Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chronicles of a Life in Linden: Shae vs. the Tornado

My first Texas tornado that I can remember happened when I was ten years old and in school. We'd had drills for as long as I could remember but we'd never had to use them. Tornadoes were legends in Texas; I expected to hear a train, though I remember wondering if I should be listening for the clack-clack of its wheels or a shrill whistle. I didn't hear either. In fact, everything was silent, which was quite a feat for the fifth-grade hallway, where several kids were hunched over, faces touching the dirty floor, the top of our heads touching cold lockers, tiny hands covering the backs of our skulls. As if that would protect us from the ceiling that I just knew was going to fall on our heads. The sky turned green. The air became so thick you could eat it. The only other time I've felt something like that was during hurricane Katrina, when my old house breathed in and waited to exhale for what felt like days.

That's when Shae started to chant. It was weird because he was sitting cross-legged -- a direct violation of duck-and-cover tornado code -- and saying words I didn't understand in an even monotone. I was grateful because he'd interrupted the deal with God I was making that I surely would be unable to keep (I promise I'll be good forever; I promise to clean my room every day; I promise to give my book money to the communion plate). "What are you doing?" I asked him. "I'm talking to Buddha," he said. And the storm stopped.

Now, you have to understand that Linden didn't have any Buddhists, at least as far as 10-year-old, sheltered, close-minded Kacy was concerned. You were either Baptist or Methodist or you wore long skirts and spoke in tongues or you were a heathen; Catholics had to drive 22 miles to the closest church and so that didn't count. Why had Shae's God stopped the storm when mine didn't?

Shae was already mystical to me because he could eat an entire hoagie sandwich without any help. In my memory, he brought one to school every day piled high with shiny delicately sliced meats -- I imagine mortadella, salami, chorizo, and serrano ham with lettuce and tomato peeking out of the side. Now there's no way that's true because Milsteps only carried Carl Buddig turkey and bologna and something vaguely resembling meat studded with olives and pasteurized cheese. But the way I remember it, he carried a feast with him. Somehow Shae's ability to eat man-sized sandwiches and to stop tornadoes made him magical. Maybe he was.

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