I used to fear thunderstorms. I would scurry into my mom and dad’s bedroom at the first flash of lightning or rumble of thunder. I slept on the ground at the foot of their bed to help me feel safe. If they weren’t panicking, then maybe I shouldn’t. I was just a child, but the angst brought on by thunderstorms was upsetting. There were storms that were dangerous and life-threatening where we needed to retreat to the basement for cover. We lived in the Midwest and the threat of a damaging tornado was there. Famous tornadoes have destroyed entire communities in Illinois. I have heard my fair share of tornado sirens that were not drills. Another thing that stacked up my worry of a tornado killing me were our drills in school. Every month in the spring we had to practice taking cover. I am not sure if I have an overactive imagination, but a drill was not just a drill when it was in school. I was able to envision the devastation as I took my spot near the lockers in the hallway. I would think to myself that surely my hands over my head while on my knees and elbows would not stop a brick from crushing my spine. Glass would still cut me open if there were windows blown out. I must have watched too much TV. I knew the difference between fact and fiction though. I loved the 1994 film, Twister. Shit. It’s a 1996 film. I am upset that I could not recall the appropriate year. We all know the film. The movie was about storm chasers trying to find out more about tornadoes by deploying tiny computers into the heart of a tornado. There was action, science (sort-of), comedy, and even romance. The movie featured Helen Hunt, often in a tight white shirt which made this 11 or 12-year-old feel some type of way. The movie made me nervous, which makes me think it was an effective movie, however bad it may have been. This movie, along with support from my mom to learn about what scares me, led to me becoming fascinated with the weather. I realized that even though deaths do result from tornadoes, it is not likely to happen based on the statistics. If you were weather aware and prepared to seek shelter, you most likely would not get hurt or die from a tornado. This made me feel better. My thunderstorm anxiety turned into a curiosity that still exists today. My mom and dad took me to a weather seminar over an hour away to hear the top meteorologists speak about severe and dangerous weather. I saw the newest tornado videos, learned about lightning, and I heard the statistics and the effectiveness of the watch and warning systems that were saving lives. I even got to shake hands and ask a question of the great Chicago Meteorologist, Tom Skilling. I asked him why so many tornadoes take place in the United States compared to the rest of the world. As I learned more and more about the weather, I wondered about that. He gave me an answer, and if you know anything about Tom Skilling, you know his answer was precise and thorough. He was delighted to let me know. His answer made sense to me and I once again knew I wanted to change lives, save lives even. I was going to be a weatherman. This was not just a passing thought. I told everyone that I was going to be an on-screen meteorologist. You can quiz any of my childhood friends and they will tell you that is what I aspired to be. The desire to become a weatherman influenced where I went to college. Northern Illinois University was the only state school that offered meteorology as a major. Off to DeKalb I went. The forecast was clear and the conditions were favorable, but as you know, weather forecasts can be wrong.
I was not the best student in high school. I ranked in the middle of the class academically. I loved high school though. I was a mix of class clown, second-tier jock (I played golf, baseball, bowling, and tennis), and I felt like I was a leader. I wasn’t popular like the movies and TV portray, but I had my business in all of the cliques that my high school offered up. I was friends with just about everyone and I was well liked. I was Student Council President my senior year, involved in a handful of clubs, and played sports. I was also in on the Prom Court, mostly for my charm and not my appearance. I won “Mr. Brave”, which was like a beauty pageant that involved seniors. We fashioned casual wear, formal wear, demonstrated a talent, and we answered a question from the judges. My creativity won the contest, again, not looks. I mean, I was a “handsome” husky high schooler. Handsome has always been a term of endearment like “cute” to me. Not quite the best compliment, while also trying not to hurt your feelings. They were being nice. I wasn’t/am not a looker. My heart and personality was/is much more sexy. All this being said, high school prepared me more for social aspects of the rest of my life as opposed to the academics. I knew I wanted to be a weatherman, but I had no clue how that would manifest itself when I got to Northern. Well I was not ready. Being a meteorologist meant that you take math and science classes. Not math and science classes that just talked about weather, but chemistry, biology, advance mathematics. I quickly realized that studying weather needed to be a hobby and not a career. This led to a depression and poor grades. Like really poor, double-secret-probation type of grades. I earned a “C” a “D” and two “F’s” my first semester. I was not a partier, I just lacked direction and motivation. I would slap my alarm like you see in cartoons and turn over and head back to sleep. In my sleep was where I was most comfortable. The grades reflected the effort I put in. In fact, I did not even take the final for my math class that semester
When my father left, another man found his way into my life. I have him to thank for stepping up for me, my sisters and, especially, my mom. You see, my mom was a pioneer in the internet dating world. Good old match.com is how my mom met my stepdad. I remember the night of their first date. My mom gave all the details to her friends in case we never heard from her again. She also let us, the kids, know where she was going and when she was expected back. Thankfully, not only did she make it back, but Bob is a man who settled himself into a rather unstable situation with us Nagles and a Miller. Bob and my mom helped me out more than I know when it came to going away to college. Reporting my grades to them was one of the most awkward moments of my life. I was a confused young adult who had no direction and no way to express myself. So, I obviously cut my hair into a mohawk and was dyeing it when they found out about my grades. Just picture this: I am bleaching my mohawk blonde as I try to explain why I did not go to class and do my work. I was obviously misunderstood. I didn’t even understand myself. After the initial fight, however, we decided that I would retake classes to boost the horrendous GPA and hopefully I would figure it out. I returned to classes with more motivation, though I did not know what I was going to “be” when I grew up. Too much math and science for my former passion. I did well the second semester. So well, that I did not have to submit an essay explaining why I wanted to remain in school. The grades spoke for themselves as I gave it my all to remain in college. I bought myself some time just by putting in the work and trying to not disappoint my mom and stepdad anymore. I declared a Communications major and I entered the summer with more enthusiasm to remain in college. That summer I took a job as a paraprofessional for students with severe and profound physical and intellectual disabilities. I took it because I had an in for the job from my Uncle. I wanted the job to have money for golf and gas. I got more than golf and gas money from this job; I found my calling.