Natalie Niblack
Hayward Fault Line Winner
I lived on Okalusa Island when I was ten and when my Dad was in Vietnam. It was paradise. Okalusa Island was all sand with the sound on one side, the Gulf on the other, and a swimming pool across the only highway. We could use the pool because we rented our house from the owner of the mint green hotel and we swam all the time, or skidded down sand dunes on old cardboard boxes, or slung jelly fish like small gelatinous saucers while playing atom bomb on each other's sand castles. After you made your castles, you would run toward the other kid's castle and scream, "Atom Bomb" and belly flop.

I was in 6th grade. We were bused to the poorer kid's school instead of going to the school that the other military kids went to at the base. My best friend in school was Cathy. She was always kind of ragged and a little dirty. I was ragged, too, but not because I was poor, but because I could never figure out things like dressing. The government paid for Cathy and her family to move out to a hotel on the beach across the highway form me when the tornado destroyed her house, so I was glad it came. It came in November. I slept in the same bed with my sister and neither one of us woke. Mom slept in the same room next to us and she said that rain drops were hitting the house from all four directions simultaneously and it sounded like a freight train going through . When the tornado came toward Okalusa island, it was a water spout coming off the Gulf and it skipped over our island and went on to tear apart Ft. Walton Beach. We were charmed, I knew. We could not be damaged or harmed by a tornado any more that Dad would be hurt in Vietnam. I couldn't imagine that we would be any less than we were or any poorer and I knew this as a certainty, so I viewed the rest as entertainment.

The next day, we drove around Ft. Walton Beach and it was mostly gone. Piles of twisted lumber and corrugated metal replaced the shopping mall. One house was gone and the neighbors had nothing worse than branches scattered across their lawns. The hand of God came down and chose this one and spared that one. He missed us. We were not marked. Lumber and metal separation had not occurred in our house. We had already offered up the sacrifice of a father at war, and we would not be diminished in any other way.

First published: May 2000
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