There are only a few instances in which I can remember being absolutely afraid for my life or for the life of my child. The most recent time was this past May 31st when Matt and I had to look our poor Elle square in the eyes and tell her, “That tornado is coming right for us.”
When I think about that moment it makes me want to cry. Or throw up. It’s been a few months and I’m still not sure how to feel about it.
National Geographic just did a cover story on Tim Samaras, the celebrated tornado chaser who found himself in the path of the El Reno tornado. He was killed alongside a handful of other professionals. According to the article, there were more deaths than I was aware of, including a family of six Guatemalans who were killed after hunkering down in a drainage ditch. Their bodies were washed miles away into the river. The descriptive language that puts the whole tragedy into perspective left me in tears.
I actually had to break my reading session into two days. It was that emotionally exhausting for me.
The El Reno tornado was heading due east on Route 66 and was miles wide. This practically guaranteed the destruction of my entire neighborhood. It had already proven itself to be one of the most unpredictable twisters ever. As my husband and I watched the reports on television, we had to finally admit to ourselves that our house, which had been standing in the same spot for almost ninety years, might actually be gone in fifteen minutes. We could only hope the storm’s track would turn, but we still had to tell the kid, just in case. Her face went blank; she mentally checked out at that very moment. I’ll never forget it, but I honestly don’t remember much after that. I do know that I didn’t go directly into the basement. I had to monitor this thing barreling its way toward my house. I had to watch that monster with my own eyes. It was the only thing I had any control over at that point, the watching.
The tornado lifted before getting any closer than Yukon, about 15 miles west of here, but I think I’m still traumatized by the whole damn thing. I have first-hand experience in all sorts of natural disasters – forest fires, blizzards, hurricanes, and ice storms – but this one, this one single experience, I just can’t seem to shake it.
I’m not the only one. While sitting in the waiting room at my car dealership, an elderly woman struck up a conversation with me about the tornado. It turns out she was a few miles closer to the storm, hunkering down with her elderly friends at a nearby Elks Lodge. She shook her head a lot, like the whole thing was incredulous, even after so many months had passed. I asked her if she was a born and bred Oklahoman and she exclaimed, “Oh, yes! But it doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of every single storm. I hate springtime here. I just hate it.”
My short interaction with her made me want to give her my address and tell her, “I have a basement. Invite your friends from the Lodge to join us!”
I recommend reading the Tim Samaras article in Nat Geo when you get a chance (I just got it in my mailbox, so I’m not sure what the wait time is to find it on the shelves). I also recommend watching this video. The El Reno tornado was a monster. I had never seen it from ground level, only from the perspective of a hovering helicopter. At the end of the video, when the warning tells people in Bethany and Warr Acres, my ‘hood, to seek shelter, I feel my stomach knot up all over again. No, it didn’t hit us but it was that close. I don’t ever want to be that close again.
P.S. I’m working through some shit. You might have to deal with some introspection for awhile.