Elliott Smith – “A Fond Farewell”

When: 27 March 2007
Where: Portable room 701, Bosco
Who: Several classmates
Weather: Well, let’s just tell the story…

“Is it Argentines or Argentinians?” Marc Meehan turned to ask me. Everybody called him Father Marc, and while he intended to come back to Bosco to teach, he was emphatic that he wouldn’t become a priest. Too bad, I thought, you’ll have to pay your own rent. Most priests had affairs off-campus anyway.

“It could be either,” I replied, “but if it were up to me, I’d say Argentine.” I always preferred shorter demonyms.

Bosco was on a block schedule, so all of our classes lasted an hour and a half. It gave us enough time to actually learn things, but just as often gave us ridiculous amounts of free time if we had a test. We had such a test in Mr. Rod’s algebra 4 class that fateful March day. It was raining as I listened to This American Life. The story of the journal of David Ben Gurion. Fearing for my lost memories, I began to play with the idea of not only keeping a journal, but giving myself the discipline to write reliably in it as he did.

Rod’s cell phone rang. There was no landline. “Okay,” he said, “we’re having a lockdown.” I was used to lockdowns from my middle school days as we were located next to the Motel 6 where Hunter Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But somehow lockdowns seemed more serious in high school. It’s a shooting, I thought, some psychotic freshman. And we began to formulate a plan to defend ourselves. But Bosco didn’t have a gunman. The reality was so thoroughly beyond our experience that we couldn’t imagine it until we saw it happen.

We looked out the window. The parking lot was gone, only a dark grey void. The raindrops on the glass became longer. Before long, single drops were stretching across the entirety of the plane. The heavy metal doors rattled, and a whole limb of the tree outside our portable slammed against us. Mr. Rod had us close the windows. I continued to listen to This American Life, and eventually they played this song.

Finally, some students came to tell us we could go to the next class. When we got out, there was a straight line of devastation across the campus. Bits of trees, cracks in buildings. I had been in the eye of a fucking tornado.

Contrary to popular belief, California has more tornadoes per year than any other state, but they are generally not very strong, seldom in populated places, and never on the top of a hill. And yet there we were. I went home, dove into my old middle school stuff, and pulled out the blank journal from the Renaissance Fair four years earlier, and started writing.

And I was going to need it, because the tornado was just the beginning.

Next: The drifting meaning of “loud.”

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