At school today, I played a few rounds of Apples to Apples Jr. with my students and found that my responses to the green cards were much more tailored to my emotions when connecting things like 'Neighbors' and 'Brave' or 'Valuable' with 'My Town'....
Normally I would have played 'Rain' for 'Calm' but today, I was very cautious about playing words like "rain" "thunder" or even 'wind' for fear that it might trigger a story or reaction from my students---the game was a much needed distraction for all of us.
Reality still hasn't sunk in for me yet. It seems completely unreal that my grocery store, Taco Bell, pizza place, cupcake boutique and countless other favorite, familiar places in Joplin are completely gone.
Driving around this evening, watching the destruction fade from bad to worse from one block to another. Green neighborhoods with tall oak trees, full of leaves suddenly give way to gnarled, broken, charred, twisted tan and brown exposed wood.
Cases of bottled water sit on every corner, stacks of 24 packs are piled high in parking lots--free to anyone that needs a drink.
Orange and yellow neon vests of workers can be spotted all over town.
Police uniforms and vehicles from 40+ miles away patrol the streets.
Counting my blessings that the 32nd street hill created a bit of a wind block for my own home, with only a few leaves and limbs in the yard, I don't have any broken glass or wood to clean. My belongings are not covered in wet, disgusting yellow insulation, my treasured possessions are not scattered across the city.
In some places, it doesn't even appear that a house or structure could have ever stood there, completely flattened. Seeing photos or even video is nothing like seeing it stretch on for miles in person. The scope of the destruction and the scale from eye level is so devastating, and heart wrenching. The unfamiliar landscape of a war zone, in the heart of our city.
Cars have been scattered, shattered and shredded, flung into trees and homes, piled on top of each other. Sheets of metal indicate the direction of the wind as they stretch like pulled taffy around tree trunks and snapped telephone poles.
Apart from Rangeline on a Friday night, I've never been stuck in traffic in Joplin...but today, it was difficult to get across town without getting stuck behind blocks and blocks of crawling vehicles--arms extended from the windows holding digital cameras, waiting for a traffic cop to wave us through an intersection.
While the sounds of sirens have faded significantly since Monday, chainsaws rip through trees on every street--a mechanical removal of limbs and branches. Large machinery and trucks are parked on various street corners, the hum of the trucks and the beep of the buckets as they transport workers trying to restore traffic lights.
The smell in the streets is familiar--the musty smell of an old attic--a little damp....old wood....musty boxes full of winter clothes....a touch of mold....I fear that warmer temperatures in the next few days will kick up the smell of mold, and sour, wet fabric making it unbearable for workers and families to collect anything of value from their demolished homes.
Yesterday was rough. I had to grab lunch with a friend because I didn't have time to pack one--when I walked in to Culver's in Webb City, I recognized a friend from college...and gave him a huge hug.
A few minutes later, I gave his fiance a tearful embrace as well. This sweet couple is getting married a week from Saturday--their house is okay, but many people in their family lost their homes--an unbelievable emotional burden for such a beautiful family celebration coming up. I am supposed to take their pictures...
After school, I took a much needed 3-hour nap. I have had a stress-tired-stress headache for the last 3 days and getting some rest helped tremendously. Sometimes I find myself crying, while listening to the coverage on the radio...not for what has been lost...but for the outpouring of love and support in the community.
After another stop by mom's yesterday evening, I went to Wal-Mart to get my mom a pre-paid cell phone so that she could have contact with her family and friends....I had the overwhelming urge to hug strangers. To just wrap up anyone who looked tired, or sad or empty.
People keep asking me how my mom is.....sometimes I hear her crying.
She is alive, but she had so little before the tornado took everything, it is difficult to cast out the thoughts of 'those things are replaceable' when they really might not be---little things like her T.V., towels, wind chimes, picture frames, and curtains--those are not available at donation centers and will be difficult to recover after sitting in puddles of water under piles of wet wood and debris.
Also, I spilled a big bag of dog food in her kitchen...It sits in a heap, wet, soggy, stinking.
Since Sunday, I have been obsessed with the radio, internet, FB and T.V. footage of the disaster, but I am nearly ready for some distraction. Maybe if I don't let it sink in, it won't be real. Maybe if I don't look around or think about the 'deadly' 'wind', it can't hurt me.
As much as I am ready for my life to return to normal, I think it will be harder to face the devastation when the sounds of the chain saws stop, the sight of workers and police, and the piles of water are gone, and the empty, quiet darkness sets in.
Right now the city is a bustle of people and traffic from surrounding areas scurrying to help recover missing people and possessions...but when they all go home, and the utilities are restored to the houses that remain, and the radio starts playing music again....that is when reality will set in....that is when the dark, bitter landscape of our forever changed city will become the new familiar site--in place of the beauty of the green oaks, the painted shutters, and the un-torn, un-tattered American flags that used to hang on porches from poles instead of bark-stripped limbs.