Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Can't See Much Difference Between the Dark and the Light

Here is some destruction from the tornado in my backyard...Was that almost four years ago now?

Hey, kids. I gave myself a get out of jail free card night tonight. I could feel I needed to rest, and if I'm not going to listen to anyone else, I might as well try to listen to myself every now and again. I got a new battery and was told the alternator was fine. Whew!

With all the news of the earthquake in Haiti, I had some weird remembrances of the tornado. I decided to post my little piece I wrote about it a few days after it happened. I'm glad I did, since i seem to have forgotten some of it already. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you've probably seen this, if not, it is a little long, but take a gander if you feel like it. Here it is:

At first the sirens went off and we ignored them. I have ignored those sirens for the 20 years I've lived in Iowa City. Coadster looked worried but I reassured her (like I always do) that there will never be a tornado in Iowa City because of the way the river runs or whatever the hell I've always been told. Then the siren went off again and I told Coadster that the tornado would hit Swisher like it always does. Then I got a call from Stinky at UAY telling me that she was safe and in a basement.

I got Coadster set up in our laundry room that doesn't have any windows (we don't have a basement) and I decided to take a bath since the bathroom doesn't have any windows either. I lit candles just in case the power went out and Coadster had dragged any comforter or blanket she could find. Halfway through my bath, the sirens stopped and then I heard a sound different from anything I'd ever heard before. It was like a train, but louder - it was a huge locomotive, bigger than our house. I jumped out of the tub and wrapped some towels around myself. Coadster was in the fetal position on the floor and so I wedged right behind her. She had made a nest of our dirty laundry and comforters and we covered ourselves in blankets. Our ears were popping and we could feel the house start to lift. All we could hear was that fucking train and Coadster screaming, "Mommy, make it stop!" But I couldn't. I couldn't protect my daughter. When I felt the house move, I thought that was it for us and I was so sad that Stinky would have to grow up without us.

Then something happened and our ears stopped popping and the house calmed down. I think it was because the roof blew off and relieved the pressure. Then the winds died down. We were afraid to sit up in case it came back. I reminded Coadster to breathe, "In through your nose and out through your mouth," and we practiced taking long, deep breaths together.

We heard voices outside. People inquiring if everyone was okay. We decided to get up and see what happened. All of our windows were covered in mud and I remember thinking how strange it was that none of them had blown through. I tried to open our door to see out, but there was a tree keeping us in. I went around to the other door and the tree was there too, but we could wedge it open a crack big enough to get through. Our neighbor and his daughter were standing outside. When Coadster saw her friend, they both cried and held onto each other. My neighbor informed me that there was a gas leak and a downed power line and we should leave our place. He took Coadster and I tried to get in my car and pick up Stinky downtown.

My car looked okay at first and then I noticed the glass. The back window blew through my car along with parts of trees and leaves. I cleaned off my seat and got in. The road was blocked by a downed tree to the West and so I tried to go the other way. I made it to Hotz Street before I was blocked by another tree. Hotz St was torn up. Every tree, every garage, most of the houses looked like they had been bombed. The radio was telling me that another tornado was approaching so I got out and tried to run to our neighbor's house. A guy stopped me and asked me if I had a place to go. I have no idea what I said to him, but whatever it was must have appeased him. It smelled like Christmas because of the huge pine that had been topped off and was now lying in the street. I looked out for downed power lines and climbed over several huge trees before I made it to the neighbor's house. Every single one of their windows had been blown out, but they had a basement and we all huddled in the bathroom and listened to the radio.

It sounded safe again. The neighbor's phone was working so I called my ex-husband at 126 where he works and asked him to get Stinky. We went outside to see if everyone was okay. Slowly, we were finding people and pets. But we couldn't see very well. We thought it would be so much better if we could just see. We were trying to go from house to house on Parsons, Hotz and Jefferson to make sure everyone was okay. Most people I ran into were laughing - not because it was funny, but because it all seemed so ridiculous and surreal. I walked past a duplex on Hotz street where one side was smashed by a tree and I heard someone sobbing. That sound was almost worse than the sound of the tornado itself.

We had heard that they turned the gas off so we thought it was safe to go back home. I walked to the back to see if the gas lines were still attached and they were. When I came back to the front my landlord was there with his high school aged daughter and 2 of her male friends. he hugged me and said his house was fine but he was fighting back tears at what happened to us. He thought it would be okay for us to stay in our place since the gas was off.

The upstairs neighbors came home to get their cats. He had left 10 minutes before the storm and had barely made it to his friend's house before it hit. Luckily, their cats were fine and they put them in a duffel bag to take them back to where they were staying. His girlfriend was crying and Coadster went up to her and said, "Are you okay? Really?" and hugged her. I was so happy that my daughter was growing up to be a compassionate and good person. Sometimes when they're 13 and hard to take, you wonder, but Coadster has been so amazingly helpful and kind through all of this.

The guy who lives upstairs looked around and said, "Dude, this looks just like Storm Stories, but it's my house."

The girls and I finally went in our house. We unfolded our futons and all slept together in the living room so I could reach over and make sure they were okay throughout the night. One, two. One, two. I counted them from time to time. They were both sure they wouldn't be able to sleep, but they were out in 5 minutes. I was up most of the night. We had to leave the window open (without a screen as they had all been shredded and ripped off), since there could have been gas left in the pipes to escape into our house. MidAmerican was across the street by 10 and working cutting up all the felled trees on the power lines. Chainsaws buzzed all night and after the bars closed, the drunk college kids stumbled through our neighborhood laughing and probably looting. I fell asleep dreaming about a drunken A-hole trap. In my dream, the power was still on and I set a cold shiny 40 oz. directly behind the live power line and watched as each drunk fried on their way to take it.


laura b. said...

What an incredible post. I'm so glad you re-posted it. It really does sound like a disaster movie...well, it was a disaster.

Really, though, anyone who doesn't "get" blogging should read that.

rel said...

Diasters; more than the mind can fathom sometimes. Writing them down gives us the chance to reveiw those harrowing circumstances from a calmer perspective down the line. Blogging is a great tool for that.
I reviewed my 2009 blog entries and despite the news media's constant bombardment of the dire world we live in, I discovered that in reality my year was pretty darn good.
Glad it was just your battery!

Brando said...

I can't help but think of it, too. Hard to believe it was that long ago.

Mrs. Hairy Woman said...

That was totally heartwrenching to read.. But I'm glad I did.. we rarely have Tornados here.. they do happen and sometimes we get the tailend of a bad strom.. One time it was so bad out..I had forgotten to bring in the patio umbrella and it landed next to the diningroom window..just missing the glass by a couple of inches and the big tree in our backyard came down and landed on cables and phone wires attached to our house and the neighbours. We were very lucky..

Your girls are amazing young women and to have to go through something like that.. Great re-post!

SkylersDad said...

Wow, what a story!! Thanks for sharing it with us again.

Johnny Yen said...

Wow. What a harrowing story!

I've never been in a tornado, but remember seeing the aftermath of the tornado that hit Oak Lawn, Illinois and the South side of Chicago in 1967. My grandparents lived in nearby Evergreen Park, and we drove past the demolished Oak Lawn High School on the way to see them. Happily, nobody was in the high school, but over 20 people were killed in other places.

Tara said...

That part where the sirens stopped an you heard the tornado made me all nervous. How terrifying!

I could understand you and your neighbors laughing, we did that too when our apartment was on fire, and we all stood outside hugging people we barely knew.

Pamela said...

That's so wonderfully written!
And I'm glad you only needed a battery...

Churlita said...


Thanks. I tried to write it kind of stream of consciousy, so the reader could feel the pace of it a little better.


I've had so many things happen to me in the past that really put the every day in perspective. I feel lucky as hell every day I wake up and me and my girls are healthy.


I know. That's how I first met you and the lovely Becky, so I guess it wasn't all bad.


Sometimes I think going through things like that make people better. It puts things in perspective and keeps us all from taking things for granted.

Skyler's Dad,

You're welcome.

Johnny Yen,

I lived in Alsip in junior high and used to go roller skating at the rink in Oak Lawn. I remember they had a plaque there that told about that tornado. Crazy.


I think a fire would count as a natural disaster as far as how it made you feel. How scary for you guys.


Thanks. Me too. An alternator would have broken the bank for sure.