Sunday, February 6, 2011

where were you on 2.5.08?

There are days and experiences that one never forgets, and that day, for me and a lot of my friends, was February 5, 2008, when our university was practically destroyed by a tornado.  I used to rattle off details about how big the tornado was, so I could sound impressive, but I've forgotten all those facts now.  All that sticks with me anymore is what I saw and heard, how I walked around campus in a daze, no longer a student but not yet a true alumni (I'd only graduated a month and a half before, and still pretty much lived on campus).  Under these pictures are my original captions from the photo album I put up on FB the week after the tornado.
The million dollar shot- the first thing I saw (at least, the pitch-black version)
when I crossed the street from Cherry Grove at 7:15 pm on 2.5.8.
I'll never forget the terror of that sight, illuminated only by ambulances and police cars.
Here is where I stood for a while, too, helping to clear the path of cinderblocks
and metallic wires while all the McAfee kids made their way to White Hall.
The first thing they saw when they turned the corner was the heaping mass
once known as Jelks and Wingo. I witnessed every group that passed react in
almost the same way: screaming, crying, calling out to God.
I had to leave after a while. It was almost too much.
Sorry.  This post is a downer.  The next picture isn't too wild, but I'd forgotten about this part of the night until I read the caption.  I had blocked it, I guess.  There are some other details I didn't add, but I assure you.  Watching people pass out is scary.
This is where I stood for half an hour Tuesday night, horrified.
A group of injured students huddled on the curb here, waiting for an
ambulance ride or medical attention. If any of you are reading this,
sorry I just stood there. I didn't know what was going on.
I hope you all are feeling better.
I want to say that I could keep going, but I'm not actually sure that I could.  The tornado is something I remember with anxiety, and perhaps a little fondness.  Not because I love tornadoes, but because I love my friends, and I love that no one died, and I love that even the most terrified of my classmates gave glory to God throughout the whole awful event.

And it wasn't just the tornado.  The entire week following was its own sort of experience.  The day after the storm, no one was allowed back on campus, and even though I lived across the street, it was still horrifying.  I had friends who lost everything.  Or, at least, lived without their possessions for weeks.  And the things that were returned to them were never the same.  I still hear people say, "I had that shirt/camera/DVD/book, but it flew away."

Emily had framed a picture of us, which she was going to give to me for graduation, but it was assumed lost in the storm.  Then, amazingly, she found it among her belongings in the big, black trash bag they returned to her, the wrapping paper rotted away.  I keep it on display constantly, not only because I love Emily, but also because of what it symbolizes to me.

My Katie had just moved out of my apartment, because I was about to go back home, and she lost so much because of it.  I still feel guilty about that.  Not that there's any way I could have known, of course.  I'll never forget the day she and I snuck past the caution tape and reached in through her kitchen window to save her tray from Tanzania, which the bag-n-taggers had overlooked.  Oh yes, we did.

There are so many things tied up in this experience, I could devote an entire memoir to it.  For instance, this was when my then-future-husband and I started talking.  He heard about the tornado at Union on the radio... on BBC!  BBC!  And he wrote to me immediately.  That was maybe the wildest part about it.  Being in the news.  People I knew were being interviewed on every major network, it seemed.

I was supposed to move back to Louisville that week, but couldn't.  I stayed and helped.  I sat in the library and was part of the call team, checking in with every single member of the student body.  And when I did go home, I only stayed for four days before coming back again.  I helped the Dean with the re-start of the semester (class had only been in session three days before the tornado).  There's also an incredible bit in here about how Cedarville (where my husband went to school) secretly threw our Howdy Party for us.
Important note:  Yes, Joshua went to Cedarville.  But the party thing was as much a surprise to him as it was to me.  But, still, what are the odds?

So that's that.  For now.  It's emotionally exhausting just to think too much about it.

Here are the links to all the related pictures:  first album, second album, and third.

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