I lost my shoes in Greensburg, Kansas. The earth was rutted out in ways nobody could see, and I'd expected something solid there beneath the mud but there was just more mud, up to the knees. Everyone else had just gone around it, but I trudged through. My then-newly-ex girlfriend took a picture of a street-number on the curb and a front path leading into weeds and dirt and sky, and someone commented online a year or so later, "That's where my parents' house used to be." I threw my socks in a garbage can and rolled up the cuffs of my jeans.
We drove down these long stretches of road, through cows and sky and Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas, at 100 mph while everyone else was driving the opposite direction. We were in the van, all staring at a red splotch on a satellite screen in the dashboard and I wondered if tornadoes spun the other way around in Australia. We went to the university where one of the guys worked and he talked about weather balloons and we drove down a street named for the Flaming Lips and I ate chicken-fried steak and we watched as a barn turned into an airborne swirl of planks and hay in a minute flat.
She and I lay as far as we could from each other, on top of polyester motel bed covers pulled tight, me facing the wall and her facing my back. I could feel her hand stretching out, just barely. "I think I'll take the couch, actually," I said.
We headed toward wherever we were going, and I sat in the passenger seat as Dr. Weather Balloon drove. It was something like two in the morning, and the rest of the van slept. He said his wife was divorcing him. "Shit, man," I said. "I'm sorry." I'd known the guy for three days. "Thunder Road" came on the radio and he turned it up just loud enough to make out the words.
Chasing tornadoes isn't scary. That's not bravado, saying that—tornado chasers, we were just the assholes who watched from a safe distance, and we drove fast and circled the danger and skirted anything real.
I stood under a green sky and crouched and protected my head and let hail like walnuts pelt at my back and arms and neck. "Get back in the van," they shouted, and I pretended not to hear them through the blankets of wind.
About the Author: Brent Rydin lives and works in Boston. He started and runs a litmag called Wyvern Lit, and has writing in Pithead Chapel, The Island Review, and Cartridge Lit. He tweets at @brntrydn and has a website with not very much stuff on it at all.
Story Song: "Gone for Good" by the Shins
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Cox