"There Was A Storm, and Then There Was Us" by Belle Gearhart



We are standing next to the car, and the sky is an open wound, misty and oozing, shades of pink beginning to interrupt the bruised gray. Across the parking lot is a Dunkin Donuts, still open, despite having been beaten by a storm, grazed by a tornado. We are clutching oversized cups of iced coffee, the baby is sleeping in the backseat, and I am taking small drags off a cigarette. It is May, but it is also fifty degrees in the middle of the day, and we live in a place where both of these things can be true at once. You are looking at me with this shaded look, as if to say: I can’t believe we made it through that. But when you open your mouth to talk, instead you say: the guy inside said the roof got blown off a Dunkin ten miles away. And for some inexplicable reason we both bubble up with laughter at the image of this, of a drive-through line like a bumpy snake, and people demanding their blended coffees while the roof of the Dunkin begins to fracture and ultimately disappears, and still, people are waiting for their coffee, hands outstretched to workers who know they have no choice but to continue grinding and blending and pouring.

You don’t say it but I will: I can’t believe we just drove through a tornado. And you nod slowly while you sip your drink, and I wonder if your hands were shaking while we drove, when we couldn’t see shit out the windshield, when my hands were shaking in my lap, and I was thinking about how five hours ago we had been half-naked, swimming in a natural pool of mountain water, the sun unstoppable until it was ultimately silenced. Upstate New York showed its belly with its dank humidity while we walked the streets of Woodstock. Too early for the summer season, but warm enough out to enjoy, we had lunch at a small cafe and bar, and the hail slapped at the windows, and everyone rushed up to look at it in awe, like we had never seen ice before. And when we left the cafe, it was there, in piles on the corner, and I saw a homeless man kick at it; we were all in wonder of the weather.

We had somehow come out on the other side of it all, the wavering trees and blurred hazard lights of the cars in front of us. You had navigated through the storm slapping the mountainside around, this natural phenomenon taking everyone by surprise. And now here we are, like nothing really happened, in a parking lot of a Dunkin, allowing our bones to relax before we begin the drive back to Brooklyn. I felt myself changing through the storm, it was all imprinting itself on my brain. And months later - years later - I’ll be left with this chilly memory of being pulled over on the side of road, cars in front and behind us, as everyone makes the decision to stay put. This sense of pause that existed in the space of those moments; the collective understanding that the weather was greater than all of us, could swallow us up whole in the throat of a funnel of wind, and maybe if we just stopped, barely visible hazards blinking in a steady rhythm, it would spare us.

On our way to this Dunkin, we tried to circumvent the endless line of cars making their way down the mountain. But every side street was cut off by flayed trees, their massive trunks a road block. Sometimes it was a power lines, like a nest of rattlesnakes in someone’s yard, and everyone was standing outside with their hands on their hips, looking up and down the road, shaking their heads at the cars like us who were trying to find an escape. And all I really wanted to do when we were driving around this post-apocalyptic landscape was to put my mouth on you, wrap you up against me in the backseat of the car, and feel the warmth of your body against mine. I didn’t want to go back to Brooklyn; I wanted to salvage the trees and build a house here, this place just outside of Woodstock, somewhere I couldn’t name, but didn’t care to, as if the name would break the spell.

The storm had cleansed me in some way, and as we stand across from each other in the parking lot, your eyes wandering somewhere over my shoulder, I wonder if you felt the change as well, if your soul was a little cleaner, your brain a little more focused, and I wonder if you thought about finding a home after the chaos, in me, with me; all I want is for you to want to build your home around me.