93: Guiding Me Through the Storm

93: Guiding Me Through the Storm

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Guiding Me Through the Storm

I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.

~Sigmund Freud

Black-bottomed clouds heavy with rain obscured the moon. Leaves hung limply in the humid air. We were in for a crackler, as my dad used to call the big thunder and lightning storms that cause serious damage to trees and property, but I wasn’t overly concerned. It was a quick ten-minute drive to the south end of town and my meeting. At worst, my flip flop-covered feet might get wet. An umbrella would keep the rest of me dry.

A couple of hours later the conference room windows rattled in their 100-year-old wooden frames. Small broken branches from the big oak trees that lined the street outside struck the rippled glass with rapidly increasing force. The noise escalated. Conversation stopped. The meeting was hastily adjourned. Everyone hurried out into the storm, hoping to reach home before it got any worse. Except for me.

I walked over to the wall of windows. The rain obscured everything but the puddles of standing water and the swirling leaves and branches on the sidewalk immediately below. Yes, my feet were going to get wet, but thank goodness I didn’t have far to drive.

The old building’s oversized front door was difficult to open on even the driest of days so I gave it a harder-than-usual shove, hoping it would pop open on my first try. Immediately, the wind grabbed the door and slammed it all the way open against the brick wall. My umbrella skittered off into the night as I wrestled the door closed. Cold water dripped down my back. Wet leaves sucked at my feet and water splashed onto the backs of my calves with every step I took. Conditions were deteriorating rapidly.

One block. Two blocks. I drove north toward home. My SUV rocked side to side, buffeted by the wind. I sensed when I passed a familiar convenience store, but I couldn’t see the entrance. The wipers couldn’t clear the rain fast enough. I was happy no other cars were on the road around me.

Five blocks. Six blocks. The thunder boomed non-stop. Suddenly a brilliant flash of light filled my vehicle and I heard an explosion. Lightning hit a tree less than a block in front of me and pieces of tree flew like missiles through the night. I slammed on the brakes. The smell of burning wood filled my nostrils as the trunk of the tree tumbled across the roadway in front of me. My hands trembled as I guided the SUV down a nearby side street.

Rain pelted the driver’s side window and branches scraped against the side of my vehicle. I fought the wind to stay on the road. I knew I was only blocks from home, near one of my town’s gorgeous parks, but I couldn’t see any of it through the downpour.

Then my headlights reflected off something in the road ahead of me. A tree, its trunk more than three feet in diameter, blocked my way. I backed up a hundred feet and turned down another side street. Large branches littered the road. I drove over them, not willing to stop or turn around yet again. Slowly and carefully I bumped over one branch after another, wincing as they scraped the undercarriage. I gripped the steering wheel.

Within minutes I saw another tree blocking my path. I stopped. It was too big to drive over and too large to drive around. I was more than twenty minutes into a drive that typically took ten, and I was not much closer to home than when I started.

The storm surged around me. The trees were weapons tonight.

I prayed out loud for safe passage home as I reversed direction again.

Thunder rumbled. Lightning crackled. I saw a glow in the road ahead. Electrical wires — live ones — sparked on the blacktop. I took a deep, unsteady breath.

“Turn around, Darlene. Double back. Two streets,” I heard my dad say.

I obeyed. My dad never led me the wrong way.

But my dad had died three months earlier!

“Wind down your window. That way you’ll hear the wires hissing even if you can’t see them,” he said.

I powered down my window and hung my head out so I could hear better. The rain poured down like some sort of a berserk faucet, but I drove on. Dad was with me.

HISSSSS.

Another wire down!

“Dad!” I yelled.

“You can do this, kid. Keep going.”

Rain dripped off the ends of my hair and traced paths down my face, but I kept driving, my head out the window listening for a telltale hiss. Soon, though, I was out of options, trapped in an area of a few square blocks, surrounded by downed trees that were too large for me to drive over or around.

I had to make a choice: Stay in my SUV until the storm blew through, hoping I wouldn’t get hit by a falling tree or blowing debris. Or walk the rest of the way home. In flip flops. I didn’t hesitate, even though I knew old growth trees lined the sidewalks between home and me. I shut off the engine and opened the door. I stepped into the rain and wind and began one of the longest walks of my life.

“You got this, kid,” Dad said.

I flip flopped my way around downed trees, over branches and through puddles, all the while listening for the telltale hiss of a downed power line or the crack of a breaking branch overhead. I slogged through it all, and fifteen minutes later, I unlocked my front door. I was safe.

The next day I learned that I had driven through the hardest hit area of my town at almost the peak of the storm. Weather experts called the storm a microburst, which is like a treetop tornado. It left near-total devastation in its wake. I drove through it. I walked through it. And I did it with the help of my dad. And the bonus? I got to hear his voice just one more time.

~Darlene Sneden

More stories from our partners