It was an ugly day in Denver, made uglier by the fact that I needed to drive out to Aurora for an MRI. I’d injured my right knee hiking two weekends prior, and this necessitated a doctor’s visit to get a referral for the MRI so that I could go back to the doctor to have him interpret said MRI.
To lessen the pain of having to drive out to the ‘burbs, my boyfriend and I decided to get Chinese food at an excellent little restaurant there first. As we hopped in the car, I took a look at the sky. It was dark, there was an odd greenish tint, and the air was perfectly still.
“Huh,” I said to my boyfriend. “Kinda looks like all those pamphlets warning you about tornadoes.”
And with that, we got in the car and drove off.
The drive was mostly uneventful for the first two-thirds, save for the occasional hammering rain that completely obscured my view. Once it cleared and I could split my attention between driving and talking, my boyfriend and I discussed our visit to the Tattered Cover the day before.
“So I was looking through this one section, and I found this one book–”
I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and looked up.
“You found this one book,” my boyfriend prompted.
“…” I said.
“…” my boyfriend replied. I stared at the sky some more.
“Are those clouds SPIRALING?”
My boyfriend looked up as well. “Those clouds are totally spiraling,” he affirmed.
I pursed my lips and stared at the red light. The proper thing to do in the event of a potential tornado is to park the car, get the fuck out, and run into the nearest building, where you assume a fetal position and shit yourself.
I looked up at the clouds happily spinning themselves right above my car. “Well, shit,” I declared, and turned when the light changed.
The spiral clouds hovered directly above us for the next seven blocks. At a major intersection, the guy in front of me decided not to brave the yellow light and stopped, forcing me to do the same. My boyfriend gave a brief eye to the bizarre clouds, then did a classic double take, staring straight up with his mouth agape.
“WOOWWWWW,” he shouted.
I looked up. The clouds were spiraling still, all right, and they were coalescing with a vengeance. I recalled a tornado warning during my teen years. Some idiot had stood outside in a parking lot right under a developing funnel cloud, taken a picture, and submitted it to 9News. This was a direct copy of that image, right down to the angle.
I looked at the obstinately red light, which I couldn’t run because of the car in front of me and the cheerfully oblivious traffic zipping along the cross street. I looked back up at the funnel cloud.
“That is definitely moving down,” my boyfriend announced enthusiastically.
“I don’t want to die!” I shrieked. I inched the car forward. Maybe the tornado would descend somewhere else along the road? Maybe it would touch down anywhere else besides right on top of my frickin’ car?
Apparently some traffic engineer somewhere had been working for Yahweh, who clearly hated me, since the light stubbornly refused to change. The funnel cloud spun faster and continued steadily downward.
I envisioned a tornado touching down right on top of my car, pressing the roof in with its force. Then it would suck the car, us still in it, into the sky. We would hover for an instant before the capricious force of nature hurled us end over end into one of the houses here, destroying both building and car. We would feel the impact only briefly before the car settled in front of the Pearly Gates. My mother, who had died three and a half years previously and left me this car, would be standing there. She would stare at us as we extricated our dizzy selves from the car, wanting to find out how the hell we were there a good sixty years ahead of our time. Then she would regard the wreckage of her precious car. A more important question would burst out of her with enough violence to send the winds tumbling and foist more tornadoes on the hapless bystanders still standing: “WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO MY CAR?!?”
I was simply not prepared to deal with this today. I inched the car forward, almost kissing the bumper in front of me, hoping the guy in front of me would realize the danger and bolt.
“It’s so 3-D,” my boyfriend whispered in awe. I decided that I would him aloft, telling the tornado it could have him if it left me alone.
I stared at the light. It fixed its unchanging red eye on me. Sweat trickled down my forehead. I resolved not to blink until the light changed. A drop of sweat reached my eye, and I flinched, then blinked.
When I reopened my eyes, the light had changed. I blasted through the 25 mile-an-hour zone at 55.
“Is it still on top of us?” I shouted at my boyfriend.
“No, I think we managed to outrun it.”
“It could still touch down and come our direction and KILL US ALL!”
My boyfriend didn’t have anything to say to that. A few drops of rain began to fall, joined by a few more and finally a whole Greek chorus as I burned rubber past a school zone. I fished around in the cupholder and grabbed my phone, which I handed to my boyfriend.
“Here, take a picture,” I said.
Alas, we had gotten too far away to get a good image of the funnel cloud, and my hopes of getting a shot at local news glory were dashed. The rain poured on us the remainder of the way to the Chinese restaurant, where we filled ourselves up appropriately for having nearly died.
The MRI didn’t uncover what was wrong with my knee.
Later that night, I discovered what you are supposed to do in the event of a funnel cloud (besides the whole “getting out of the car” routine that I so flagrantly ignored): apparently, you’re not supposed to post a message about it on Facebook in the attention-whoring hopes that your friends will say, “OMG!!!” and ask for details. You’re supposed to call the National Weather Service and calmly alert them that there could possibly be a tornado brewing in the area, tranquilize the tornado, bring it in for tests, tag it, and release it back into the wild. Or perhaps I’m confusing my nature documentaries.