It still seems absolutely surreal. One year ago tonight I was in a building that was struck by a tornado. Insert Dorothy Gale pun here.
The fact that it happened to me was something it took
days, weeks, months to grapple with. I wrote about the experience for the newspaper I used to work for just hours after it all happened. Looking back now, I can tell I was still in shock as I wrote. Barnes and Noble was fantastic in the aftermath. The company really took care of us, setting up opportunities to talk with a professional. It was during those conversations that I really came to understand and, importantly, accept, how close to death I had come.
I really had been treating it as a reporter, as if I’d interviewed someone for hours and watched their iPhone recordings.
For awhile, I felt invincible. When things happened, I’d only somewhat jokingly say to Molly that “I didn’t survive a tornado to die like (insert absurdity here).”
In the immediate months that followed, I thought I was much less likely to get angry, but now my temper is much shorter. I also feel like I’m quicker to get extremely stressed out than I was.
Maybe I’m imagining things.
One thing I’m not imagining is something I can never forget. The immense outpouring of support.
From my coworkers at the bookstore, from my former colleagues at half a dozen newspapers, from friends I met in childhood, college or afterwards. The bookstore community was also amazing. I will never quite get over being at a library’s used book sale a few days after the tornado when a regular customer walked up to me and enveloped me in hug much tighter than you would think her age and size would have allowed. She then apologized for shopping at the book sale.
“What for,” I asked. Books are one of the few addictions that are worth having. I’m sure she would have been there even if the tornado hadn’t struck.
It seemed like northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond wrapped us in hugs during the ensuing months. Friends offered their cars when they heard ours was destroyed. Friends called and just listened to me vent.
I’ve often heard people say that funerals are wasted because people don’t hear the kind things people say about them. I’ve always agreed with that idea. However, that week was like I had my own living funeral. Several people just said really nice things about me and it really made a difference as I struggled with reality.
I’ll certainly never forget that night, or the people who made me realize how valued I was.