It’s Tuesday, and I know that because I looked it up. I had to, because between the isolation for coronavirus and the tornado outbreak on Sunday (looked that up too) I have nearly NO idea which way is up, what the fuck is going on, and certainly NO concept of time or what day it might be.
“The clouds started forming, 5 o’clock PM”- Drive-By Truckers/”Tornadoes”
I’ve kinda dropped off the Drive-By Truckers the past five years or so, but their 2004 album “The Dirty South” remains one of my high-watermark, favorite albums of all-time. Deeply rich storytelling, old-South mythology, and one the greatest songs ever written by humans- “Tornadoes”. It’s a tale of a band coming to a small town to play a show, it’s a story about the people who live there, and it’s a sweeping southern-gothic epic like some kind of Alabama Odysseus recalling tales of sirens in the form of funnel clouds.
It’s one of those songs that perfectly conveys its stories, so much so that you can close your eyes and feel like you’re watching a movie. I grew up in the Midwest and I know all those feelings very well, and over the past few years it’s been kinda weird to say that I’ve actually had more gnarly tornado scares in the South than I ever did in the Midwest.
“The Nightmare Tour ended, for my band & me, the night all the shit went down”
This past Sunday, as most people will know since it was all over the news, something like 30 people died in an awful severe weather outbreak across the southeast that spawned powerful tornadoes pretty damn much everywhere below the Mason-Dixon Line. The National Weather Service was very deliberate in their language, making sure we knew the seriousness of the impending situation, and when that shit happens I take notice. Most of the time it’s nothing to worry about, the news mentions some storms are possible and either nothing happens or it’s just a particularly nasty thunderstorm. This one was different. Very different.
“It sucked him out the window, he ain’t come home again, all she can remember’s that it sounded like a train”
Last Thursday they started projecting the Atlanta area to be in a risk level 3 area for tornadoes, and they don’t just go around blabbing about that without reason. I had a feeling it was going to be bad, and with all the OTHER stress and paranoia going around I decided to act. Right now I might not be able to control SHIT but one thing I CAN do is do everything I can to protect my family.
I cleared out our downstairs hall closet, moved all our coats and whatever else was in there, and set us up a little tornado shelter. It’s the most central area of the house downstairs, and there are load-bearing walls on either side of it, so its about as safe as a house on a slab is gonna get. I laid a blanket on the floor so it would be comfortable if we had to sit there for a few hours or more, and I grabbed some essentials to make sure we’d have what we needed. A super-bright LED flashlight, batteries, water, a couple pillows, a stuffed animal for each kid, and a few granola bars just in case. There’s a shelf in there too so I put a couple of rug pads we had lying around up there to at least cushion us from anything that might crash through the ceiling, and it was all set.
As the days went on from there, the threat only increased, and so did my anxiety. When I was a kid we were just so USED to all of this stuff, but down here you get a little but out of touch with it but like I said- that’s changed the past few years and I’m pretty sure it’s because I didn’t have a wife and kids back then. I never gave a fuck when I was younger, or when I was alone, but now everything carries the crushing weight of also worrying about the people I love the most and it scares the shit out of me.
“The sirens were blowing, clouds spat rain”
It rained a little Sunday morning but nothing much to write home about. We got a few thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening too, but the main event was set to move through around 1-2 AM. I usually stay up later than everyone else, but on THIS particular occasion I knew I HAD to. I signed up for all the requisite alerts on my phone but I wanted to make sure everyone else got some sleep while I stayed up in case we needed to get everyone downstairs. I sat in my nook/office and looked out the window every 5 minutes or so, and I was checking the weather radar and our news stations so much I could barely pay attention the the episodes of Ozark I was watching.
Speaking of which, Ozark is fucking spectacular and if you haven’t watched it yet go do it immediately. It’s DARK, but something about it actually calms my anxious ass down. Maybe it’s because there is so much darkness in the real world right now, watching these poor bastards get put through hell and back takes a little of my own existential edge off. Whatever the case, it’s god damn brilliant television so count that as my sales pitch.
Anywho- nothing too terrible happened by 2 AM so I went and got in bed with my wife and laid there for a while, waiting for the wind to pick up or any other indicator that shit was about to go down. I got a few lightning alerts, and there were tornado warning all fucking over the place AROUND us, but all we got right here was a real shit-kicker of a thunderstorm. It looked like a Pink Floyd laser show was happening right outside our windows, and the rain was some of the most intense I’d ever heard.
“It came without no warnin’, said Bobbi Jo McLean, she and husband Nolan always loved to watch the rain”
That was it for us though, but for so many other it was MUCH worse. Homes were destroyed, memories were lost forever, and lives were cut short by one of the worst severe weather outbreaks we’ve had in years down here. We were incredibly fortunate, but even some people my wife works with didn’t come out as well.
Did I over-prepare? The term “over-prepare” doesn’t exist when you have a family – you might not agree but I know it to be true. A few hours of cleaning and rearranging guaranteed that my wife, kids, and I would have a safe spot to shelter if a tornado came through our neighborhood and that few hours was NOTHING compared to what would happen if we had to scramble to figure out a safe place to go in the middle of the night.
I don’t think I even slept that night, and I’ve been tired ever since. I’d also never felt a fear or anxiety quite like I did the past few days before in my life, and if you’ve ever read my shit before you know I’m one of the most anxious fuckers on the planet-so that’s saying a lot. I feel questions of life and death, uncertainty, and protecting my family have become so prevalent since the coronavirus pandemic started that I’ve almost forgotten what regular thoughts are like. I just don’t have them as much anymore, there’s a visceral quality to everything now- an urgency- and it’s hard to shake.
“And I hear that missing trucker ended up in Kansas, or maybe it was Oz.”
I sat for days waiting on this force of nature to come and take everything I love away from me, and I was already terrified because of ANOTHER force of nature that’s threatening ALL of our families too. We’re living one day at a time already, and impending disasters don’t do anyone any favors right now. Luckily, like I said, we didn’t even get any damage to our home and based on what I’ve seen after going for a walk earlier today our general vicinity come out pretty much unscathed.
The thing is though, nobody is unscathed right now. We’re all dealing with very real fears that we’ve only seen people face in movies. We’re seeing things we never thought we’d see, our leaders are handling this situation with all the grace of a drunk walrus, and everywhere you turn there is confusion and uncertainty. Suffice it to say, most of us have never experienced a year like 2020- and it’s only FUCKING APRIL.
Never in a million years did I think a spring tornado outbreak in April 2020 would occur in conjunction with one of worst global crises in decades, and I’m not sure ANYONE can process this kind of shit effectively enough to keep their nerves calm. The people that also lost their homes or loved ones? Incalculable, I can’t even fit it into my head. I got to sleep next to my wife that night, my kids were snuggled up in their beds, and everything was firmly attached to the ground, and our ground is solid.
My heart goes out to everyone that suffered a loss, damages, or anything else that we were lucky enough to avoid on Sunday night. There is enough trauma in our lives right now, this almost felt like cosmic salt in our collective wounds. My wife and I put the kids to bed, stared at our phones, and made jokes about the movie Twister. Other people, not too far from us, were having a vastly different experience to us though and I’m incredibly grateful that we’re all here in one piece today.
We unabashedly love Twister, don’t judge-you know you do too.
I think that’s the key right now, and whenever I get in my head about all this uncertainty my wife is always right there to remind me of gratitude. Gratitude keeps us in the good things we have instead of the things we don’t. Gratitude reminds us to be thankful we have food on the table right now instead of worrying about what it’ll look like in two months. Gratitude is remembering that we have each other to love instead of weathering this storm alone. It’s the thing that can keep us out of fear and in the RIGHT NOW.
Of course, it doesn’t always work when you have a brain like mine. I’m genetically predisposed to apocalyptic thinking, but I’m trying. It ain’t easy right now, but I promise I’m giving it my best shot. If you’re struggling with all this shit too, give it a try. Stop thinking about your fears for a minute or two and look around you. Regardless of your situation there is always SOMETHING to be grateful for, even if it’s just the fact that your upright and breathing. use that, hold on to it, and build on it.
Rabbit is good, Rabbit is wise.
We might not be able to hold on to much right now, but if you do have things you love, hold on tight. Sometimes the universe decides to throw a tornado outbreak at us in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s gonna be hard to keep our heads on straight. It’s OK, we’re all going through this shit at the same time. I could have easily written this about the President and how colossally he’s fucking up the entire world right now, or any number of the brain-meltingly shitty things were living with, but I wanted to share this instead. I was proud of the fact that I had done the work to protect my family, and even though it was a scary night we got through it. And even if just for a little while, I was comforted by the fact that we were some of the lucky ones, and in that gratitude I was able to silence my fears for a few precious minutes and enjoy a walk with my wife.
Fuck all the useless shit we held on to before the world came crashing down, it’s the little things – it really is. If you’re scared, confused, or angry do this: chase down those little things and embrace them. That way, when the bad things do take the stage you’ll appreciate those good things so much more and you’ll be able to experience the joy of taking a walk, making grilled cheese sandwiches on your stovetop, or listening to your kids throwing Lego pieces all over your living room. Somehow, even though I’m a nervous wreck right now, I’m also a little more patient, a little more tolerant, and a fuck of a lot more grateful.
(PS- I’m pretty sure I started this post with the intentions of talking more about how the coronavirus is affecting our lives, anxiety, etc. but I went in a different direction. The image of Ghostie Wilson the volleyball was intended to reflect how crazy life feels right now, but it makes me laugh so I kept it anyway.)
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