I didn't take a direct hit from any tornadoes this week, but I'm in a bad way nonetheless. I feel emotional turmoil coursing through me and I figure one of the best ways to take another small step in processing it is to write it down. Totally not intended to be a 'pity me' party, as others have suffered far worse.
Somehow I missed the Joplin news coverage until noon on Monday. I pulled out my netbook while eating, and my lunch went cold as I read in horror about the devastation wreaked upon Joplin, a city about four hours from OKC. I felt anxious and sad for the rest of the day on Monday. I had the heeby-jeebies because I knew storms were forecast Monday evening in OKC, and part of me just wanted to curl up and not leave my house Monday night. This was impossible, as there was yet another Thunder game that BJ wanted us to attend. Sigh. Mondays in May, especially stormy Mondays in May, continue to be a problem for me even after all these years. You've read my chronicles of Monday, May 3, 1999, the day that the strongest tornado in recorded history destroyed large portions of my hometown. Images from Joplin were eerily reminiscent of what I witnessed firsthand in 1999, and I felt shaken on Monday. Ugh.
Then Tuesday happened.
On Tuesday morning the Sports Animal Radio Station I listen to was abuzz with forecasts for the day. The news was no good: the National Weather Service had confirmed that OKC was at "high risk" for a "tornado outbreak" later in the day. "Outbreak," they said. Double ugh. If you weren't in Oklahoma yesterday, believe me, it's all anyone talked about all day long. I met my mom for lunch and we worked out our plan. I was to leave work, get Silas and Tex, wait for BJ, and then my dad was going to pick us all up and take us to my parents' house because they have a neighbor with a cellar. Their neighbor spends most of her time in Texas and was not home this week, and she promised my mom she could use the cellar anytime. Thank God we had a place to go.
3:25PM there was a knock on my office door, interrupting my session. My boss gently said, "Time to wrap up your session. We're having a mandatory shutdown at 3:30. Tornadoes are already on the ground. Get home and good luck." I jumped in the car ten minutes later and learned that there were in fact two tornadoes on the ground, one of them a half-mile wide and headed for the western parts of the city. My heart was pounding, it was gray and sticky outside, the streets were packed since everyone else's boss was as kind as mine, and all I could think were two thoughts: Get to Silas. What's in store for us tonight? Get to Silas. What's in store for us tonight? These thoughts were not unique. Many people I talked to throughout the day verbalized the same fears: Am I going to be okay? What if it hits us? What a gut-wrenching day.
*Fast-forward through the storms' arrival, the tornado sirens wailing for hours, loading in the truck in the hail, running through red mud to the cellar in my work clothes and not caring, watching crazy-looking circulating clouds, listening to the radio in a hot, dark cellar for an hour with BJ, my parents, a confused baby, and two scared dogs, and finally realizing we were in the clear.*
We made it home, turned on the TV, and I promptly saw that a three-year-old boy from Piedmont was missing in the rubble, despite his mom following instructions and taking him to the bathtub and hiding under a mattress. I started crying at that point and could hardly stop. I cried on and off for more than two hours, grateful my own boy is fine, imagining the terror and grief of that poor mother and boy (who is still missing), grateful that most friends we checked on were fine, although some lost everything. And suddenly I felt 18 years old again, scared and overwhelmed as I was in 1999. I remembered being lost in my own town I had lived in for so long as we distributed water and supplies to damaged areas. I remembered huddling in the cellar with 25 other people tucked in cannonballs all the way up the stairs, listening to the roar of the F5 as it hit a mile and a half north of us (yes, it was so big that we could certainly hear and feel it). I remembered looks of grief and tears from my school friends' faces when school finally resumed, the friends who had lost homes and possessions. I remembered my mom telling me her friend had died trying to get in the tub, as he had gotten his wife down and was about to climb on top of her when a truck came flying through their bathroom and killed him. I remembered seeing a home in the rubble in the neighborhood where we were volunteering, and it had this huge thing sticking out of it at an angle, and how I finally realized that the 'thing' was a semi-trailer. The meteorologists' frantic warnings; the muddy outlines of human figures under the I-35 overpass where people had died; clearing the large, lightweight debris from our yard; the debarked, jagged trees; the two-by-fours impaled cleanly into the brick walls of the Baptist church; ambulance sirens all night; brown, murky, dirty skies for three days afterward from all the dust that had blown up. I could go on and on. All of this I remembered from 12 years ago, and I couldn't stop crying last night.
Even though the bad weather was past us, I was SO tempted to sleep with our windows open so we could hear tornado sirens if they sounded, just like we did on May 3rd. After all, the small tornado that our family DID take a direct hit from in 2001 was in the middle of the night. I wanted Silas sleeping next to me so I could grab him in an emergency, but I also refrained from that. As I laid in bed last night I finally realized after all these years that this May 3rd tornado is something that I'm probably never going to fully get over. I guess you can take the girl out of the tornado, but you can't take the tornado out of the girl. Good thing Oklahoma girls are strong, because I know I'm not the only one saturated with grief this week.