89: Like an Elephant

89: Like an Elephant

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Like an Elephant

Elephants can sense danger. They’re able to detect an approaching tsunami or earthquake before it hits.

~Jennifer Richard Jacobson

It was a typical cloudy Atlanta day and I was killing time in the school cafeteria, nursing a coffee and looking forward to my late photography class. After class I would walk through downtown Atlanta at precisely 7:25 p.m. to catch the Peachtree Center subway. That’s what I did every Friday to connect with my husband farther north.

So why did I suddenly feel this acute sense of dread, and why did the words “anywhere but here” start running through my head?

I often think about the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, which was, if not the most destructive or dramatic natural disaster to have occurred, at least the most memorable for one particular reason: the elephants. I remember hearing in the news how, despite thousands of human casualties, few animals suffered injury. Locals and tourists saw the animals run to higher ground a good few hours before the disaster struck, leaving all witnesses to ask themselves, How did they know?

I wasn’t even thinking about the elephants of Thailand that late winter afternoon in 2008 when I felt this acute need to get out of school and downtown Atlanta at all costs — even if the cost was skipping out on my photography studio class yet again and risking a reduction in my grade for excessive absences. I actually enjoyed my photography class and had no desire to avoid it. Still, that need to flee persisted. I tried to shrug off the feeling and continue my usual routine, but the mounting anxiety was becoming so overpowering that I finally forced myself to sit down, look up at the gray sky, and ask myself: “Where do you want to go?”

Anywhere but here.

Anywhere but the downtown Atlanta campus or any of my usual coffee shops and hangouts inside “the perimeter.” I went through the list in my head, trying to find a coffee shop that didn’t make me uneasy. I finally hit upon one at Lindbergh Center Station that I frequented maybe once a year. It was as far away as I could get from the downtown area while still being on the MARTA line.

Do it! Now!

So I headed to MARTA at an unusual hour and to a place I rarely frequented, but every step of the journey took me farther away from Georgia State, Woodruff Park, Peachtree Street, and my anxiety. At some point, it began to rain very heavily. By the time I got to Lindbergh Center Station, the rain was serious, though the magnitude of the storm didn’t register until I caught wind of the news. A giant, unprecedented tornado was tearing through downtown Atlanta that very minute. It shut down electricity, tore through buildings and barreled through the very park I always crossed on my way to Peachtree Center at precisely 7:25 p.m. on Fridays. On foot. In the dark. All alone.

When I had phoned my husband hours earlier, I had been unable to give a concrete reason for my change of plans. But by the time he arrived to pick me up that night, at that faraway coffee shop, I just looked at him and said, “Remember the elephants? I think that just happened to me.”

~Alicia Araya

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