Thursday, May 19th, 2011
Sorry I disappeared for a while there. Didn’t realize how long it had been. I kept thinking, “I need to go post on my blog so people don’t think I’m dead,” but then I kept getting distracted by other things, and I couldn’t fathom how to write about the tornado yet.
The tornadoes hit south of here and east of here. The worst damage we got was a few hundred magnolia leaves strewn about the yard. A house three doors down had a giant tree fall on its porch in the morning storm, but the evening storms missed us entirely here. We feel incredibly lucky.
Still, Tuscaloosa was my town for many years. I lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere. My family still lives there, and so does D’s. My family’s business is there (missed by a half-mile). Our hairdressers and dentists and doctors are there. The places we shop, the places we eat.
And many of those are gone. My hair stylist’s new salon, her dream, that she’d just got exactly perfect? Gone – wiped from the map. The restaurant D and I ate at weekly during our first year of marriage – also gone. The Hobby Lobby where I bought Ruby’s baby book – severely damaged. The Sherwin-Williams paint store where I bought the paint for our dining room – nothing but a slab now. The Taco Casa where I bought many an extra hot bean burrito with extra cheese during my pregnancy – damaged but still standing.
That strip of town – that enormous strip of town – is unrecognizable. I stayed out of the way for several days, looking at endless photos online of the damage – until things cleared up some. Then I went to volunteer one day, sorting clothes and toiletries, delivering meals to people still trying to live in their damaged homes with no power. I saw trees ripped out of the ground, houses knocked off their foundations. It’s a cliche, but true, that it looked like a bomb went off. I’ve lived in this town for half my life, traveled all over it, and I was disoriented. Nothing looked the same.
So yes, we feel lucky. There are 41 dead in this town alone, among them many babies and young children. It makes me physically sick to think of all the mothers without their babies now, and all the children without their mothers. I would’ve felt terrible about that before, but now, knowing the intense, unshakeable, never-ending love I have for my child, I am devastated to think there are people out there knowing the unspeakable reality of losing a child.
That morning, in the first wave of storms, I woke up to the windows shaking from the near-constant thunder and lightning. Ruby, miraculously, was still asleep in her crib. I didn’t want to wake her. I told myself it was just another thunderstorm. Go back to sleep.
But I lay awake, debating. I wanted her close to me. I tiptoed into her room to make sure she was breathing, but I didn’t wake her.
When she woke minutes later from a particularly loud thunderclap, I was relieved and went to get her. I put her in bed with me, and she nestled against me as she still likes to do, holding my hand, and went back to sleep. I didn’t take us into the closet under the stairs, the safe place, because I didn’t want to scare her or get her too awake. It was just another thunderstorm. We have them all the time.
Next morning, I found out there was a tornado not a half-mile down the road. What if it had veered toward us? What if it had been a little stronger? And the deadly tornadoes of that night came within 30 miles of us on two sides.
All I can say is next time, we’ll go get in the closet.