May 22, 2012

Looking Back

I had just finished shooting a boudoir session for the studio when I noticed the tornado watch icon on my phone.  "It doesn't really look like tornado weather to me but get home as fast as you can.  I don't want to rush you but I think I need to call my husband back to the house," I remember saying to the girls.  Some of my instincts were right that day.  I want to shake myself for not listening.

Corey was taking our dogs on a walk so I could have the house open to have clients over.  It was a stunning day outside and our dogs were worn out from playing outside on their leashes.  We dropped them into the house and ran to the mall to pick up last minute pieces for our engagement session the next day.  If there was going to be bad weather, I wanted to get to the mall and back before it started.  A tornado watch is about as common as a thunderstorm watch in Missouri after all.  

We were in American Eagle the first time the sirens went off.  We brushed it off because no one else seemed concerned.  No-one.  The mall was full of people who didn't bat an eye at the faint trill of the tornado sirens.  The sirens shut off and we walked out of the mall to the truck.  When we pulled up at the stop sign, it was left for the restaurant that we were thinking about for dinner at 20th and Main or right for home in Carl Junction.  Corey said it was my choice.  The hail started at that moment.  I told Corey we should turn right and do it quickly.  It was 5:30.  My instincts on this one probably saved our lives.

We drove down Zora as quickly as we could as the sky darkened to a horrible color.  The windshield wipers on high did nothing but blur up the landscape.  There were things that you could see flying at you though.  Tree.  Branch.  Trash can.  We pulled to a stop in front of a house to quit moving while we were being pelted by hail.  Corey's high jump coach lived in this neighborhood.  Corey fed their cat when they were on vacation once and they lived one street over.  "Call him on the way.  Go."

They got home minutes before we pulled in.  The car was barely in park as we ran up into their open garage where his coach was standing.  He told us of how they were at Cici's Pizza at 20th and Rangeline and their daughter had thrown a fit unlike any other she had ever started in public.  So embarrassed by the looks they were receiving, they left without eating.  She was as happy as can be when we rushed into the house.  All signs of her tantrum were long gone.  

The KZRG app they were promoting on tv was jammed.  Too many people were trying to get on.  Phone calls wouldn't go out.  The next few minutes passed slowly.  Corey played with their daughter and I kept an eye on the skinny window that had a view of their backyard.  The sky went darker still and it looked like we were inside a car wash with the amount of water hitting the window.  Eventually the wind and rain slowed.  The sky got brighter.  

Text messages would arrive to know if we were alright.  The storm chasers on tv were somber but seemed to be exaggerating to us.  Walgreen's is gone?  Walmart has been flattened?  The town has been destroyed.  Corey's coach wondered aloud that if Walgreen's is gone, Cici's must have been hit too as they're across the street from one another.  It was.  All that remained was a mountain of debris in the place where the always busy restaurant had once stood is what we would find out days later.

When the sky lightened enough and we felt safe enough to go home we were able to text out to our parents that we were safe and not to worry.  We didn't know how bad it was.  No one did yet.  My parent's responded with an "Ok. Good to know."  They were out of the house and had not been watching the news.  Frantic calls from family members made them rush home to turn on the news and see what had happened.  

Calls still wouldn't go through as towers were destroyed.  We made it home and all you could hear was sirens.  We live in Carl Junction.  That is miles away from the tornado area.  Police sirens.  Ambulance sirens.  Fire truck sirens.  Nonstop sirens. It would be days before there would be minutes before sirens.  A week later, hours between.  I would actually find myself wishing for sirens during quiet moments through the next few weeks.  It would mean that someone still had a chance.

I pulled up the weather channel website online and saw who I now know as Mike Bettes standing dazed in the middle of a horribly destroyed field.  I searched the background for signs of where he was standing as he fought off his emotions.  I truly believed that he was in the outskirts of town because I didn't recognize anything in the background.  The camera panned around to show an absolutely decimated St. John's hospital in front of him.  I felt like I couldn't breathe.  I pulled up Facebook to get more information and saw the first animal come into the shelter around 9:00 pm that night. 

We never did make it to our engagement pictures that next day.  I hesitated until about 9:00 that morning before I went into work.  The shelter manager's husband asked me what I was doing there because I was supposed to be off work that day.  "I have a feeling I need to be here today."  I wasn't wrong.

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