She said there’s no such thing as bad weather.
The woman was eating a salad. I was across the table trying to work up enthusiasm for a turkey sandwich. The sun was in and out but still up there and I could feel it doing a number on my head. At the same time I was watching one squirrel chase another and cursing the day I was born.
I considered this about the weather and agreed on the face of it. I always try to be agreeable if all else is equal, which it almost never is. I told her this to her face, too, that I agreed, that there’s no such thing as bad weather, but the weather this past year has been awful and everyone knows it.
I tried to remember if I had a hat or bandana in the car. Someone somewhere had a hat or bandana, because the sun was up there doing numbers and you can get cancer and die if you’re not careful. You can get cancer and die if you are careful, too, but that’s the world and there’s nothing anyone can do.
She’s always been like this, this woman eating the salad, about the weather, about what’s good and bad, for as long as I’ve known her, which is about a month now.
Then she said, I don’t understand people like you. I figured this sort of declaration was coming. At the same time the squirrel doing the chasing got distracted and went home.
I took a bite of the sandwich and pretended it took a long time to chew. I pretended I was thinking as I chewed. I looked out toward the horizon. There was nothing there to see and the nothingness went on for miles, to the edge of the earth.
Everyone knows this about the horizon, but it’s still always surprising to me.
It was like this all during the drive, too. I had to force myself to keep my eyes on the road in front of me. I figured turning my head could only lead to more disappointment.
We were on our way to her people, the ones who’d been wiped out by a series of tornadoes.
What I’m saying is I think I was as close to happy as I could possibly get.
I have trouble with my hearing, but I also have trouble listening. The two aren’t necessarily related, I don’t think. She’s reeled off a series of names during our month long conversation but I’m not sure if they are relations or ex-husbands. They could be the people we are coming to bury or tend to, although she does seem like the sort who has made marriage a habit.
It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve spent time overseas and behind bars, least of all this woman. People that understand weather know things about the world, know things about people and don’t need all the details. I’m sure she’s divorced men with similar back stories and she would be bored if I even tried.
It’s not impossible that she’s done time, either, but I won’t ask if she has a record.
What I’m saying is I like her well enough and I’d like for her to say something nice about me when we don’t know each other anymore.
I eat my sandwich and try not to look at her. I know she wants me to, wants something that resembles an answer, but sometimes you can’t look at anything beautiful, let alone answer questions.
I said that I don’t understand me, either. I said there’s no use trying. I said the best we can do is hope for the best.
I thought of pointing out the squirrels, how they seem content to chase each other around and eat their nuts. I could’ve talked about instincts, primal needs, fundamentals, necessities. I could’ve held them up as models, but they were gone and not likely to come back.
I’d hoped that we’d see a tornado on our drive but it didn’t happen. I kept the radio on in the car, looked to the empty horizon on all sides. I thought I saw a funnel cloud churning towards us once, but it was a swarm of insects.
She said you’ll never find one that way. She said what kind of person wants to see a tornado anyway.
I told her they were awful and awesome in equal measure. I talked about the wonders of the natural world.
She said that’s because you’ve never been in one.
The woman and I were somewhere in the middle of the country. The flatlands, the badlands, the this land is your land.
There’d been a series of storms that wiped out a series of people.
A month ago we were back at the retreat, trying to get well. We’d found each other by the pool and I said something about drowning in the shallow end. She said something like it takes one to know one and the next morning I was brushing my teeth with her toothbrush. Later that day we saw it all on the news, the storms and the hucksters covering it.
So I don’t know if we’re down here to help her family or bury them. She didn’t talk much on the ride, didn’t say if we were on our way to parents or brothers and sisters, which was fine because I think maybe I’m going deaf, particularly out of my right ear. There’s a buzzing in there that doesn’t go away. I think maybe it’s congenital, which means I caught it from my parents who caught it from theirs. Life isn’t easy when your bloodline is defective.
I figured I should say something about this particular tragedy, something that could be taken as empathetic or profound. I told her that anything is possible, that her folks might be fine. I said it’s possible they lost telephone service but they could be holed up safe and sound in a high school gymnasium.
This is when she said there was no such thing as bad weather because that’s how she sees, like the others who want to save the earth.
I imagine we are going to pay respects, dig for survivors, hand out bottled water.
She was the one who suggested we pull over, said she was hungry. She wanted to stretch her legs, get something cold to drink. We were still a hundred miles from where we were going, but it was a good time to stop.
She ran into a relation at the market, some kind of second cousin partially removed. This cousin didn’t know anything about the tornadoes, was from another side of the family.
I was introduced as the boyfriend and told it was good of me to do this. I said there was nothing to it and tried to wander off.
My father used to tell me I was a do-gooder, which wasn’t ever true. At least that’s what I think he said. I couldn’t always understand him because of how he talked, like a deaf person. He kept his voice down in the back part of his throat behind a swollen tongue and yellow teeth.
I guess I’m the same way, which is why I went to that retreat in the first place. People were there for all sorts of reasons but I was trying to get sober and stay that way. I never told Diana this, that’s her name, Diana, the woman I’ve been referring to. I’m not sure why I didn’t refer to her by name before. For a while there I didn’t want to call her out like that, but she knows who she is and so far I haven’t broken any confidences.
I think Diana was hoping to find some part of herself that must’ve gone missing, some part she needed going forward.
I think my father meant that my heart was usually in the right place. But I think it’s never been exactly like that, either. I think I’ve always wanted people to think that about me, but the truth is I couldn’t care less nine times out of ten.
When she said I don’t understand people like you I believe it was in reference to my position on life and death, which is something I thought profound. She accused me of being arch, of being flip. Then she asked me why I was here, doing this, driving with her all this way, that it didn’t make sense. I thought about explaining myself, but figured it was useless.
Then I wanted to tell her that people don’t like me, but it isn’t true. Then I wanted to tell her there was no one like me, but that isn’t true, either.
When she came back she threw a bandana at me, told me I’d get a sunburn if I didn’t cover up.
I imagine pulling into the town in about three hours and being redirected by local officials to certain designated areas. She’ll tell the officials that her family lives here and we need to find them, that she hasn’t spoken with them in days, that the man driving is her boyfriend and he’s here to help, but I’m sure they’ll take one look at me and not believe any of it.
Robert Lopez is the author of five books, most recently, Good People and All Back Full.