Gloria. She was my first real storm. A creature that rose from the east with a name and a purpose, churning her way to me in a quiet night. When we woke the next day, the world outside was under siege. The overcast sky sagged from the weight of an angry flood and the entire population of my building gathered together on the third story terrace outside my apartment to take in the view. We watched the rain whipping past, riding the high winds with no intentions of ever touching earth. The wood railing was bloated and slick and my hair tore at my face like a rabid dog pulling at it’s tether. I held tight to the peeled railing beneath my hands. I was in love with the world in that state; as neighbors peeked in on TV’s that would soon lose power, catching us up on how close she was, on what devastation she’d caused.
“They‘re sayin‘ she‘s leveled parts of Connecticut. This one’s a bitch, for sure,” said Steven, a normally solitary and quiet neighbor of mine. All I’d ever seen of him before that day was a dark and bearded smile and a blue flannel shirt in the crack of his open doorway. Yet, here we stood, like two giddy sailors watching the mountain high swells of a tempest. I was only five years old, but I had no fear.
Thunder shook the whole of the section eight housing complex. Single moms and disabled vets squealed and grumbled in turn, but only my bones shook. I’d drowned out the flustered voices, doors slamming and excited footsteps on the terrace stairs. A good gust nearly knocked a couple boys over, but my grip was true and I was smiling.
“Caitlin, I’d prefer you were inside,” my mother said. I heard her, but chose to move slowly, watching the violent thrashing of the trees below. As I loosened my grip on the railing, the building groaned in a high wind. Everyone laughed nervously as they felt the storm’s purpose.
“Oh, we got trees coming down here, kids!”
Steven pointed excitedly at the woods that surrounded the parking lot below. Within the modest collection, a few smaller trees had begun to falter, but now, as we all hustled back to the railing, a single grand tree was losing her battle with the wind. She swayed and leaned steadily toward the open lot. As I watched the spectacle unfold, I heard words that brought joy to my every cell.
“Vicki, isn’t that your car?”
An expletive later, and she was gone, rushing to find her keys and move her car from beneath the path of the failing Oak tree. Vicki was my babysitter and the thief of my childhood. A drug worn welfare witch from a family of cretins, she watched and abused me, for free, everyday while my mother was in nursing school. She never laid a hand on me, but it was from those chapped lips that I first heard the word ‘cunt.‘ I’d tried to tell my mother, fearful everyday of Vicki’s brothers; John, 27 – who’d tried to light me on fire, and Billy, 30 – who’d threatened to throw me out the third story window of her living room. But Vicki knew me, knew I was a known fibber. I was, and will always remain, a storyteller. So when a few extra visits to Disney World made a story all the more enticing to the listener, I threw them in. Only problem was I’d never been to Disney World. When Vicki told my mother I was lying, she believed her. For three years, I spent my days with my forehead against a tear streaked bathroom windowpane, watching the roadway for my mother’s car, as Vicki sent her daughter and friends in to call me a new name; slut, cum dumpster, cocksucker. I hope to one day forgive for that.
I watched breathlessly, waiting for that dying tree, the hand of karma, to fall. My eyes were fixed on it as it creaked slowly downward, creeping toward the beat up station wagon where I would lock myself for hours on sweltering summer days, trying to escape her brothers as they banged on the windows while she looked on and laughed. Vicki ran into view, her arms up to cover her face. I wanted the roof to crumple under that mighty tree’s weight, wanted the tires to buckle, the glass to shatter. For one fleeting moment, I felt empowered against this woman, my tormentor. I was her judge and the storm, by then a dear friend, was my gavel.
The tree never fell. It pitched and leaned, but it never came down. Vicki moved her car, nervously shrugged it off, and the storm passed. Yet something had happened – something in me. As the wind and I found the same purpose, as the sky opened it’s vengeful eye on my only enemy – Gloria and I had seen each other and smiled. In that hurricane I’d found peace – a knowledge I would recall for the last two years I suffered that woman – that I would recall for the rest of my life; that there was something far bigger than she, and I knew in my marrow that it loved me.