The red wine is for the skillet, for cooking, for mushrooms, for steak.
It is not for me.
It is not for me.
I am standing and pretending I’m unaffected, handing out bread next to the skillet and its chef, downwind of the smell of the wine.
To the people who curve in a line like ants, coming for food, I repeat, bread? bread? bread? would you like some bread? bread? bread?
And I’m thinking, wine wine wine, even while I try to focus on other things, like the serving gloves I’m wearing, my hands sticky and hot, and the faces smiling and thanking me. For the bread.
wine wine wine…
Of course there is irony here. The bread and the wine, this doesn’t escape me. This thought reminds me to beg for serenity. This thought, of bread and wine together, not alone. So I say the prayer and kick at the dirt with my sandaled feet.
That bottle of red wine is sitting in arm’s reach wrapped in a brown paper bag, and every time it’s poured to the sautee skillet- glug glug glug, the smell, so strong, it fills the humid air and blows across my face. I hold my breath and turn my head but I can’t get away from that smell. It is crawling up my chest and wrapping its way around my throat and then squeezing.
I love that smell while it begs to take the life out of me.
Suddenly, I walk away without a word, even though I’m a people-pleaser and I want to give the dinner guests the bread and I want to help. But I can’t, because the tears are coming and I’m humiliated as if I’m standing there naked. I can’t shake the feelings any more than I can shake my skin to the ground. I hate feeling out of control but this is what happens and I start to beat myself up…
I sit with my hands on my knees and my head bent, sobbing, staring at the plastic floor of a service truck, the one that became my shelter when I fled. And I wonder why we have to be so weak to be so strong. I want a break and a moment of freedom for free.
I tell my parents and my sister. I say, it’s the wine…I just didn’t know it would be that hard. I just can’t stop crying and they show me love and hold me up with words. I hear my Dad say that there’s no shame in this, that it happens to him, too. And then I finally feel the shift that comes with knowing that someone knows exactly exactly how you feel. I drive home with this, my dad’s last words as I walked away, in my head and heart…It does get better, he said.
Sometimes I just can’t wait.
The house is perfectly still and quiet, empty. I sit down and think and cry and then I hear a soft knock on the door, a tiny hand with knuckles to wood, and my boys come in. They smile and laugh and tell me about their trip to the store. I choke back tears at the love for them and in them, standing right there in front of me, bouncing. They hop from foot to foot and throw themselves at my lap. They don’t know what this feels like, and their not-a-care-in-the-world energy fills the room.
The tornado sirens start to blast and wind like I’ve never seen starts to blow. We are rushing around suddenly, grabbing blankets and the radio and the phones and calling the dog to follow us to the basement. I’m thinking of safety for my bouncers, instead of the smell of wine.
The people are still out at the festival, where I was serving bread, with the hundreds of tents and three stages and the wind and rain and wine. I think of all the people there and I feel the panic rising in my chest again and find the strength to stay calm for my boys. I tell them quietly why we’re in the basement and what the siren means. They wrap themselves in blankets on the floor and we listen to the words flowing from the speakers. We call my family to see if they’re okay, still out there with hearts of service, taking care of people, running for cover. They’re are in a camper in the wind, waiting and praying and hoping for all the people.
The storm strangely passes then, tornadoes touching down around us but not here, the wind falling away like a whisper.
There is a sudden stillness.
I carry my weak and weary body up the stairs and look out the windows. Light is breaking through the clouds and the grass and trees are acting like nothing has happened at all, dripping rain pitter-pat like applause.
My family starts to appear one by one up the stairs and back to normal. I ask Miles where his brother is and he says he came up, too. He sits down with me to watch the radar, and a few minutes later Ryan asks from the other room if Asher is with me. I shoot up from my chair and say that I thought he was with him. I slow-motion-realize that he’s still downstairs. And then I hear it, the distant sound of crying.
I run downstairs to find him in the same place he was before, scared, prepared for a blowing wind that destroys. My heart breaks and I lift him up and ask him why he didn’t come upstairs. He says he was too scared and I feel so out of control. I set him down after wiping his tears and telling him the storm has passed, over and over and over. I follow his little boy body up the stairs and I tell him I’m so sorry.
He says, “It’s not your fault, Mommy…and it’s not my fault, eider.”
I look at the back of his head with its soft white hair as he says this, and there is a stillness in me. I know that he’s right, about more than his young heart and mind can even begin to understand. It is not my fault. It is not my fault. It is not my fault.
The storm in me is like the storm in him while the storm moves over us.
Sometimes, all any of us can do is pull the strangling fear off our naked skin, to be a comfort to each other, clothing each other with words and bread-giving hands and arms for wrapping and laps for bouncing.
Until the storm passes, and the stillness comes.