There's no girl talk today because today is a day for remembering.
One year ago today the South was ripped apart by the worst tornadoes it has seen in decades. One year ago I stood outside frantically trying to call my friends and family, not knowing who was dead or alive. One year ago my great-grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousin lost their homes. My childhood, high school, and college hometowns were each destroyed to the point of being unrecognizable. And a year ago today, life started to look a little bit different to everyone who was touched by tragedy.
To be honest, it's almost nice living so far from home because unlike my family, I can live my life without the daily reminders of that terrible day. I don't have to see where the houses my grandfather built once stood--where I took my first steps. I don't have to see miles of forest which now look as if they had been clear cut. I don't have to drive past the hill where a married couple was found dead after going back for their dog. I can live my life mostly without the daily reminder that the place in my head--the place that I call home--no longer exists.
A couple of weeks ago the storm systems that produced the tornadoes that would eventually hit Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa, were predicted to come through Omaha. The warnings were urgent. Tornadoes were inevitable, they said. My first instinct was to cry. How easily that false barrier of distance and safety crumbled. My second instinct was to get in the car and drive far far away where the storms couldn't hurt us, but Mike's job made this impossible. I felt trapped, like I was standing on the train tracks voluntarily but couldn't will myself to get out of the way. I kept remembering all the warnings that were given a year ago and how no one listened. We had the chance to leave but no one believed that a train was really coming. Now I felt like I knew all too well what was coming and STILL couldn't do a thing about it. I looked around our apartment and tried to memorize what it looked like in case it wasn't there the next day. I looked outside and pictured all the trees and buildings leveled, with us underneath it. I looked at my husband and I could only cry. I couldn't even bear to imagine something happening to him. The worst thing about love is how intense the fear of losing it, but that's a post for another day.
Eventually I cried myself out and fell asleep. Meanwhile, Mike filled a suitcase with our important papers, my journals, photos, and other mementos, in case we had to take shelter in the basement for the night. That one act meant more to me than anything, not because I thought that he was finally taking the storms as seriously as me, but because I knew he didn't and he still packed that suitcase, just for me.
That day some spouses on base here were discussing the impending weather on facebook. Several of them said things along the lines of "I wouldn't worry too much. We've lived here for three years and nothing has ever happened even when they said it would." I wanted to shake them and scream right in their faces--you can live an entire LIFETIME somewhere and the next day it could be gone. It CAN happen to you. IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU.
But it didn't, this time. And those people will go on thinking that their lives, their homes, their families are in a safe little bubble where nothing bad can happen. One year ago today, the people of Alabama had that bubble burst around them, and it's gone for good.
The funny thing about loss is that instead of making you bitter, it often makes you grateful. Things that once seemed so important are suddenly just that--things. It's as if you just got glasses for the first time and on the drive home you look up at the sky, for the first time noticing how blue it truly is, how beautiful the clouds are, how out of focus your sight had been until just now, only you didn't know it yet.
Tragedy is like that. Nothing ever looks the same again.