It was the day before my 9th birthday. I was lying on the floor staring at an unopened gift, wondering what it could be. It was shaped like a box that had to have clothes in it. I always knew a clothing gift when I saw one. Yet, the adventurous spirit in me wanted to believe it was something different. I mean, after all, it was my 9th birthday. That only comes around once. Who would give a kid a pair of blue jeans or a flannel shirt on their 9th birthday? No, it was something special. I was certain.
“C’mon let’s go!” yelled my sister. She was always yelling about something, and it was never anything interesting to me, so naturally I didn’t oblige this time. I had more important things to worry about. I studied the package over and over again, thinking about what my mother might have had in mind when she wrapped it. I counted the strips of tape, and I examined every detail of the effort that she had made when folding the paper. It was very neat, and almost without flaw. Had it been any more perfect, I would have known it was too good to be true. This, however, was the real deal. She had used a different folding pattern than usual, which must have meant that this wasn’t just some ordinary gift that she wrapped using muscle-memory. No, she had made sure to make it look more appealing than usual. My heart thumped on my chest as I wondered what it could be.
“Come on I said!” It was my sister again. She was interrupting a very important moment for me, and my mind raced trying to think of a clever, insulting response that would turn her off from me. “Hurry, there’s a twister!” she said with an unusual amount of excitement. She was one of the strangest girls I had ever met. Not that I had met many, but she was much different from the other girls at school. She rambled on about things that no one understood, and she acted like everyone was on the edge of their seat listening to her. She was too smart for her own good.
Just then, I heard heavy footsteps come frantically into the room. “We have to go now.” It was my father. His delivery of that line was eerily calm, as I could tell that he was not feeling calm about whatever it was at all. Suddenly, I realized what my sister had said. There was a tornado coming. I leapt to my feet and ran toward them, grabbing my father’s hand. We ran outside where my mother was gathering up the dogs. As soon as we stepped out the door, a tremendous gust of wind almost blew me off my feet. There were random objects that I didn’t recognize flying all around our house. We didn’t have any neighbors for miles, and I wondered where all this stuff had come from. My father carried my sister and I over to our storm cellar, which was already open. The door was flying back and forth, slamming the ground on each side. The four of us, along with our two dogs, ran down into the cellar and my father reached up to close the door. He latched it shut, and we sat in the dark, listening to the muffled sound of the wind blowing. I had spent many hours in that cellar waiting out storms, and each time brought an uneasy feeling that plagued me. I felt sick to my stomach immediately, and my mind raced around thinking about all the possible things that could go wrong. What if the latch broke? What if the doors flew open and the wind sucked us all up like a vacuum cleaner? The louder it got, the more frightened I became. This time, however, it became extremely loud. It was like we were sitting underneath a train track, but the sound kept getting louder, and louder, and louder, as if the noise was somehow rushing inside my head. Suddenly, my throat sank at the sound of a horrible crash more terrifying than anything I had ever heard. It seemed to go on for an eternity. I could feel the noise quaking throughout my body. “What was that?” asked my sister, voicing what I was too afraid to ask. “I don’t know baby,” answered my mother. “Be still.” Her words were given with the same eerie tone that my father’s had been earlier, and they brought no comfort at all. My mind painted a moving picture of what the storm must’ve looked like. I pictured our house being shattered into dust by a twister the size of a mountain. I always pictured twisters to be wider than they were tall. For some reason, they seemed much more menacing to me that way, and I gasped in fear of the much too realistic image I had made in my head.
At that moment, my mind struggled to drift off to find a more peaceful thought. That’s when I remembered. My gift was still in the house. I had seen it with my own eyes, but now, the mystery would never be revealed. The answer had been inches from my grasp, and I could’ve been holding on to whatever it was right then. I loomed at the thought of never knowing what it was. In an instant, the fear of the present moment escaped my mind, and the unopened gift was all I could think about. But, just as quickly as the thought of the gift had come, another thought rushed into my mind that brought a sudden sense of hope. I looked up at my mother. She was veiling a frightened face so that we wouldn’t become concerned. With all the courage I had in me, I spoke up, knowing that the question I was about to ask may have been coming at a very inappropriate time. “Mom?” I asked. “Yes sweetie?” she answered giving me a look of acknowledgment. “What was in the box?” She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. “What box?” she asked. “My birthday present. What was it?” She stared at me for a minute and her eyes began to swell. I thought for a moment that I had chosen the worst possible time to ask, but the compassion for me in her face told me otherwise. It was a look that I recognized, and I knew that she had received the question well. She smiled gently, and let out a quiet laugh. She rested her hand on the side of my face, and I could feel the warmth of her love for me flushing away the chilling fear of the moment at hand. “It was a blue flannel shirt.”