So often in high school we would be sitting in class when we would hear the "long bell", signifying that we were under a tornado warning and should take cover in the hallway. I remember getting in trouble because we would be sitting up or giggling instead of assuming the fetal position with our hands covering our heads. I remember us always thinking how silly it was that we were out there, but glad to have this excuse to get out of class. Now my thoughts flash to April 27th, 2011, when so many people were in that same position, fervent in prayer for their lives to be spared. I am not one to be afraid of bad weather. We get so desensitized to the sound of tornado sirens, as they are required to go off when there is even the slightest chance one might be headed for us. Wednesday was a different story.
Bethany called me at 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning to tell me their tornado sirens were going off in Tuscaloosa. After I was awake, I realized ours were, too. Little did I know, that would not be the last time I would hear from them that day. After class, I came home to study and turned the TV to The Weather Channel to keep up with the storm that was headed our way. About 3:30 Bethany and I were facebook chatting when she told me they were beating on their dorm doors to get downstairs into the hallway. She said she would text me in a little while, and told me she loved me. I was texting her and keeping her updated on all the tornado warnings in Tuscaloosa. As one would expire, another would come into effect. One warned that a large tornado would be in Tuscaloosa about 4:45. I told her it would surely break up before then, or go back into the sky. There was certainly no way that a tornado would still be on the ground in over an hour...was I ever wrong. About 4:40, I got a text from Beth that said, "It's headed straight for us. Just please please pray for me." Then the meteorologist on TV said they had confirmed a violent tornado on the ground in Tuscaloosa. Nausea suddenly swept over me. I tried to call Beth, but no answer. I text her, no answer. I was literally in a full-fledged panic attack. I kept thinking that this seemed like something that would happen in a movie, not in my real life.
My parents called to tell me the bad weather would be to us soon, so Tate, Britney, and I decided to go to the clubhouse here at our apartment complex, since we live on the 3rd floor. Everyone in there was cutting up and watching TV, but I was a nervous wreck. I called everyone in my phone who lives in Tuscaloosa, knew someone who lived in Tuscaloosa, or who had ever even heard of Tuscaloosa. I was trying to find any way that I might be able to know that Bethany was okay. I felt a little better after a friend of mine told me that it had definitely gone south of the university, but you know how it is. I would not feel at ease until I heard from her that she was okay. Over an hour went by. I was pacing back and forth outside the clubhouse, even though my friends kept telling me to come back inside. Finally my phone rang, and it was my Dad. He said that Bethany had finally gotten a call out and that she was okay. I immediately broke down, and I could tell that my Dad was choked up too. There was an unexplainable wave of relief that came over me. I finally put it into words to my Dad that even though I know Bethany is a big girl now, all I could think about was my baby sister all by herself in that hallway in Burke...no one there to protect her...no one to tell her it was going to be okay...scared...and vulnerable. I just wanted to be able to hug her...which is the first thing I did when I finally got to see her yesterday.
I realize, however, there are some people who will never get that chance to hug their child...their brother...their sister...mother...father...friend...and tell them they are so glad they are okay. My heart is broken for the people who lost loved ones in this storm. The nauseous feeling I had for that hour is inevitably still with those people. My heart aches for the people who have loved ones missing. That must be the worst feeling of all right now. I have asked several of my friends...as a parent, when do you give up hope that your child might be alive? How do you cope with the thought that they might still be alive somewhere, but trapped? I still cannot wrap my head around what has happened. It just seems like a bad dream.
My heart is also broken for the city of Tuscaloosa. Even though I am a die-hard Auburn fan...I have a very special place in my heart for Tuscaloosa. I spent countless weekends there during my college career. I moved up to T-Town for a summer to take my Organic Chemistry classes. Now, I go there to visit Bethany and Ashton. The memories I have there are of some of the best times of my life. Anna Marshall and I used to cry every single Sunday when we had to leave Tuscaloosa to go back to Troy. I've spent many nights at Harry's Bar and 4th and 23rd before I was old enough to go anywhere else. I have had a table full of drinks spilled on me at Innisfree... sat outside on 8th street watching Holt do the Dougie...eaten 100 lunches with Rachel at Crimson Cafe...spent $5 on beer with Destin at the Houndstooth...studied for hours in Rodgers Library... sat in the rain and cold for baseball games at the Joe...watched as Tyler Spears got escorted from a football game for throwing an entire cup of Evan Williams green label and Coke across the student section...had countless nights at 509 18th street...held it down with Moose, Maggie, and Jim at the Wickford...put on for my city with Courtney Bryant...been a poor bastard with Jeb and Napps. I've eaten at least a thousand times at City Cafe and Taco Casa, my two absolute favorites. I remember singing El Camino with TI, Katie, and Anna as we made late night trips to Taco Bell...watching every single Braves game at Clay and Calebs...Mexican nights at El Rincon...heart-to-hearts with Zach Kelley in the swing at 509. Although most of these places were spared by the tornado, these places and memories stand for what Tuscaloosa, Alabama is to me. It is a place rich in tradition...a place filled with memories...character...it is truly a city that, once you have experienced it, will always be a part of you. I know, through the help of thousands of volunteers, lots of prayer, and the relentlessness of its people, Tuscaloosa will soon be back on its feet. "For Bama's pluck and grit has writ her name in crimson flame...fight on, fight on, fight on men" God Bless Tuscaloosa.