By the Deleted.Author of Deleted.Author@gmail.com
A prologue to my current life:
I think everyone needs a prologue, at least that’s what I get from all the current books I read:
My name is Liam Liang and some of you can guess, I’m one-hundred percent Asian, Chinese to be exact. Yes, it’s obvious that I have a horrible sounding name; it was my older brother, Jason, who got the better name.
That’s the one thing that can be summed up for most Chinese families who are ingrained in Chinese tradition, it’s the oldest son who gets first pick and the best picks on everything.
As a child, I didn’t question it when my parents would give my older brother the larger red envelops when Chinese New Year came along. I didn’t care when my older brother was often bought named-brand jeans while I got left with hand-me-downs. Him being more mature, I didn’t even say anything when my brother took the initiative to ask Laurie Kwan out.
I did regret it though, not saying anything about that. I regretted it the most when they got married. I liked Laurie but back then, I was too shy to say anything about it.
I can’t blame my brother for my heartache though, Jason is a great guy and Laurie was a great girl, a really great girl. Other than that, I never was Laurie’s type. She was the type of girl who liked to go trekking out in the wilds, mountain climbing in the Andes and river rafting wherever the currents of life decides to take her. So it was my brother, who decided to take up a career as a fireman in New York City, jumping from burning building to burning building, that was more of her type.
I’m sorry if my prologue isn’t that long, my life up until this point hasn’t been that interesting. Unlike my brother, I grew up to be a scrawny meteorologist down in Central Texas. Happily stuck in an office and behind a computer watching numbers, weather charts and line graphs dance around for most of the day.
Same mundane work for the past 3 years after graduating college. I’ve settled into my unexciting job but I didn’t know what was happening at around 2pm today. At the very least, I didn’t know what was happening at the time.
I had just come back from lunch and everyone in the office was extremely silent when I walked in. Oddly enough, the boss was quiet and standing near my table with my cell-phone in his hand.
“There it is” I said, pointing at my boss who still tightly gripped on to my phone.
Instead of replying, he gave me a long look, forcing me to wonder if I did anything wrong as he worked his pupil up to make eye-contact with me.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
He didn’t answer me directly, instead, he looked as if he was trying to give me something called ‘death’s stare’. (Ironic, now that I think about it)
“Boss?” I called out, wondering if I was talking to a statue when he didn’t move an inch. “Mr. Gomez?” I called him with use of proper pronouns.
He still didn’t move for the next 15 seconds. Instead of responding to me directly, he lifted up my phone, which was apparently still connected in a call with someone.
He spoke into it.
“Call him back” my boss said, “-he’s here, just call him back.”
The boss waited for a response on the other end.
Apologizing, he spoke back to whoever it was he was talking to “Call him back. Please. I’m just not good with this sort of thing.”
My boss closed the call before taking my hand and placing my cell-phone in it. Without saying a word, he left, leaving me to wonder what just happened.
The cell-phone rang, presumably a second time and presumably from the same person my boss was speaking to.
I answered it.
“Is this Liam Liang?” the person asked.
“Yes it is” I replied, trying to sound cheerful as to change the mood.
“This is the hospital, I’m sorry to inform you but your brother is dead.”
I closed my cell-phone shortly after answering it, not needing to know too much of the details.
Going up to my boss in his office, I asked to be excused from work for the next few weeks.
He nodded as his only response and I left.
I don’t usually talk a lot about my brother, but everyone knew I loved him. Maybe not as much as his wife, Laurie but more than most people. Unlike me, a single man who spends most of his hours in front of a computer, there was a lot of people who loved Jason.
Driving there and then racing through the airport to catch the impromptu flight which I had bought tickets for, you could overhear people on the benches. They were talking about the frontpage on many of the newspapers which had been tossed aside with a large amount of them being from New York City. Each one of those had a photo of my brother and the headlines: “Local Hero Tragically Dies Saving Children From a Burning School”.
That good looking man, I thought to myself when I caught a glimpse of his best picture, don’t let them bury you until I see you for one last time.
Continuing my race through the airport, trying to board my plane before it takes off without me. Trying not to let any of the newspapers slow me down by brushing against my feet or leg. Trying not to slip when I stepped on any of them.
I managed to make it to me seat on time.
“Departing for JFK airport.. etc etc” the captain said on the microphone before the plane took off several minutes later. As even the captain seemed eager to make it to New York City for whatever reason.
And as expected, the person next to me was a man reading a newspaper from New York City as well while cell-phone reception and cellular data-streaming was strictly prohibited on this airline. I saw the front page and saw my brother’s picture again. I then looked out, toward the window. Catching glimpses of the cloud which took on a form with two arms, a body, 2 legs and a head resembling someone familiar.
I turned my attention back to the man who was still enthralled in his newspaper and spoke to him to pass the time.
“That guy” I said, pointing at the newspaper, “he was a great guy.”
The man smiled at me and somewhere in our conversation, after our plane landed, he said “his funeral is going to take place in 3 days, you better run and reserve yourself a seat.”
I agreed and began running through yet another airport, this time to get out.
When I had stopped running I had made my way to brother’s apartment building, located near Prospect Park, just to have the door opened for me by Laurie Kwan before I could knock or anything.
When she brought me inside she had been waiting for me, not only to confide in someone but to help her in a more serious matter.
“What’s wrong?” I asked Laurie while she still wept over the death of her husband.
“I need someone to deliver Jason’s Eulogy” she answered, “a family member but not me. I’m not good with these things.”
I agreed, left the apartment and started drafting a script in the nearby hotel I stayed in. Drafting a eulogy not too far from where my brother used to live, trying to get everyone to celebrate my brother’s life by telling everyone about how I saw him.
Cleverly trying to preemptively cheer everyone up, I titled it, “My brother was a badass”.
I detailed everything about how it was like him to jump into a burning school to try and save as many children as possible. How he once rescued a stray cat that fell into a sewer gutter by jumping into it, himself. I listed every heroics he would have accomplished in any dangerous situation just by imagining the things I would never dare to do.
Several thousand people attend the day of the funeral. Several brigades of firemen, several precincts of police officers, childhood friends, family and me.
To my disappointment, but probably for the best, It was a close casket funeral and I didn’t get my chance to see him.
I also didn’t get a chance to recite the eulogy I had carefully scripted out. Instead of telling everyone that “My brother was a badass”. I instead just said “my brother -he was a great guy” before ending my speech prematurely.
I walked off the podium and walked toward Laurie.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Laurie “I’m sorry I couldn’t give a longer eulogy.”
Laurie looked disappointed when she was forced to talk to me, showing a clear frown. Closing her eyes, opening her lips a bit and inhaling deeply with her nose. She then began to accept certain things.
“I’m really sorry” I said to her again.
“It’s okay” she said “I probably couldn’t have done any better anyways.”
I looked at her, not knowing what was proper for me to do. I began to try and walk away again when I couldn’t decide.
“You know what,” Laurie stopped me to cheer me up a bit. “At least you’re honest” she said “Jason was a great guy.”
“Yeah” I answered and decided to stay near her for the rest of the proceedings.
When the funeral ended however, I walked away from her.
Jason was now, officially buried and, legally, Laurie was no longer a member of my family. With my brother dead, she was no longer my sister in law and we were back to being just a friend.
For emotions sake, a friend that I thought that I shouldn’t get too close too.
I regretted that decision.
Laurie and I still managed to keep in touch when I left New York City and made my way back to work in Central Texas. We exchanged phone calls while asking nothing more than “how have you been holding up?” or “how have you been doing?”
With only those two questions however, you can find out a lot about the other person.
“Hello Laurie” I would call her.
“Hi Liam” she would reply, “how have you been doing?”
“Fine” I would answer, “how have you been holding up?”
She would tell me she was “fine” on days she wanted to sound casual. When she decided to be honest, however, she would say it. On the days she was honest she would say “not too well” before she started crying on the other side of the phone call.
“That’s good” I would say if she had decided to lie, before we begin delving into mundane talks about everyday activity.
“I’m sorry to hear that” I would tell her if she was honest and she would eventually hang up when I couldn’t think of anything more to say.
Eventually the phone calls between us became less and less frequent.
It was a week before summer started when I felt the urge to call her once again. It was because it was usual about this time of year when Jason would usually invite me to join them on a trip to wherever they were going.
Being who I am, who I was, I refused while Jason and Laurie kept me updated on the adventures they had by uploading photos onto Facebook. Adventures including trips to Africa, trips to Alaska, trips to Panama, Vietnam, Laos and anywhere human life was possible in.
So I called Laurie, checking how she was coping, the idea of having to go through her first Summer without Jason being with her. Using my cell-phone, I dialed her number before hitting the green button.
“Hey Laurie” I said after she picked up, being impossible to sound any more monotone.
“Hey Liam” she said, impossible to sound any more depressed.
“How are you holding up?” I asked, almost rhetorically.
“Not good” she decided to be honest today. “I keep thinking Jason would appear any moment now suggesting the three of us go on a trip together.”
“Yeah” I answered, picking up some emotion in my voice as I did, though none of the emotions being the happy kind. “I keep thinking he’ll call me too.”
“Yeah” Laurie answered, sounding even weaker “he would do that. Always talking about how he wouldn’t want to leave you out from anything.”
“You know” I said, not knowing what I was really thinking at the time “we can still go. Just the two of us.”
“It’s not the same” she answered and then paused before telling me what she thought of Jason, “your brother was a great guy after all. No one can replace him.”
Laurie sounded as if she was going to cry over the phone again and she hung up without saying another word. That was good-enough though, her last words were enough to keep me occupied for the rest of the week.
When I got in front of my computer at work the next day I started by Alt-tabbing from all the weather charts. I began looking over my brother’s Facebook account, filled to the brim with messages from people who miss him.
I looked over his photo album and dug up images of him and Laurie doing the things I never dared. He had photos of himself having fun in Southeast Asia by feeding pieces of cuts of meat to small tiger cubs. He took photos of him and Laurie volunteering to clean up an oil spill near the gulf coast, scrubbing rocks and bathing small birds in a bath with a bar of soap.
Finally, there was photos of him with an armed raised to show off his muscular biceps and another arm lowered to carry an axe. Where in that photo, he had just helped a local fire brigade knock down a door of a small burning house in his trip through France.
Like the badass I always wanted to say he was, the proceeding photos following that had him surrounded by everyone he saved. They were thanking him for all he’s done. Laurie’s comment could be found under it, calling her husband the world’s greatest hero.
That was the man that no one could replace. The man that left an emptiness in Laurie’s heart that no one can fill.
But I can sure as hell try.
I took one more look at the photo of my brother, not the one with him holding an axe but the one where everyone was thanking him.
I closed my computer and then made my way to my boss’s office, notifying him that I was going to leave early.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m going on vacation” I answered.
Where to start though.
A week into my vacation I opened up my Facebook account and started a new album called ‘Summer adventures to anywhere.’
The first photo I placed in there was of me and a cow in front of destroyed barn.
But I guess I’ll have to explain how that happened.
On my first day of being off work, I sat myself in front of my computer, trying to order planes tickets to anywhere like Africa or Vietnam. Yet with the price rate hikes for any tourist destination, much of the plane tickets I was looking for were just out of my current price range. My luck as I kept most of my money in commodities and stocks.
A 24 hour session of me looking at my computer screen and with my cell-phone in hand, deciding on which airline to call.
It was minutes later when the phone rung for me instead.
The person calling me was the sort of people you’d expect to meet as a meteorologist:
A group of idiots that document extreme weather conditions. A group of fanatics who didn’t really need much of a job description while they have their titles. A group of daredevils who called themselves “Storm Chasers”.
“Hey Liam, it’s Daryl, did you sleep yet?” I thought he said while we were talking on the phone.
“I asked ‘did you eat yet?’” he assured.
“We’re just in the neighborhood and are just looking for a place to eat. We were wondering if you wanted to come along.”
“I could go for some Starbucks” I said, then noticing how much my eyes were twitching.
The next few moments of my life were hazy at best but not unexpected perhaps.
With the combination for the perfect storm brewing. Me needing a vacation and Daryl always on the move and one hazy moment led to another, I would soon find myself falling asleep in the back of their van. Daryl had a another person with us who drove us towards North Texas and Oklahoma, Tornado Capital of the USA.
When I awoke later, Darryl was holding his camera up and toward a windy twister running wild on farmlands.
“Hey Mr. Meteorologist, what’s your take on this?” he asked, light-heartedly, “is it a category four or a category five?”
“Category-” I said in a daze before I looked out the side windows of the van and yipped, “Holy shit, that’s dangerous!”
“That’s right Mr. Meteorologist.” Daryl replied “That there is a ‘category-holy-shit-that’s-dangerous.’”
The driver, a middle aged man with dyed blonde hair laughed as he repeated “‘category-holy-shit-that’s-dangerous’, couldn’t say it better myself”.
“That’s right, a once in a lifetime storm. Now drive us in closer, we need a better close-up if we’re going to get any good photos of this.”
We brushed against death several times that day when patches of grass tore from the ground and gave grass-stains onto our vehicle several times. We teased with blindness several times when leaves or pieces of paper would hit our windshield and stick to the front of our vision. We also tainted ourselves with the notion of peace and love when random patches of paint were caught in the wind and latched onto our vehicle, giving us the look of a hippie tie-dye.
I nearly screamed when the people I was with continued to drive towards the eye of the storm despite all the stuff that continued to bombard us.
“This is amazing!” Daryl yelled out as he continued to film the carnage.
“Oh look at that” the driver said as he pointed toward the left of us and we saw a pig flying over our heads, levitating with the strong winds.
I ignored the novelty of that image while Daryl filmed it and the driver continued to race us towards our death.
“Calm down,” the driver said as he spotted me hyperventilating with his rear view mirror, “we’re not at Oz yet.”
“Well, keep driving then”, Daryl said excitedly “we should get there soon!”
A little over half an hour into the Storm Chaser’s adventure, we felt a hard bump followed by a loud pop when one of our tires finally gave in to the weather. That led us to a supposed stop in our storm chase.
I say supposed because we still have to make our escape while the storm continued to rage, looking angry as it tossed everything aside.
“Now’s your time to take a photo!” Daryl yelled out to me, trying to speak over the approaching winds.
I tried peering out the window a bit more but could only bring myself to paralyzing fears as the tornado began to catch up with our slow getaway due to our damaged tire.
I was most afraid when the tornado crashed through a nearby, thankfully, emptied senior citizen center, sucking up everything inside. I did, however, manage to distinctly remember seeing a novelty oversized foam glove along with many scrabble pieces caught being caught in the updraft before hoovering around us.
The novelty hand seemingly waving at me while the scrabble pieces were spelling the sentence: “this is the start of your adventure you may or may not die now”.
I tried to take a photo of that but my hands had begun to continually shake when I lifted up my cell-phone for the shoot. I probably looked like I was waving good bye instead as the novelty glove and scrabble pieces continued to float away.
We managed to make our way safely to the outside of a local shelter when the tornado made its way to a nearby cornfield. Slowing down in its chase. Seeming as if it wanted a snack break when two tractors were pulled up and sounds of crashing metal made a chomping like noise.
We drove as close as we could to the entrance of the shelter before we ran out to knock and scream at the doors.
The people standing guard heard us, quickly opened the door to let us in before quickly closing it.
Daryl remembered to carry his camera with him, with the fresh footage still inside, he seemed to be valuing it more than his own life.
The driver on the other hand was holding onto his sandwich, meatballs with provolone cheese, his favorite sandwich which he had been saving for lunch.
Together, they asked me “Hey Liam, manage to take any photos on your cell-phone?”
Sadly, I said “no” before we begun walking around to a good spot to stand in.
The sheleter was, perhaps, once a very large underground cellar, used for storing farm supplies and such. So with the windows being as small as the cellar’s height allowed for, as well as being barred and boarded to not let the strong drafts in, we had to settle down and try not to pay attention to the storm anymore.
That was until we sat down by a family with a young boy complaining to his parents.
“We left Dave at the barn. Why did we leave Dave behind?!” he kept asking.
“We’re not going to have this talk” the father said, “it’s too late for that one. If he didn’t want to get out, it’s his own fault.”
“We coulda convinced him” the boy said “all he needed was some convincing before he could leave his home.”
I couldn’t help myself but to look at the boy. Perhaps eight years old, small and scrawny, completely deprived of hope. I wondered if that was the look that some of the children at the school had before my brother served his last moments as a fireman.
“I’ll go” I told the family, “I’ll get your Dave, where is he?”
The boy answered immediately, “in our barn, 3 acres down. It’s red and blue so you can’t miss it.”
I began making my way out again while the boy’s parents tried telling me “Sir, Dave is-” before they were interrupted by the boy.
“Don’t you call him that!” the boy said, “Dave is my friend!”
Without hearing more, I left the shelter and made my way to the barn.
The tornado, when I just stepped out, was still having it’s metallic munches on corn. Still having two tractors lifted up in the air and still settled in the corn field, turning everything into grits. As if spotting prey, it began to move once again when I made my way across the parking lot of the shelter and on my way to rescue Dave.
Fortunately, I can tell you as a meteorologist, it takes a small amount of time for a tornado to pick up enough momentum to move itself quickly. It was still dangerous though, but I still had a small window of time to perform my duty as my brother might have.
Running, I eventually spotted the barn, though some of its paint may have peeled off, it was without a doubt the barn that the boy had told me about. Without hesitation, I ran inside.
“Dave!” I yelled out as soon as I opened the barn doors but received no answer.
I repeated again and again until I finally received a response.
“Moo!” a low pitch but loud sounding whistle erupted.
Mistaking what I heard for words, I called out again. “Dave! Is that you?! I’m here to get you!”
A cow suddenly walked out from one of the dark corners of the barn with a wooden plaque tied around its neck which clearly wrote out the name “DAVE” on it.
Dave, as it turned out, happened to be a cow, a bull actually.
I would have swear-ed then and there, cursed, bit my lip lower lip and screamed a word that begun with a “f”, but I highly doubted Dave had a good grasp of the English language.
Instead, I just decided to keep my promise and lead Dave out to safety.
“C’mon Dave” I said from the distance, “follow me.”
Despite what the father and son had told me back at the shelter, Dave, surprisingly, listened and begun following me as soon as I called out to him.
When he got near me though, that was when I got scared.
Dave was a breeding bull. That is to say, Dave was a bull that had been selected bred to be as large as possible to pass down his genes to the next generation. From hoof to shoulder or hoof to hip, Dave was a five and a half feet tall Highland Cattle, which meant he was much larger than me and hairier than me. And, if he wanted, Dave could easily look my right in the eye.
I swallowed my fears and spoke to it again.
“C’mon Dave, let’s get you to the shelter, maybe everyone there would be happy to get milk from you once you’re there.”
That was a stupid thing to say. There’s no way you can or should get milk from a bull, let alone a mating bull. Having said that, Dave followed me anyways as we made our way to the exit.
Surprisingly for a large bull, he moved with a surprisingly silent gait and the two of us almost left the barn until I saw, then felt, the doors shuttering a bit.
Bending myself down a bit, I took a peek through the gaps and saw the tornado right next to us.
Wisely, I chose not to open the barn doors just yet and thought about what was happening.
Based on the position of the tornado’s as I saw it before, it would mean that the continued momentum of the tornado was going to have it approach the barn. With the size of that thing, it was most likely going to tear the barn apart.
The question now was how to avoid the violent winds while it takes the barn apart.
As any elementary meteorologist would tell you, there is a certain center of many storms where it is unaffected by the extreme winds. A safe-spot called the eye of the storm which continually travels with it as the storm moves. The only problem now is to locate it.
I, disappointingly for my meteorologist status, wasn’t thinking about the science at the time. I was simply following Dave at the time who gracefully decided to move himself between the two rumbling lines.
There was a certain silence then, of course that was quickly interrupted while we were still in the middle of a storm.
Without doing anything the entire barn ripped up from the ground and flew up into the air.
Me and Dave, however, were still standing still, completely unscathed as we stood in the center of the storm.
Scrabble pieces dropped down from the air and landed near my feet, spelling out the sentence, “good job you survived now keep moving along in your journey”.
Dave moo-ed and his head nodded at me.
Me and Dave got to see everything around us get tossed like spinning confetti as the twister continued to blow. Not being able to see anything outside the literal wind barrier, the two of us simply decided to keep moving with the storm. Keeping up with the eye of the tornado. Going wherever the wind was willing to take us. Having a chance to watch nothing but mother nature spin flower petals around us; correction, having a chance to dance with the flower petal as it moved with us.
Dave and I slowly walked, as with baby steps and I was finally immersing myself to what I was doing.
The storm decided to speed up whenever we were ready and we began walking with a normal pace before we gradually moved on to a running speed as we ran with the breeze.
We ran in the general direction that I had just walked through. Away from where the barn used to be. Passed the three acres that I had crossed and onto the parking lot with the storm pushing the cars away while we traveled.
The three of us, Dave, the storm and I soon came to a sudden halt though, as the storm was kind enough to pause us in front of the shelter for us to hide in.
I knocked on the door and David moo-ed.
The security guards opened the door for a second time for me to enter. His eyes gaped wide opened when he did too. He was probably in awe watching the flower petals dance around behind us. In so much awe that he didn’t budge while he stood in the doorway.
“Hi,” I casually greeted the security guard in awe to snap him back into reality, “can I come in?”
He looked at me and then at Dave the Bull before stepping out of the way and we entered.
Daryll rushed up towards my direction as soon as word got out that someone had returned.
“Liam!” he said “are you okay?!”
“Yeah,” I answered “I just saved a cow”.
Dave moo-ed at me.
“I just saved a ‘bull’ I mean.”
Dave the Bull then nodded.
When the storm stopped, Dave and I were the first to step outside to look at the wreckage.
Daryl, not too far behind me, asked if I had taken a photo yet.
“No, didn’t have the chance” I told him.
Dave moo-ed with his head aimed across the street, bringing our attention there. Without another second, the barn which Dave might have lived in for most of his life came falling down, all in one piece, before crashing itself into smithereens.
The storm chasers mouth gaped wide open as he looked at the wreckage.
“Now’s a good of a time as any” I said before I took out my cell-phone and placed it over my face to take a photo.
Struggling to get a good angle, I decided to pass the phone to Daryl.
“Do you mind taking the picture for me?”
Daryl shook his head, no while Dave and I positioned ourselves for the first of many photos.