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Sunday, April 06, 2008

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Trapped in the Closet: Chapter 2


I'd love to tell you that little severe weather warning in the bottom left corner of the screen shot is a photo from last Thursday night, but it's from tonight, so I'd better get busy and wrap up this two-parter before I have to write a third. So far, no tornado watch. Hopefully tonight's skies are just full of sound and fury, signifying diddly.

Rolling three groggy boys out of bed and stuffing them in the closet was like a fraternity stunt. What few gaps there might have been between twelve child and four adult limbs were stuffed with pillows.

"I guess if it comes to it, you're hiding in the bathroom," I said to Patrick, as he tucked us in and resumed his vigil between the television and front door. While the thunder rolled overhead I reminded my wide-eyed nine year old of other storms we've weathered in closets together. In between, I glanced at my blackberry.

At 9:54 Belinda texted from a hotel room in New Jersey:

Just hung up w/hubby in Arkansas, tornadoes not mentioned.

She and Alex live 30 minutes to the northeast of the city. Irrationally, I told myself if it wasn't newsworthy there, perhaps our urban weather team was over-dramatizing. Or maybe it was just an itty, bitty, very contained storm.

"It's moving very fast," I told my son. "It will all blow over in just a few minutes."

When the power went, I can't remember if there was an actual bang, or the sudden silence was like an explosion in negative. It was terrifyingly still.

"What does it mean when it gets quiet, Mom?"

What does it mean?

It means you fan your hands and feet out in the darkness in all directions until you feel them touching all three of your precious children and you begin to pray.

With no television, Patrick studied the wild sky outside. He kept his eyes on the open space to the southwest, between swaying tall pines. Then he saw the trees do something he'd never seen trees do. They stopped swaying, and began to twist. Behind the thunder, something growled.

I still can't figure out how he fit in the closet with us. But the door opened and he was there. "This is it," he said. I locked onto my son's gaze, as if dropping my eyes would mean dropping him.

I can't tell you what happened then, except moments later, Patrick said it was gone over, and that he was going out to take a look. The sirens were still going, and I didn't believe it was safe, but he insisted the worst was past. Moments after that, emergency vehicle sirens chimed in with the public warning system.

It was still thundering and flashing. Patrick came back and assured us it was safe to leave the closet, but that "something big" had happened on the street behind us. It was nearly an hour since the warning sirens had struck up. I checked my blackberry. Belinda was looking at doppler images on her laptop.

HOLY CRAP the tornadoes are nearly perfectly surrounding MY HOME.

Since New Jersey had power, and we had none, Belinda then became my own personal mobile storm warning center, alerting me that a second, and then a third, storm system were rolling in behind. Back to the closet. During the second trip down the stairs, my seven year old fell behind his older brother, who was carrying the flashlight, and panicked. He thought he would be left behind in the dark. The fear of the middle child. My heart broke. I pulled him into the closet with me and wrapped my whole body around him while he wept.

The second storm hit about an hour after the first. Waiting for it was the worst part, with only the car radio and Belinda's text updates to indicate its path and progress, and not knowing what it would spawn. Horrible thoughts tried to squeeze into the closet with me. I pushed them out. No vacancies here. Move on.

When it came, it came and it went. Swift and loud, but non-eventful for us.

The third lost enough steam by the time it got here for us to be able to call it a night. In between, I had gone out to the van to charge my dying blackberry and listen to the radio.

Reports of the extent of the destruction and the number of tornados were confused, but starting to come in. The intersection directly behind us was hit badly. Huge pine trees were lying across the road. Then they said another street name. Our new street. With our new house on it. "Some of the worst damage," the announcer was saying.

You've got to be kidding me, I thought.

Gratitude over mere survival is always short-lived.

The patch on the tv map that is our county has turned from orange back to grey, so I can go to bed and hopefully stay there until morning. Coming next: after the storm.



Blogger jennifer h said...

A storm radio sounds like a really good idea.

My heart went out to your 7 year old, thinking he would be left behind. Poor guy.

I hope that the worst of the season is over, at least for your corner of the world. Sending good thoughts.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Charlotte said...

Delurking to say glad to hear you're all safe and I seriously hope the worst is over.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Hannah said...

Reading this made me feel I was right there with you - uncomfortably so. Your poor wee boy. Thank god you are all OK.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Oh the joys of Arkansas. I've been ushered into closets and school hallways many times over the years and its always so terrifying. The closest I have came with my kids though was about 3 weeks ago when the preschool called to have us pick them up because the weather was so bad. My 4 year old was terrified. Tornadoes are now the scariest thing in the world to him. Good thing we're right in the mountains so while we can be hit and have been (our park is minus many many trees) its unlikely. Knock on wood.

So glad that you made it thru. We have fam in LR and they were in the same situation.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Jennifer, remembering that we'd packed the battery operated radio in the storage pod was consternating, to say the least.

Yes, a proper storm radio is on my list to get today. Two more severe weather systems on their way.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Savy said...

I grew up with tornadoes in Colorado, and I sincerely hate them. Even though I now live in an area where I'm more likely to be attacked by a moose than hit by a tornado, I still have nightmares about them.

I hope all is still well with you and yours!

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in earthquake country and cannot even imagine the terror of a tornado. How scary for your boys--for you.

12:16 PM  
Blogger jenB said...

I was with Belinda while Alex "did not mention the Tornadoes?" gah! It was scary from Jersey. So glad you are all ok. xoxo

12:50 PM  
Blogger Jonivan said...

A page turner this post was. Really.

Very glad you are all O.K.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Joy! said...

So glad you are okay. This post about broke my heart with all the fears and prayers. I've been thinking of you with all this weather swirling about. Looks like more stuff moving in this morning-midday. Stay safe, all of you.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Rough night, last night here in the western part of the state. I heard this morning that there were tornado sirens sounding in Little Rock. I hope the closet wasn't calling for you.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Belinda said...

And on my end of all that texting that night? Since the last thing I heard from Alex was, "I'm taking Bella to the basement--I'll call you when it's over," and then I did not hear from him until THE NEXT DAY, due to power/phone outages, knowing that you were OK afterward was comforting. And then I had Mandy (redjade on Twitter and flickr) in North Little Rock, reporting from there, and she pointed me to the links with the streaming coverage of the storms.

Imagine, instead of being huddled in the closet WITH your babies, you're several states away from them, wondering if they're OK. UGH.

Also, I really seem to all-caps shout a lot in my text messages, don't I?

4:47 PM  

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