The Circumstances Of My Birth


My mother and father told me that I had been born during a violent tornado and that they drove through the windy streets to the hospital even though they were supposed to take shelter. My mother would tell me that the sky changed to a green color she had never seen before and my father would tell me about birds flying backwards and trees flying down the street. My mother would tell me that it sounded like the roar of the water at Niagara Falls and my father would tell me that it sounded like a jet engine or a freight train. The details seemed to change as I got older. The green color of the sky became pink and apocalyptic and there were more and more things swept up into the tornado—dogs and swimming pools, lawn furniture and garbage cans, cars and houses.

Regardless, this story, those birth circumstances, always sounded amazing to me. It seemed as if my parents were risking so much for me and, growing up, I carried that special feeling with me—even when it wasn’t windy.

When it was windy, I would run around in the backyard with my jacket unzipped and my shirt unbuttoned so that it felt like the wind was filling up my clothes and almost lifting me up off the ground. I would even take empty jars out into the backyard and hold them up to catch the wind so that I could keep it on the nightstand next to my bed.

I still like abrupt temperature changes—the kind that make it feel like something is going to happen. When the weather felt like a storm, I would look up into the sky for funnel clouds. I would watch the television for tornado watches or tornado warnings. I memorized the safety precautions—taking shelter in a doorway or a basement or a ditch, putting your head between your knees, putting your hands over your head.

This lasted for most of my childhood. When I was old enough, I went to the library and looked my birthday up in the local newspaper, but I couldn’t find out anything about a violent tornado. It wasn’t even windy the day I was born. I asked the librarian about it and she looked up the weather for the days on both sides of my birthday. It turns out that I was actually born four days before the tornado.

The things that my mother and father told me about the day that I was born actually happened on a different day in another part of the city. Whole city blocks had been leveled. Eventually, they told me that it was something that they had seen on the evening news.

Also, later I found out that my father didn’t even drive my mother to the hospital when I was born. Supposedly, he was at work, at lunch, eating a ham sandwich. It was the next-door neighbor who drove my mother to the hospital, an old woman who sometimes babysat me until she died of lung cancer when I was five years old. The smoke residue from her chain smoking cigarettes was so thick that I used to write my name on her living room walls with my finger.

Michael Kimballis the author of three novels, including Dear Everybody(which The Believer calls “a curatorial masterpiece”) and, most recently, Us (which was named to Oprah’s Reading List). His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Bomb, and New York Tyrant, and has been translated into a dozen languages. He is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard). His new novel, Big Ray, will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012.