I would like to say as a preamble that I'm not trying to copy anyone by posting "my tornado story" on my blog or thinking it's something that needs to be shared with everyone. Truthfully, "my tornado story" is pretty lame and I feel slightly guilty about it, especially considering there are so many others that actually need to be heard.
I feel that here in Tuscaloosa, or as I think it could be more aptly named "Tornadoloosa", we've begun to think of "tornado warnings" as merely an example of the boy that cried wolf. This has been what? Our third? Fourth tornado warning this year? Wait, scratch that... in the month of April. So of course, who would have ever thought that the tornado that ripped through our city would have been that bad?
It's a little bit funny how the day began. April 27, 2011 - Administrative Professional's Day. Note: I AM NOT AN ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT!!! But I will take a free lunch from Wintzell's, thank you very much Aramark. As we were sitting at lunch we were talking about the impending doom - again, note that we were still thinking this was James Spann crying wolf. I don't remember if it was at lunch or maybe someone back in the office saying it, but I distinctly remember someone saying that it looked like the tornado/storm/whatever we thought it was at the time was going around Tuscaloosa. So I naturally didn't worry.
At about 3:00 my boss told me to go home before the storm hit. I was glad of this because after my yummy lunch I totally was not working anymore for the day. So I left work and decided to go shopping. I wanted a purple shirt to wear with my black pants and red shoes - I saw this outfit on Scrubs and knew it would be awesome. (Still have not bought said purple shirt...)
There were only a few stores open in Midtown Center, Old Navy being one of them. Since it was only slightly cloudy, I decided to go on in. Got some great deals, too. It was maybe about 4 when I checked out. That was when the sirens started going off. Although they go off pretty frequently here, so again... didn't worry. And then I got in my car. A gust of wind shook my car so hard the whole thing shuddered. At that time I decided it was time to go home. I don't like getting caught in the rain. I do like pina coladas.
So I got home to my sweet Ginger and we went for a walk. Checked the mail, I had a Netflix movie in there (Black Swan) and my plans for cleaning my apartment were put on hold so I could watch it. It started raining a little, but still nothing bad. In fact, it stopped shortly after and was just cloudy and a little breezy.
I don't really remember what time it was when my power started flickering. I hadn't fed Ginger so I knew it was before 5:30. She's afraid of lights going off and on, so I turned off my lamp since it was going off and on (it was also really annoying). A few minutes later my power popped off. Ginger, being Ginger, was terrified and started burying her head between me and the sofa. When I picked her up she clung to me, shaking and what I can only assume was doggy-hyperventilating.
The night went on, no power, very little light, and it was hot. I opened my sliding glass door, but the air was so humid and still that it didn't do much good. I don't have the greatest phone signal anyway at my house, so a storm didn't do it any good. The barrage of texts from my mom and Facebook messages started coming in, but I could barely reply due to no signal. At this point I was pissed... here was another instance of no power and phone signal due to no storm.
And that's where my guilt started. It wasn't until the next morning, Thursday, when I realized exactly how bad it was. Driving down 359 towards the University was devastating, and that wasn't even the worst of the damage. The only sign of happiness for me during that drive was seeing the Red Barn sign was still standing, undamaged. They had just put it up and it was so cute... I was worried the whole way on the highway that it had been blown to pieces like the rest of the area.
After getting to work and seeing there was no power, I started driving home. Everything was blocked off due to the tornado's destruction. I knew slightly that things had been damaged, but it wasn't until I got to Hargrove that I knew the extent.
To put it simply: it was gone. Everything that stood on that street, destroyed. I drove with my jaw hanging open, not even knowing how to react to what I was seeing. People walking up and down the street with faces similar to mine. I cried the entire way home and honestly have not stopped crying since.
I went home to my parents' in Alabaster for the weekend, mainly because I had no power but also because I needed to feel safe. Tuscaloosa no longer feels safe.
Over the weekend I had plenty of distractions - mostly wedding in nature - but in those times when I wasn't distracted all I could do was replay images of what I had seen first-hand and scenes from tv. They kept me up at night, flashing over and over in my mind. I began to wonder what I would have done had the tornado headed down Skyland towards me. Where would I have gone in my apartment? Where was it safe? Would I have lost Ginger? How would I have replaced my stuff? And then the guilt began flooding in.
How could I worry about those things when they had actually happened to so many others? How could I selfishly think about myself when so many others had lost so much? Here I was, safe in Alabaster, able to have a semi-comfy bed to sleep on (hey, the bed in the guest room is awful), a roof over my head, and still had all of my belongings and, more importantly, my life, and all I could think about was me.
I began to feel like a coward who had run from a problem rather than facing it head on. I had ran instead of been braver and helped. I still feel that way, despite assurances from others that isn't the case.
I know I shouldn't feel guilty. My friend Sheena used the term "survivor's guilt" in her blog about the tornado... maybe that's what I have. Maybe a little PTSD. Maybe withdrawals from the crazy pills. But maybe none of that matters. Maybe it's time I stop focusing on me, who lost nothing but a little peace of mind, and putting that energy into helping others who no longer have the means to help themselves.
On a happier note, all of this really has made me extra grateful for my family and friends. It's really made me realize just how much I am loved. So thank you Mom for sending me text message after text message letting me know every building that John Oldshue (old church member/former weatherman) said was gone. Thank you Kristy Ellis for asking me if I was in a safe place - no, I was not. I was sitting next to my sliding glass door. Thank you Emilie for your wondeful email about "Things that weirdly awesome" which includes "Meeting your brothers old hot roommate at an SEC bar party in nyc getting wasted making out with him then asking him to marry you. Oh and yelling roll tide as you drukenly walk to your aptartment." It was honestly one of the highlights from the night. And I feel like most importantly thank you Matt for Facebook messaging me all night during the storm... even though my phone was drained by the next morning from trying to reply. I love you all and everyone else who checked on me over the next few days more than I can actually express.
Tuscaloosa may be damaged, but from the incredible response from the people of our state and our country, it's far from gone. So thank you to everyone who has given your time, prayers, thoughts, donations, money, and love to our city. It's given me, and I'm sure many others, peace of mind and hope and knowledge that this too shall pass and we will recover.