When it stops, sirens blare in the distance. RVs from the dealership down the road are in ditches, shredded like paper. Amidst the ruin you find your grandmother, who at first is just a wad of disorderly gray hair, her body half-covered by a sheet of particleboard. You pull her out and dust her off, but she doesn’t respond to your touch. Eventually, you scan the landscape for your brother, slowly realizing how lucky you were to find anything at all in this mosaic of rubble.
Your mom, who was shuffling cards at the casino in Alla Vista when the tornado hit, shows up in her truck, and she drives you to a medical triage outside the Dollar General where they poorly sew up the gash on your forehead and take all the debris out of your back. One thing they find is a metal pin engraved with the words MEL’S LOGGING COMPANY—IN GOD WE TRUST, which will be attached to your backpack when I meet you for the first time, many years from now.
Your mother takes you to her boyfriend’s house to live, and over the course of the next year, she locks herself in the bathroom more and more. She treats you like a hole in the floor she has learned to avoid. She is harnessed to the couch with cheap rum called “El Residente,” watching movies like Home for the Holidays in mid-July. Her boyfriend is a forklift operator who sleeps on a water bed and obsessively collects bottle caps, supposedly for some kind of “art project.” He watches you sweep the kitchen like there’s something inside you he’s about to disinter. Then one day, he disappears, and your mom is alone in his room, yelling at a part of herself who cannot hear, surrounded by dirty clothes and cat litter ground into the carpet.
During this time, one of your teachers learns that you’re stealing rolls of toilet paper from school to take home, and then CPS gets involved. Then it’s foster homes. Edges of familial units. High school vicissitudes until finally you get adoptive parents. You change your name to Rose, work at the Baskin Robbins in the mall, use your 4-H leadership experience to qualify for a poultry science scholarship at Ozarka University, a flagship state school, tucked away against one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America, where there never has been an F5 tornado, as far as you know.
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