Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tashka Trail Teaser and Parenthetical Abuse

Taking a break from the tornado monologue. Time for the Tashka Trail 2011 Teaser!

Today, I ran into one of the race directors of the Tashka Trail Run - you might remember me being silly and signing up for the 50K only to drop down to the 25K after I failed to train at all (in my defense, I was rather ill (seriously, I had to have surgery one week after the race (I know! I know! I shouldn't have run the race at all (get out of my head Mom!!(also, here is the race report)))).


Talking to him got me excited. I'm fairly certain that I will still be in T-Town through December at the very least. I could run this race again. I could actually train seriously. Hell, I actually could have a shot at winning! Lake Lurleen is literally down the road from me. I could train on the course repeatedly before the event. I'll have a home field advantage. I have six MONTHS to train. I can totally do this!

But if I'm going to do it, I absolutely have to do it right. Remember my New Years Resolutions? No more entering into races, then not training for said races OR getting hurt before said races, then still running the race anyway. And since I wasn't able to run in the Ranger Run (it was one week after the Tornado (yes that capital T is intentional) - wasn't super high on the priority list), I still get to pick out a race up to 50K in distance to run this year.

So, here's my to-do list:

1. Get in touch with my inner librarian: I'm going to take full advantage of the resources available to me through my library and research marathon training to best of my abilities. Email me/comment if you want the bibliography.

2. Get a base level of fitness: Running has been pretty sporadic lately. Gee. I wonder why? And my eating habits have gone to the crapper. Time to return to running regularly and eating right

3. Get running friends: I need accountabil-a-buddies (South Park, anyone?)

4. Follow through: also know as "Get 'er done!" or "Just do it!" or "Shut Up and Run!" or occasionally, "TWO BIRDS!" (yeah. only Derek and maybe Ryan will get that last reference. If you figure it out, I will buy you dinner).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Days After - 1

It would be nice if the story ended with the tornado passing. But the truth is that the next few days were much harder to bear than the tornado itself.

Hunkering down in a bathroom, waiting for the span of a few minutes, knowing there was nothing to do but pray - there is a kind of peace in that. Terror to be sure, but also peace, because you know the time in that hell is finite and there is nothing to do but breathe and wait for the end.

In the days after, I lost all sense of time, normalcy, or routine. The order of events is hazy, sharp memories standing out in contrast to gray images from the past. Time itself is missing.

The morning after, I stayed lying down on the mats in the climbing room as long as I could handle. The anxiety I felt about getting back to my apartment to retrieve what I could was more potent that a pot full of sludgy coffee, and it had a similar effect on my digestive functions. I could not stand thinking that my apartment was left in one piece with all of my belongings inside - and a roof that could collapse at any second, windows that could be broken by looters, on land that could be condemned so I could never return…

Hope can be a painful feeling, and it made my chest ache as I thought about the possibility of getting my belongings back, and the more likely scenario that every thing that made up my life would be bulldozed over instead – despite surviving the initial storm. I know what you are thinking. It's just stuff. Stuff can be replaced. Be grateful to be alive. I know. And I knew I had been blessed. My life had been spared. I walked away with a mere scratch on my arm. Derek's life had been spared. That was so much more than I had deserved. Much more than what my neighbors had been given. But God, I just wanted to go home. To HAVE home. And that meant getting the pieces back that I could.

So that's what I set out to do.

Getting ready to return to the apartment felt like running in water. No matter how hard I worked, everything took longer than it should have. Trying to eat breakfast without puking, finding keys for a borrowed van, finding help, finding my damn toothbrush. It was somewhere near 10 o’clock I think when we were finally unpacking what bags we had so we could use them to carry what we could back to the shelter. Derek had packed them thoughtfully albeit quickly, grabbing all of our clean underwear, socks, and a few other clothing items along with all our food that would fit.

Unpacking my underwear, I remembered that I had kept my mother’s wedding ring in a black velvet jewelry box in my underwear drawer. She had given it to me after my father's death. I asked Derek if he had taken everything from the drawer. Yes, he had dumped the whole thing in the bag. I went through the bag again. I unfolded and refolded every item. I looked around the floor. I checked the empty bag. No black velvet box. I repeated these actions maybe three times before I felt the shaking of panic in my hands and stopped.

I had lost my mother’s wedding ring.

I stood from where I had been kneeling on the floor of the Outdoor Rec Office. Derek was talking to someone about something. Their voices were static. There were too many people standing around me. I walked away from everyone and went behind the shelving where Derek and I were stashing our stuff. I sat down on the floor and cried. Catherine followed me back there. She held me and waited out my tears.

She understood. It's more than just stuff.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shelter Found - 2

Downstairs was organized chaos. The walls echoed with voices and none of the typical white noise I was used to hearing in the gym. No AC running, no music playing. Just voices echoing in large open rooms. We moved around a bit before settling on a location for the first aid station. Tables were set up, trash cans readied, supplies opened and organized. I felt a mild panic going through the supplies. I didn’t know what to do with half of the stuff. Didn’t even know what it was called or what it was for. My Red Cross First Aid training had not prepared me for this. God I wished I knew what to do.

Hank was with me again. He had been able to get in touch with his parents - they were on their way to get him and bring him home. Derek had been in touch with our families during the slow drive to safety, but my phone still wasn’t working. I grabbed a Gatorade and some point and chugged it. Thank you sugar rush! Sam tried to break us into the Sports Rehab office so patients would have some more privacy and we would have beds to lay them on. The master key didn’t work in the lock. Lance called Derek away to discuss something.

Men in scrubs arrived. Thank you, Jesus. I recognized them from work. They were physicians and med students from UMC. Dr. Uzlen, our interim dean, was with them as well. I was beyond grateful. Their presence meant someone with more training and more experience was officially in charge. Derek and I could back out if we wanted to. It wasn’t on us to save anyone. We could take care of ourselves for the time being. I slumped against a wall, sat down, and spaced out again.

When Derek returned, he had a package of chocolate cookies that his mom has sent him for his birthday. He shared them with everyone. It seemed strange that it was still his birthday - that this was the same day that had started just that morning with me waking to sunshine in my bed. A bed that I would never return to, in a home I would never live in again. I could never have imagined that would be my last time waking up there.

Derek and I both needed to get away for at least a minute. We decided to head to the rock wall - Derek had keys and no one else would be there. I felt a little guilty since there were so many people there who wouldn’t have the luxury we were about to indulge in, but that wasn’t going to stop me from taking a minute to breathe. It was around midnight I think.

Derek and I went into the rock climbing room, shut the door behind us, and sat down on the mats. There was a single emergency light. The echo of voices was distant. It was almost quiet. Before we had any real time to ourselves, someone found us though and called Derek away. I was left by myself in the dimly lit room. I got up, grabbed a rolled of paper towels and sat back down on the mats. In the familiar space, where I’ve climbed & hung out with friends, I finally took my moment. With all the weight of the day, I let go of all my control and cried, gasping sobs. I cradled my head with my up drawn knees and let tears flow freely. But just as quickly as my crying started, it stopped. I rubbed my face with paper towels, feeling the itch of the fiber glass insulation that covered me with its invisible residue. I sipped my water, and I waited for Derek to come back.

He came back with Hank, who was still waiting for his folks. We all sat together in the quiet, attempting to process the day. Hanks folks arrived soon after. Derek and I decided it was time to bunk down for the night. It was sometime after 1:00AM. We met back up in the Rec office with Sam, the Haynie’s, and others? We grabbed camp pillows and fleece liners from the Outdoor Rec office and headed back downstairs. Lance slept in the office. Catherine went to stay with friends. I have no idea where their dogs went, or where Kyle went for that matter. Derek, Sam, some other guy, his dog, and I went to the climbing wall.

We laid out our beds for the night. Refilled water bottles. Made trips to the darkened bathrooms. Tried to settle down. We all laid down and waited for sleep. I heard my watch chime 2:00AM. And 3:00AM. And 4. I know I slept some because with every person that walked by, every time the dog stirred, and every time the wind howled I woke up. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, listening to the wind, waiting for the roof to rip off. I did not dream.

Shelter Found - 1

Driving from our wrecked home to the shelter was a lesson in patience and endurance. The adrenaline which had been carrying me through began to lessen, and I could feel the effects of having not eaten since eleven that morning. I started getting tunnel vision while driving and frequently clenched the muscles in my legs and stomach to keep from passing out - a trick my brother taught me after I blacked out on a roller coaster ride one summer. I did not share this information with my copilot.

Hank was amazed that I was so calm after the calamity that had happened. He asked how I could be handling everything this well. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I wasn’t handling it. I was in a state of shock, both emotionally and physically. If we didn’t find shelter and food soon, I was going to pass out.

Halfway through the drive, Derek and I swapped leads. I drove ahead and constantly had Hank checking behind us to make sure Derek was still there. I was borderline paranoid about losing him. All my mirrors were busted, so I couldn’t check for myself. After a circuitous route, we finally made it to campus. Campus in its entirety was dark - they had no power, only emergency lighting.

Hail was just beginning to fall when we pulled into a rear entrance to the Rec. Assuming this was the beginning of the next tornado (which never actually came), I parked haphazardly and we all rushed to the doors of the Outdoor Rec Office. Derek got there first and began pounding on it - the door was locked but people were inside. Please for the love of mercy let us in…

Soon, a familiar form appeared in the doorway, silhouetted by the emergency lighting. Kyle Stephens. Bless the sweet Lord. I was so grateful that he was alive and well and that he, like us, had decided to come to the Rec. It was then that I realized people we knew, our students & classmates, could be dead. It was a heart stopping realization. Until then, I hadn’t really thought beyond Derek and myself - despite witnessing death first hand. I focused on feeling grateful that Kyle was alive. We got inside, hugs all around.

Derek, Hank, & I dumped our possessions on the floor. Broken glass tumbled with it. The Haynies were there, with their puppies. The dogs were running loose - over the glass and our bags. I saw their crate and leashes set aside and wondered why they were not in use. It wasn’t safe for the pups to be running underfoot, over glass. The next few hours are even hazier for me. My blood sugar was beyond low.

Derek and Lance discussed the status of the Rec Center. It was serving as a shelter and first aid station for the community. Sam England was around, helping out. I had no idea he was even in town and was immediately grateful he was okay too. Derek ran downstairs to see the status of the first aid set up and find out what was needed. The guys all went with him I think?

I grabbed a water bottle and some dried apricots to eat. Finally. I was filthy and certain that I was going to take a header to the floor if I wasn’t careful, so I went ahead and sat down on the ground. The dogs kept nipping at my face though, so I got back up and sat on a chair. I sipped water, nibbled on the food, and spaced out.

Derek came back. He kneeled in front of me to check on me. The dogs kept biting his legs and jumping on him. He yelled at them to get off, and then stood up when they remained uncontrolled. He spoke to me. I have no idea what he said, but at some point I understood that help was needed downstairs and all the Wilderness First Responders (Derek, Sam, Kyle? and Lance) were going down to help. Others began gathering first aid supplies. I decided to go with them. I didn’t know what I could do honestly, but at least I would be moving. I wasn’t ready to be still yet. I had taken off my helmet, but kept my headlamp. We made our way downstairs.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado, Part Five

We gave instructions to Hank and the college kids - yeah, we found them again. We were all going to grab necessities from our apartments, only what we could carry, and meet back in the parking lot. Food, water, clothes. Derek and I decided to split again - he would pack our things, and I would check on the cars. My heart clenched as we separated, but I was grateful for something constructive to do that wouldn’t require much thinking. I just hoped I would have good news for him.

I made it back to the parking lot on our side of the building and got some instant heartburn. Cars were not where they had been parked. Trees and power lines were down. And there was more of that damned barbed wire. I looked for our cars. I almost missed them from not recognizing them. The windows had all been shattered, they had wooden beams on top, tree limbs inside. My car had the shell of an AC unit on it. Shit.

But as I got closer I realized we were lucky. Both of our cars were free from other cars – not everyone could say that. If they turned on and if I could get all the crap off of them, we should be able to get out. Other cars had been shoved into each other and wouldn’t be getting out anytime soon. I got to the Matrix and reached my arm in through glass to turn the ignition. It started. I almost cried in relief. The tightness in my chest released a little. I turned it back off and went to my Camry. We just bought it last week. I maneuvered my way in and turned the key. It started too. Holy hallelujah! I got out and began pulling tree limbs and boards out from under and off the top of the cars. I shoved the AC unit away and tossed pieces of roof into the grass. I would have sat down and giggled if it weren’t for a second tornado and glass being everywhere.

It was 6:45PM. I ran to find the guys and get them the hell out of there.

They were in the stairwell below our apartment talking to one of the neighbors. Derek offered them a ride, but the neighbors declined. The college kids had a working car so they took off on their own. Hank rode shotgun with me in the Camry and Derek led the way in the Matrix. As we were readying to leave, 3 firefighters (I think) arrived and asked for the area status. They thought we were search and rescue as well. Derek told them what we had found so far and let them know that we were leaving. We asked if they knew anything about a second storm, but they did not. As we got into the cars, they told us there was no way we were going to be able to drive out of there. Well, we were still going to try. Backing out of my ‘parking spot’ I realized my arm was bleeding. I cut myself on some glass without realizing it. It wasn't a bad cut but it kept dripping onto my pants. I thought about it and realized it had been about 13 years since my last tetanus shot. Oh well.

As I said, Derek led the way out. As we were turning the corner of the parking lot, the Matrix got snagged on some barbed wire. After a struggle, the car was freed and we continued on. Thus began the two and a half hour journey to get us a mere four miles away to the shelter of the UA Recreation Center. The route we took was clogged with traffic and winding as every North-South road in the city had been blocked from fallen trees, destroyed buildings, downed power lines and more. We actually had to drive all the way to Kicker Road in Alberta City and then go back around to get the Rec. Alberta City was hit even harder than Tuscaloosa, but somehow that road was clear enough.

Driving around, our way was frequently blocked by shiny cars with uninjured people who invariable called out to us in their excitement - “Did that just happen to your car?? Is that from the tornado??” Teens and adults alike swarmed the streets in titillation to see the annihilation of their neighbors lives. Not one of them was out there to help. Every one of them was blocking the way of emergency vehicles and evacuees. With every second they stood in the way with their cameras, mouths gaping and eyes wide doing nothing, someone was dying or in pain because help couldn’t get through. It’s a damn good thing I don’t carry a gun. I almost wish the second tornado really had hit so every one of those self centered, mindless bastards would know exactly what it felt like to have their world destroyed. That’s what they were so anxious to see after all.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado, Part Four

We walked along the back parking lot to get to the front of the building again. A woman was crying hysterically in her doorway. As Derek and I approached, we asked her if she was okay. She kept crying. I looked around her. Her apartment was perfectly intact. She wasn’t bleeding. She was just standing there, crying. Derek asked her again, if she was physically hurt. His frustration was evident in his voice. She snapped out of it for a second to shake her head, no, and then returned to hysterics. We moved on.

Stepping over more debris, we returned to the courtyard by the front of the building. Some people approached us. I realized then, that everyone we came across thought we were part of an official search and rescue. No one realized we were their neighbors, just trying to help out. People asked us what to do, and told us where help was needed. It was terrifying. How could we be it? I could hear sirens. Where were the real search and rescue officials?

At this point, we were informed of a young woman who was paralyzed. I wrote about this part of the story here:

What’s not included in Chelsea’s story is that Derek and I became separated afterwards. When it came time to lift Chelsea and carry her to triage, I knew I was not as strong as the men I found to help out so I stood back to make room. These wonderful men surrounded Chelsea and carried her to safety. I followed by their side for a while, but stopped when they cleared the debris field. I felt useless walking beside them, so I went back to the courtyard to see what I could do. I knew Derek would be safe walking the street with all those men, although some little part of me was scared we wouldn’t find each other again.

I didn’t do much good without Derek. I directed some volunteers back to where Derek and I hadn’t been able to search yet, and I wandered around looking for people who needed help. I handed out some towels. That’s about when I found Hank. He was standing in the field, looking as lost as I felt. I went over and told him who I was. We realized we had seen each other in passing at UA’s rock wall. He didn’t know what to do, so I decided I was keeping him. I told him we were going to do whatever else we could then we were all headed back to the UA Rec Center for shelter, and he could come with us. Hank was okay with that.

My memory gets blurry again here. Honestly, it’s all blurry after we found the girls. Derek found me again, and I introduced him to Hank. We heard again that another storm was headed this way. It was somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30 - and a tornado was due to hit us at 7:00PM. I remember hearing that and looking around. The sky looked like it could do that to us, but I couldn’t quite imagine it. How could we have survived the first one, to have that relief, only to be killed in the second one? And I had no doubt that we would die if a second one hit. There was no place to take shelter and we were surrounded by twisted wrought iron, bricks, barbed wire from the nearby armory, and all sorts of nasty debris that would become flying shrapnel. We would all be torn to bits. I kept looking around for a place to get Derek to shelter. There was nothing except the open stairwells. It was time to evacuate.

Tuscaloosa Tornado, Part Three

Derek opened the door, and we stepped out into the madness. It was odd perhaps but I made sure the door was locked behind us. The sky was gray. I could hear sirens in the distance and people screaming or crying. Derek suggested splitting up to search the top floor, meet on the other side and then continue to the ground floor. I vetoed that plan. I wasn’t letting him out of my sight. For the next few hours, I only cared about one thing in the world - and that was Derek. His life and well being became my reason for functioning. Without him or without having the purpose of protecting him, I would have fallen into hysteria. I knew that the structure was unstable, it could collapse and I wanted to make sure I was with him to pull him back or dig him out. I knew we would find people in varying stages of death. I would not let him live through that alone. I knew he was frustrated with me - we could do more good separately. But I honestly didn’t give a shit about anyone else. I saw them around me, some crying, some bleeding. But I didn’t care. There was only Derek.

We began our search. Walking along what used to be a balcony, we called into each apartment we passed. “Are you alive? Do you need help?” No replies. We continued on. We stumbled over brick columns and fallen walls. Wrought iron railings, wooden beams, insulation, and so on. Half way down the building we came across a man with a gash on this leg. He was panicky. Derek spoke to him calmly while I dug a towel from my pack. Derek cared for the man while I looked around; calling out to people who either weren’t there or couldn’t answer. I think this was the first time we heard that a second storm was coming.

Derek sent the man down to the courtyard and we continued on. Three quarters of the way down the side of the building, we found two college guys. They were unhurt, but unprepared. One boy was wearing flip-flops while the other was trying to dig out his dog. I figured the dog was dead, so I didn’t offer to help. I remember now, we did know about the next storm and I was more concerned with getting Derek to safety than I was concerned with some guy’s dead dog. I wanted to get out of there and I didn’t really care if they chose to follow or not. As I was turning to leave them behind, I heard the dog bark - the kid picked the dog up out of the rubble. The dog was fine. My heart hurt a bit that I would have left the poor thing behind. That’s not really like me. I cried one time because a bird flew into my windshield. Why didn’t I care about that dog? We guided the kids through a safe-ish path to get them to the courtyard. I pulled a long-sleeved t-shirt from a downed tree to make a leash for the dog. Derek ran upstairs to grab some shoes for the kid. We told the guys we’d meet them back there in a bit, and we’d all try to get to safety together. Hopefully between the lot of us, someone would have a working car. I doubted that, but that was the plan.

My memory is blurry here. For some reason, Derek and I walked across the courtyard to the other side of the structure. One of the college kids was with us I think? When we got there, we found a family trapped on the second floor. They were mostly okay - the mother had a big bleeding gash on her back. But they were alive and needed a way down. Derek and I went to see if one of the back stairwells was open. The stairwell itself was filled with debris, but it looked safe enough. That’s about when we heard a girl screaming for help.

We climbed through the breezeway by the stairs to find her. Some of the junk was up to my waist, but we got through to the back parking lot. She was back there, and when she saw us she screamed for us to hurry. Someone was dying. Derek said he was going as fast as he could. I told him to be careful. His movements were getting less steady. I tried to catch up to him so I could grab him if need be, but he was too fast. He got free of the rubble first and went over to the girl. She was standing with two young men. They all appeared to be college aged. As I approached, I noticed another girl lying on the ground.

This part of the story, I’m leaving out. It belongs to the girl’s family & close friends now. She did not survive. We covered her body, and left her remains in the care of a narcotics officer who showed up shortly afterwards.

I’ve never seen death first hand before. My father died a few years ago true, but I’ve never seen someone die until now. I’m not sure what I expected to feel, but I did expect to feel something. Anything. Instead, I felt nothing. It wasn’t until much later that I let myself understand that this girl had parents, friends, a life before her death. I guess I couldn’t process it at the time. I was still only concerned with Derek. Was he okay? What did he need? Why didn’t I split up when he asked me to? I would have been the one to find her then, and he would never have had to see that. I could have protected him if only I had listened. And maybe if I would have gotten to her sooner I could have actually helped her.

We left her then and went to find others who we could still help.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado, Part Two

Sitting on the floor, I had the flashlight on for a moment. I turned it off. In the dark, we covered ourselves with the blanket. Derek asked me what it was supposed to be for. I told him it was to protect us from flying glass. Yeah. Right. The impossibly loud jet engines got louder, muffled only by the continued popping of our ears. I took Derek’s hand in mind, I told him I loved him. He said he loved me too.

It occurred to me then, as we listened to the sound of the roof being ripped apart and debris hit the building - that we were about to die. My decision to leave the library, my lack of concern, was a choice that I could not fix. In the next few minutes, I would discover whether or not that choice would lead to not only my death but Derek’s as well. I thought of him lying broken in a field of debris by himself. We would never know what happened to each other before we died if the tornado did take us. I squeezed his hand tighter and began to pray.

I spoke the Lord’s Prayer out loud. I tried to say it as calmly, and slowly as possible. I wanted it to comfort both of us, not scare us more. I’ve been mostly open with Derek about my lack of faith lately, so I guess the fact that I was praying aloud was a pretty good indicator that I thought this was the end. But if I was going to die, I wanted that prayer to be my last words and I wanted to have some dignity about it. The wind continued to deafen us. Pipes groaned and ripped. The walls and the floor shook.

Finally, I said amen. When I did, the wind started to die down. I stopped breathing for a moment. Waiting. Listening. I threw in a Hail Mary for good measure. My voice was much less calm. I left off the last line, “now and at the hour of our deaths” because I wasn’t sure if those weren’t the same just yet. I wasn’t ready to believe we had been spared. We waited a moment or two longer as our ears adjusted to the quiet and the pressure returned to normal. Then we heard water dripping and flowing. We uncovered our heads, and I turned on the flashlight to find the source of the water. It was flowing freely through the air vent in the bathroom ceiling. Derek said something about how water must have been blown in the ventilation. That seemed reasonable to me. Silly now that I know we didn’t actually have any roof left over our heads - just the drywall and a few beams. But we didn’t know that yet.

Legs shaking a bit, we stood up and opened the bathroom door. Everything was as we left it. A quick glance showed that the windows were all intact and the ceiling was still present. Relief. Giddy relief. We quickly noticed fast flowing leaks in each room. So okay, we must have a lot of roof damage. But that can be fixed. Derek told me to get some pots to put under the worst of the leaks. I went into the kitchen as he checked out our family room. Leaning down to grab a pot from the cabinet, I happened to look out our kitchen window for the first time.

In that moment, reality shifted.

What I saw out that window was surreal - a nightmare come to life. I think I said, “Oh God” and Derek went to look out the front door. The rest of the complex, a two story brick structure with a courtyard and fully grown oak trees and a brick single story laundry room - was completely destroyed. Apartments were ripped open and exposed to the world. Trees were missing. The laundry room was missing. Debris was scattered and piled everywhere. I could see clear into a distance that had been previously blocked by other trees and buildings. I shouldn’t be able to see that far away.

My brain stopped for a moment. No one could have survived that. Everyone had to be dead. The apocalypse came, Rapture happened, I got left behind, and poor Derek got stuck here with me. The world was over. I was startled back into functioning when my next door neighbor’s face appeared in the window - she hollered asking if we were okay. Yes, I said. We were fine.

Derek responded as well, then he shut the door. He took a moment to breath, and then took charge. He started gathering first aid supplies and had me start filling water bottles. No telling how long good drinking water would last. He told me to change into my outdoor clothes - all synthetic, no cotton. I grabbed my work boots too - they are high tops with steel toes. I put my keys in my pocket along with my phone after I stuck it in a zip-lock bag. Derek grabbed some work gloves. He turned off his phone, grabbed his lighter, a knife & some iodine tablets to put in his pockets. I think I told him to grab our helmets & knee pads. We put those on along with our headlamps. I finished with the water and grabbed our towels. Derek had always thought it was odd that we had so many towels. I registered for them for our wedding and we got quite a few more than expected. I never did return the extras, so we had loads of towels. They would come in handy now. I shoved them first into a laundry basket, then Derek thought better of it and told me to put them in a back pack.

Within minutes, we were outfitted. An insane part of me wanted to giggle at how prepared we were for the end of the world. But the desire was extinguished as soon as it arose. Our apartment had been spared by a matter of inches. Things could have easily gone differently. Things did go differently for our neighbors. Together, Derek and I went to the front door. One last moment of quiet. One more deep breath. One more I love you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado, Part One

I said I wanted to write about what happened. So here's the first installment. Keep in mind that my memory never has been fantastic, and fear & stress don't really help with that. There are certainly going to be gaps in the story, and things that others may remember differently. Things I'm going to edit out because they are other people's stories and they might not want it out there on the web. But this was April 27th and after for me...

April 27th is Derek's birthday. I was particularly excited about this one because I bought him a pair of ice crampons I knew he really wanted. This April 27th was a Wednesday, so I had a full day of work followed by class that night. Derek was trying to wrap up his semester of school and had a meeting for work that night. Not the best birthday for my love, but that's life. The day progressed slowly, the threat of the weather lingering on. I worked through my lunch in hopes of leaving early so I could avoid being trapped at the library should the tornado sirens sound.


I was powering down my computer when the sirens went off. So close to escaping for the day, but no luck. I helped get patrons and chairs into the inner hallway of the basement in the Medical Center and hoped that maybe at least class would get cancelled. I played on the library iPad while Nelle pulled up the weather on her computer. This was just one occurrence in a long line of tornado warnings, the previous of which led to nothing - making me feel like today was no different. I was not worried. I just wanted to go home.


The tornado warning was extended into the night and classes canceled. An announcement was made that individuals who needed to leave to be with their families could, but they were advised against it. I called Derek to have him pick me up. No way was I hanging out at the library all night. This was stupid.

Derek called me on his way over and asked me to find out about the storm system - where were the tornadoes, how fast was the weather traveling, and so on. I tried to look it up but was distracted by patrons wanting to use the library, coworkers yelling at me to get off the computer, and people generally being underfoot. He made it to the library before I could really look at the weather, so I decided to just risk it and go home. A coworker told me to be careful. I promised her I would, but really I thought everyone was overreacting.

Around 5:00PM

Once home, the weather became calm. I had started making myself some food - I hadn't eaten since 11AM. Not good for me since I tend to pass out when I don't eat every few hours. Derek went to pull up the weather on the computer. He was wearing his big ice climbing boots and the crampons were out on the couch - he had been trying them on when I called. He said he left the boots on figuring they'd be the best shoes to have on during a tornado if we did have one. I set my plate aside for the moment. I never did eat anything from it.


I got a text from Nelle saying a tornado was on the ground, and we should get to cover. I went out on the porch but saw nothing. Derek got the sky cam on the computer and we saw it for a moment but couldn't quite tell where it was. I still didn't think there was a problem. Derek pretty much thought I was insane, but I grew up in Missouri - I knew about tornadoes. They are barely on the ground before they go back up again, and you wait it out for a couple of minutes in your basement. But I wasn't thinking about us living on the second floor and not having a basement...

Then Derek read the following:



It was a little upsetting since we were between those locations...

I guess that's about when we heard it coming. It was eerie sounding - not like anything I've ever heard before. But we knew what it was. I could see it on Derek's face, and feel it as the blood drained from mine. My heart dropped into my stomach and my mouth went dry. I realized I'd never heard that sound when I was a kid in Missouri. My ears started popping. The power died. I dashed into the bedroom and grabbed a blanket to cover us. I was debating grabbing the mattress itself, and Derek was debating grabbing our climbing helmets. But it was too late. We could feel the air being sucked out as the pressure dropped - like diving as deep into water as you can until your head feels like it will explode and then being pulled deeper. The noise became as loud as a jet engine when it's about to take off. I grabbed a flashlight from the floor. Then we got into the darkened bathroom, shut the door, and sat down.

Love it

So, that sweet Southern Savannah claims examiner from State Farm that I was supposed to meet? You know, that guy that I kinda figured would be some sweet little paper pushing southern gentlemen with scrawny arms and bow-tie? Probably a bit sunburned from all the unexpected time spent outside lately meeting with claimants?

Well, I met him yesterday.

And he was not at all who I was expecting. Spencer is built and black. He drives a huge black SUV and wears work-out clothes to meet folks. I had to laugh. His image does not at all match up with his sweet, soft spoken Savannah drawl. Love it.