This house was built one hundred years ago. A tornado destroyed the one that used to stand on this property. This house was built to last. I've waited out several tornados in its crawl space since. I can tell when one is going to touch down now. You can see it in the gray hues in the sky and you can feel it on your neck. If you have ever seen one forming, then you know that feeling of disbelief as you watch a body of air reach towards the earth.
I met my wife fifty years ago. She was the most independent sweetheart I'd ever met. You could grab a door for her but you definitely couldn't order for her and you dare not interrupt her. No sir. Her family had been full of teachers, but she was hell bent on being a nurse. She was done learning so teaching didn't seem like much of a change. She wanted to do something.
One year for our anniversary, I forget which number, we drove West on a mission to hit some national parks. We had spent too many years living in this country without seeing the beauty of it firsthand. If she was ever dependent at all, it was during road trips. She would let me drive no matter how much she detested being a passenger in life. She didn't tell me this until years into our marriage, but she had been in a crash with her parents as a young girl. They were all fine long term, but the screams of terror from her mom always stuck with her.
We went to the grand canyon and made the mistake of signing up for a hike. I was excited to see the canyon truly, but I didn't need to see the bottom firsthand. I think we both would have been fine to blaze our own path around the top. I had a new polaroid camera and I started treating the trip like one big photoshoot for her. I made a habit of taking a photo right when I knew she didn't want me to. The first bite of a freshly delivered plate of nachos? That was the perfect moment. The first nacho always comes with cheese. One time I caught the cute smile she made when she spilled some food. It was a sort of amused, bashful smile. It was real.
After the hike I thought I had found the perfect chance to get a bad picture of her. She was above me looking back down as I had called her name. It was just her plain facial expression, which I thought had a permanent little smile, but the photo was amazing. The sun was in the background and the light shone off her hair giving a halo effect in the polaroid. It blocked out the stray hairs of someone post hike and her the light had used any sweat as a crystal to reflect. It was my picture of happiness. It is a prized possession of mine, kept in a fire proof box under my bed. I keep the picture, her wedding ring and rose in there, replaced weekly.
My vision has gotten worse and worse since the incident. I took my eyes for granted all those years growing up. I'd pass the yearly vision tests at school with flying colors. I took to bird watching in my retirement. You have to be sharp to spot some of those birds. Humming birds are so fast that you can miss them with a blank much less poor vision. Luckily, I know this house better than my own body. Sometimes my stomach will make noises I don't understand, but I can tell you where each creak comes from in this house. I do puzzles still. I can see the colors okay, but I do most of it by touch at this point. It takes a while and I have got a while. The neat thing is that sometimes I can make out the final project. I can't see the stones, yet I can make out the mountain.
I see the shadow at night. When I lay in my bed with my eyes open, I can see the shadow in the corner of my room in the corner of my eye. I can feel the shadow on the back of my neck. Out of the darkness I see a shadow of her face displayed on the blank of an empty corner at night. It's a great joy for me to see her. I wouldn't choose not to see the shadow if I could, otherwise I couldn't see her at all. It is a terrible way to carry on though. If I turn my head to see her, the shadow goes away. Her face fades as my eyes adjust to the night. So, I have to let her hang there, suspended in the memory of mind. I can never look upon her again. I can look back at her and forward to seeing her again.
I don't retreat to the crawlspace anymore when there is a tornado warning. I go to my room and get the fire proof box out from under my bed. Carefully, I grab the polaroid picture by the edges with just my fingertips. Then I position it in my hand and pinch the corners of it hard. If a tornado comes, I know I won't let it blow away. If it goes, I'll go with her.
This morning I went outside to drink my coffee on the porch. I guess I have been taking sunrises for granted lately as well. This one must have been special because it got even my old eyes' attention. I sat out on the steps and looked out at the fields stretching towards that new sun. I stared at the sun and it didn't hurt my eyes. I figured what damage could be done was done already. After a few moments, I started to see her face shimmering in that same sun. I shook my head when I made out the face. She had never come to me in the light. Then, a small chirping pulled my attention and I saw a small bird flapping by. I could see it so clear.