I first heard about the tornado watch from my sister-in-law, Jacqueline. She called on her cell phone from the outside world. It wasn't a tornado warning, she emphasized, just a watch. But still: here in Massachusetts? Just the chance of a tornado in our very un-midwestern state was an unlikely, alien threat. A mad dog loose in the neighborhood. An escaped prisoner who'd been convicted of grisly crimes.
I went out for a walk to mail a letter. I didn't like the look of those clouds to the north. I turned around again and opted for the car. At the post office, the lady behind the counter hummed a few bars of the Wicked Witch theme from "The Wizard of Oz." People were talking about it at Stop and Shop. It was odd to hear "tornado" in idle supermarket conversation. In the checkout line, a distant rumble of thunder gave me pause. I didn't like pause. I picked up Matt at a friend's house just ahead of some rain plops, with a slight feeling of intervention, but not a real one. More like a rehearsal. On our way home, NPR was interrupted by alarming electronic shrills and deep beeps. I recognized them: the sounds from "This is only a test. If this had been a real emergency, you would have been alerted to go to the nearest shelter, etc. " Except this was the real thing! A computerized-sounding voice droned through a list of cities and counties, most in the central part of the state, which were threatened by severe storms, including the possibility of tornadoes. By the time we got home, turned on the TV, it was more than rumor, it was videos of funnel clouds and flying debris and crunched buildings in downtown Springfield. And for the next hour it was a weather map of our tornado-proof state being attacked by a stream of incoming, multicolored amoebae parts of which indicated tornadic (they loved throwing that adjective around) activity, alongside a steady feed of Youtube videos showing black skies and down-reaching, whirling gray smoke like an evil cotton candy machine.
We are not in Springfield or any of the other little towns in central Massachusetts that improbably got whacked by twisters today. Arlington might have been in another state for the little we got--some rain, a stiff breeze, a few spells of very flashy lightning. Most of us were stunned witnesses to the misfortune of our western brethren, a gap it's hard to bridge, even by empathy. They got the tornado; it missed us. Bummer.