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.


  1. You should write books. This account has been amazing to read...and I don't say that just because I think you're fantastic.

  2. P.S. - I'm so glad that you are still here! :)

  3. I'm glad we're still here too! And glad you are reading this. It's been very therapeutic to write it. Feels a lot better than talking about it. And thanks for the writing compliment - I would LOVE to write books. I dream about quitting and writing romance novels all day, lol. :)

  4. You should definitely look into getting this account published. I'm not even a fraction of the way through it, and I'm completely riveted. Please look into getting this published!!!