughter’s sixteenth birthday. She is not with me. I have not seen her in over two years, aside from the two days she was in town for my wedding, during which I barely got to be with her. She did sit on my lap long enough for our friend Doug to snap a picture, and when my wife and all of the kids piled in bed with us to talk at night, she lay next to me and let me stroke her hair, her arm draped loosely over my torso as we talked and laughed, and she took selfie after selfie on my phone.
My phone is filled with pictures of my daughter. I remember the way she smelled when she was born. How she was placed on my chest as I fell back on the bed, triumphant, wearing nothing but a blood-streaked bra and a smile on my face. Eight even pounds of pure perfection returning my adoring gaze. Love at first sight.
I am still madly in love with my daughter. I know she still loves me, too. But that isn’t enough to make her want to live with me. For a time, I was afraid she would never want to see me again. I was afraid of her absence in my life like I’m afraid of the air raid siren with its disembodied voice. Even now, after the phone call during which she said, “Yeah, I’ll come see you. How about a week in late July?”, and my heart swelled and I was flooded with joy, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night afraid that she’ll change her mind, afraid that all I’ll ever have of her are my memories and a cell phone full of pictures. It’s an irrational fear, but it has worked its way into my bones after so long away from her. That’s the thing about real tragedy. Even after it’s over, it lives in you forever, like the love a mother has for her daughter.