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.