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.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, friend...I'm so sorry. I haven't suffered loss like this in the wake of a force of nature...nor have I seen people lose their lives because of an event like that...but I do empathize with you on "it's more than just stuff."

    Yes, it is only material items, and yes you were spared so many things that others weren't, but you lost your safety, your security, your peace of mind, your home, your life as you knew it.
    I felt that way after we were robbed. The things we lost were mostly just stuff. The things I was most upset about losing were "stuff" that signified or represented special memories (mainly our pictures off our computer).
    But, that day, I lost my naivete, my innocence, some of my hope in humans as a whole...not to mention I felt so completely violated by the whole thing.
    It is stuff...maybe it is even "just" stuff...but it's representative of so much more.
    Of course, the most important thing is that you are safe, and Derek is safe, and that the two of you were together...but that doesn't negate the fact that you did, indeed, lose a great deal.
    I'm glad you had someone with you who understood that.

    Goodness, I wish I could give you a hug!