Home Inventory after a Tornado (or, Everything We Lost)
Coffee Maker. $40. Age: 2 years. Location: Kitchen. Purchased by my wife and son as a gift for my 40th birthday, left wrapped on the kitchen counter for me to discover when I woke. Lost beneath debris, beneath mud, beneath so many splinters of wood.
Tea Kettle. $30. Age: 12 years. Location: Kitchen. A wedding gift from my wife’s parents when we married, a blue teapot that once whistled when the water was boiling, that whistled its last just hours before a whistle of another kind, the whine of sirens beyond our windows signaling us to move, and quickly, downstairs.
Toaster. $40. Age: 3 years. Location: Kitchen. Purchased when my son, then three, began requesting cinnamon toast for breakfast. Caught on fire only once, when we attempted to toast raisins atop the bread. Lost alongside every other kitchen appliance when the winds rolled in from the west, when they blew onward to the east and took with them the roof of our home.
Blender. $30. Age: 2 months. Location: Kitchen. A recent purchase by my wife to make piña coladas this coming summer, a hearkening back to the weekly trivia night we attended before our son was born. Team Name: Haga Naga. Highest Winnings: $60. She drank dollar beers all night but sometimes started with a colada, to pretend the Mississippi was something other than the Midwestern river it was: a waterway forked through the heart of Tornado Alley.
Refrigerator. $800. Age: Came with house. Location: Kitchen. The only appliance intact but broken, its doors ajar and leaking spoiled milk and cottage cheese. Found on what remained of our front lawn after the F4 swept across St. Louis and razed the walls, after 246-mph winds left only a single can of Coke untouched, standing silent inside the fridge, undisturbed and upright.
Hairdryer. $30. Age: 1 year. Location: Bathroom. For my wife’s use, her hair far thicker than mine, though in recent months my son began using it as well: While my wife dried her hair, a begging that warm air blow his way too, a request met with giggling, with glee, with gusts of heat puffing his hair in tufts. Hair I held beneath my hands, my weight across both of them, as the wind raged above the basement stairs and roared a rattling, a jet takeoff, a freight train.
Hairclippers. $30. Age: 10 years. Location: Bathroom. Came with a series of plastic guards, to lessen or lengthen the shave. Used to shave my beard, then my head once my hairline receded: a task my son did not join in, as he did the hairdryer, a task done behind the solitude of a closed bathroom door.
Washer/Dryer. $200. Age: Unknown. Location: Basement. Purchased from the classifieds when we moved in. Transported to our home in a friend’s truck, after which we learned to run the dryer six times in order to fully dry our clothes. Located in the storage room where we hid, beneath the stairs, when the tornado sirens began.
Sofa (Two, Mid-Century). $500. Age: 60 years. Location: Living Room. Pea-green set gifted from my parents, when they moved from my childhood home to a retirement community; gifted to them from my grandmother, the set of sofas upon which my mother once watched Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, the landing on the moon. Found but unrecognizable, the stuffing shredded, the once-green upholstering covered in a thick layer of sludge.
Dining Room Table. $600. Age: 20 years. Location: Kitchen. Oak table with drop leaf edges, extension panel, six chairs lining its length. Gifted from my wife’s father when our son was born, brought to our house in the back of his pickup. Site of daily breakfasts, evening cookouts, Sunday crosswords spread across the table. Site of splitting just moments after supercells darkened the sky.
Bookcase. $100. Age: 12 years. Location: Living Room. Wedding gift from friends, an antique surprise, intended to hold the scope of our joined collections, the weight of so many books. Books we found scattered in the aftermath, ripped pages, dampened typeface. Books in pieces and fragments, an explosion of letters and words.
Bed (Queen). $1000. Age: 7 years. Location: Bedroom. Mattress, box spring, bedframe. Held the slump of our bodies in sleep. Held the rootless shape of our dreaming. Held the softness of sheets upon which our son was conceived. Held the brunt of the wind as it tore through the roof, a meeting of northern downdrafts and warm air from the Gulf. A meeting that pulled both into a cyclone upon the propulsion of jet streams, an alley of tornadoes split down the spine of the country.
Chest of Drawers (Wife). $200. Age: 7 years. Location: Bedroom. Purchased alongside the bedframe, a reprieve from our closets spilling over. Held my wife’s socks, bras, her tank tops and shorts, her pajamas and her t-shirts, the commemorative tee she bought when the Cardinals won the World Series. Replaceable: clothing. Less replaceable: her mother’s wedding ring. Our son’s drawings, paintings, watercolors of the Loch Ness Monster. Dried flowers from anniversaries, from birthdays, from the bouquets at our wedding. The dog tags her grandfather brought back from the shores of Omaha Beach.
Chest of Drawers (Son). $100. Age: 3 years. Location: Bedroom. Purchased when my son turned three, when he began to garner items of his own. Held his pajamas, his underwear, his small shirts and small pants and small shoes. Replaceable: clothing. Less replaceable: shells. The shells he collected from Charleston when we ventured to the beach, mottled oyster and cochleared snail and a conch he held to his ear long after we returned to hear the roar of the ocean, again and again, a wave pushed from the seashore to the flatlands of the Midwest.
Record Player (Turntable). $60. Age: 20 years. Location: Living Room. Gift from my parents when they downsized, alongside dozens of records that shaped my childhood. The Moody Blues. Jimi Hendrix. The Beatles. Judy Collins. A Joni Mitchell LP I played for days and days in high school when my best friend died in a car crash, a river to skate away on, to bear me onward toward a storm cell, a funnel always waiting for us, stretched with intention from the clouds to the soft belly of this earth.
Computer (Desktop). $800. Age: 3 years. Location: Living Room. Shared family computer that held Excel budgets, my son’s video games, my wife’s stored photos, Skype dates with our parents. Shared computer where I once looked up the formation of tornadoes when an F2 struck my former elementary school, where I learned that the F-scale stands for Tetsuya Fujita, a storm specialist who coined the term in the 1970s, who classified F2 tornadoes as considerable, who classified F4 tornadoes as devastating.
Television (Flatscreen). $500. Age: 2 years. Location: Living Room. The only television in the house. The television that showed us the Grammies, the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, the State of the Union. The television where we watched the first minutes of Jeopardy! before the broadcast was interrupted, before red cells appeared on the radar, before the sirens began to wail.
Car (2oo2 Honda Civic). $5000. Age: 11 years. Location: Driveway. Can I include this here: an electronic? An electronic purchased just after we married. An electronic that took us to the West and back, down the jagged coast of California, that carried us to the beaches of South Carolina, that shuttled my son home for the first time from the hospital. An electronic we found nosedown in debris and mud, beside our neighbor’s Chevy Nova and mailbox and house, all three still intact. An electronic that demonstrated a supercell’s particularity, the finger of the sky brought down to point right at us.
Piano (Upright). $100. Age: 38 years. Location: Living Room. The piano my wife’s parents bought for her when she turned four, when she first learned to play. An upright piano, two black keys missing, the whites stained like yellowing teeth. An upright she still sometimes played while I stood behind her in the doorway, imagining her at five, at eight, her small feet reaching for the pedals. An upright my son had begun to inspect, lessons we planned to introduce this fall, lessons made obsolete by the streaks of piano wire we found in the mud, buried deep beneath debris, their glisten the signaling of lighthouses.
Baseball Cards. N/A. Age: 37 years. Location: Bedroom. Card collection kept in a trunk at the foot of our bed, the trunk I once took to summer camp and then college and then used solely for storage. Held 1100 cards: Topps, Upper Deck, Fleer. Mark McGwire’s 1985 USA Team Rookie Card. Chipper Jones, Willie McGee, Jose Canseco. Cards I began collecting when I was five years old, cards disintegrated into pulp and scattered like confetti across the plains.
Willow Tree. N/A. Age: Unknown. Location: Backyard. Stood at the edge of our yard weeping budded strands that grazed the grass. Held a canopy of leaves, an endless span of forest. Held the lone rope of our son’s tire swing. Held a barbecue pit, a folding chair, a gunmetal fender after the storm, its branches burdened by weight, its trunk cleaved down the middle like firewood.
Cat (Orange Tabby). N/A. Age: 11 years. Name: Muncie. Last seen sitting on the porch that morning, her striped tail curled around her body. We have heard of cows gone missing, entire fields of herds that broke through gates and took off running down the roads when the sky was still blue, hours before the storm, hours before red cells appeared on the flickering radar of our television. We imagine her safe beneath the brush, far away from the debris, waiting to come out. We imagine her making her way back home from what cover she knew to take.
Basketball Hoop/Backboard. $100. Age: 2 years. Location: Driveway. Affixed and mounted to the lip of our roof above the garage. Where my son was learning to shoot. Where my wife and I sometimes played horse after we put our son to bed, where we watched the sun sink behind the horizon of our house. Where we found the broken body of our neighbor’s dog, the backboard and hoop long lost to the wind. Where we understood a storm’s partiality, an imperfect scale: the difference between our neighbor’s undisturbed Chevy Nova and our destroyed house, between our destroyed house and our other neighbor’s quiet devastation.
Neighborhood. N/A. Age: 60 years. Location: St. Louis. Out of 256 homes: 147 destroyed, 109 untouched. 97 confirmed animals lost. Mercifully, no human casualties. No casualties attributed to early warnings, to basements, to the nook beneath the stairs where we hid. How the washer and dryer formed an A-frame with the floorboards when the kitchen above us collapsed. How my son inhaled mud and water, how our worst was a sputtering cough. How we ask, Why us? How we look to our neighbor and scarlet with shame. How we formulate scales, how we measure, how we quantify considerable and devastating and loss. How we survey intention and caprice, a line of belongings as erratic as a funnel. How we tabulate the damage. How we see the storm in our sleep. How we calculate the past against a volatility of landscape and sky.
Anne Valente is the author of the short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, and the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics. Her stories appear or are forthcoming in One Story, Ninth Letter, Hayden's Ferry Review and Quarterly West, and her essays appear in The Believer and The Washington Post.