My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations — John Green

Guilt on an Anniversary

I am still not sure if I want to talk about this. Not sure if I have anything of value to say. But the point of this whole mess is to write about what’s on my mind, what I’m stuck on.

Today I’m stuck on a year ago.
I could go through the usual thing, where I tell you the story of where I was and how terrified I was, but that’s not how this story goes. This is a terrible and also happy story for me.

In short, one year ago today, a tornado tore a path of destruction through my home town.

There are some reasons I am conflicted about sharing my part in this. Many people are condemning the freshmen who are currently wearing “We Remember” shirts. I was not here on that day. I’d just moved home from Tulane. I was in no state to be in school. I went to New Orleans for a concert at the end of the semester, mostly to celebrate surviving it. I saw four bands I love, ate some amazing food, and hung out on a blanket in Woldenborg Park for like 6 hours straight. I felt all right. For about 5 minutes.

I wasn’t here. This is my home, it was torn apart and I wasn’t here. I couldn’t have known, but I didn’t check my phone for hours that day. I could’ve…something. I could’ve done something.
And I feel completely, crushingly, terribly guilty about it.

Once the lines opened up, I got a call from my mom.
“You need to come home,” she said.
“There was a tornado today”
“There’s a lot of damage.”
“We don’t know how much yet. Please just come home.”

So we skipped out on our hotel room and I drove home, terrified, reading articles online when one of us had to use the restroom. I watched a video filmed at an apartment complex I almost moved into. I followed James Spann on twitter. He’s our weather man and he was giving the most accurate and timely updates. They were saying not to drive into town, so I tried to take the toll road that goes north of town to get to my parents’ house. The storm had taken out the exit sign on that direction of the highway, so I missed the turn. It was about 2:30am by the time I pulled off the interstate onto highway 69, a road that cuts through the west side of town, through the downtown area, and then crosses the river into Northport, where my parents live. Normally the roads would have been pretty quiet, but everything was black. The Police Headquarters had emergency lights on. Once I reached downtown, all the stoplights were blinking. It was absolutely empty. I went home. I slept.

This is the part that’s most important to me. It is not the terrified phone call, the hurried drive I’ve done fifty times, the drive I could do in my sleep, it’s not the hug I shared with my father the next morning. It is the next thing that I remember. The next few days and weeks and months. The way this town has transformed and come together. The work we did to help our neighbors, those we didn’t even know. The trucks after trucks of people giving out water to those clearing debris. Being turned away because there were too many volunteers. Standing in line for two hours in the sun to give blood.

Every time I ride down McFarland Boulevard, I remember the first time I did it after the storm. I hardly remember what it used to look like. It will eventually feel strange to stand at Midtown and not see the Hospital. But I also remember feeling, finally, that this was My Town. I had a home now. Before, this was my hometown, sure, but it had never been a home for me. It had never been a place I cared terribly about, a place I would look forward to returning.

My town is still recovering. It still has chain-link fences around places that haven’t been rebuilt. It still has entire neighborhoods that don’t exist anymore. It still has businesses that are yet to relocate. But it has gained a community. We used to rally around football, and trust me we still do, but we also rally around our home. We know what Xs with 0s in the bottom mean spray painted on houses.

Almost all my friends were here.

I was not.
Many of them could not stay. The dorms closed and they asked students to leave. We took our finals online. I took interim classes. Life went on.

Most people’s memories are mostly of that day. I haven’t got any. So I hold onto what I do have. Memories of the aftermath and a home.

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