Tuesday May 15th was just an ordinary day. Until it wasn’t. The kids went to school and then to the town Parks and Recreation program for after care. The husband and I went to our respective jobs. My husband’s work is outside and weather dependent, so he was watching for rain all day, planning to leave work about 30 minutes prior to the predicted heavy rains were to start. Me, I have standard hours, but on that particular Tuesday I do nursing home rounds and start at 7 am, so I tend to leave when the work is done, between 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon. I got home at 4:45 pm when my cell phone buzzed with an alert: TORNADO WARNING! TAKE SHELTER NOW! My mind filled with thoughts.
The kids weren’t here.
How close was my husband.
This isn’t tornado sky. (If you lived through one, you know what I’m talking about).
I want the kids.
I called my husband. He was turning onto our road. We live approximately five minutes from the school. I told him about the warning and asked him to go get the kids, that they should be with us. He said okay. I went inside and watched the sky from the picture window in the kitchen. And watched. And watched. Then it shifted and I saw it. The sky turned this orange-blue-grey that’s indescribable. It was then that I knew, and with that the kitchen turned dark as night and I ran for the basement. The rains came with winds, tree branches and leaves smacking and beating every window as if asking to be let in themselves for shelter. Loud, fast and furious. I could hear and see trees falling in the backyard and hope nothing would hit the house. Alone, and by myself, I had a moment I thought “so this is how it ends.” My husband called to say he couldn’t make it to the school due to falling trees and was only as far as the house in front of us, taking shelter there, fearful to drive down our long driveway due to the amount of trees on our property.
When the storm passed, my husband burst into the house to find me. I had just come upstair to assess what happened. Twigs and leaves were coating every window of the house, shining green. We went up to his car in our neighbor’s driveway together with one goal in mind: get the kids as soon as possible. Outside we quickly assessed damage, numerous downed trees, power lines ripped off our home, ripped off the utility pole halfway down our driveway; however still being in shock not really having a true idea of all the damage done. We got into the car and attempted to make our way to the town hall to pick up the kids. We were blocked at every possible route tried. Downed tree. Downed lines. Downed utility pole. Utility pole snapped in half, dangling. Downed trees being held up by the utility lines. After over two solid hours of this, bringing the time to about 7:45 pm, friends contacted us and had an extraction plan to get the kids. They could walk on a path from their property through several yards to the school and get the kids (School and town hall are side-by-side), walking them back to their home with a chance to eat and dry clothes if needed. We agreed. Better for them to be out of the aftercare program and with friends at that point since we had no idea how long we would be. [Side note: Our school principal and Park & Rec staff stayed that night until every single last child was picked up, which to my understanding, was well after 10 pm. I do not know the exact time, nor does it matter. What matters is the dedication they showed to our town’s children in a time of crisis.]
We continued driving, continued being blocked at every possible option to get to our friend’s home. Stuck in traffic, trees, lines, downed poles. Miraculously this town of diverse opinions came together. People would get out of vehicles, assess the situation and decide how to best proceed. Text message each other what roads were blocked, what roads were passable, what roads had one lane open. We finally made it to our children after approximately 3.5 hours of driving. One of them simply hugged us and cried for a solid ten minutes. I cannot imagine how they must have felt in that storm despite being the the safest spot in the entire town. What good is that safe spot if your parents are not there to protect you?
Once the kids were collected we had to get home. That meant walking back up the road we parked the car on, past giant trees to the car. We then had to navigate our way back home which took time, another 1.5 hours to figure out what routes would get us back to the house safely. When we reached home, we parked a quarter of the way down the driveway to stay away from the felled lines.Using iPhone flashlights, we navigated our way down the driveway and lawn to stay away from the lines. I stayed on the driveway, stepping over the lines, as I was in high heels with no toes and my husband and the kids were in the grass farther away. I could see the lines clearly and could easily avoid them. My husband is yelling to get on the grass, that I was going to get killed and not listening to me that I could easily see where I was stepping and in no danger. Was I stupid for wanting to stay dry for a moment? Was I stupid for wanting to salvage shoes? Was it my bipolar disorder telling me I could easily handle the risk? I have no idea. I’m still here to write this blog that much I know.
We went inside, lit candles, and went to bed. My husband blew out all the candles once the kids and I were tucked in as to not risk falling asleep with them on. The kids were still stressed and refused to sleep in their rooms that night (and every night since without power), bunking with me. I spoke to my office manager, explaining my traumatized children, and the war zone of a town I was in and she graciously told me to not worry about the following day’s schedule and to take care of my family and home.
The next morning we assessed our property, seeing lines ripped off the house, calling electricians and having the weatherhead reattached and getting on the list for EverSource (our local power company) to come reattach the lines to our home. Spend the day stacking and collecting downed branches and cutting wood until the rain began again making the task impossible. Breakfast was Starbucks, lunch was McDonald’s and dinner was Katz’s deli with friends in the same situation. In the rainy afternoon, we walked around the roads near our homes marveling at how destructive mother nature can be.
Our front neighbors opened their home to us for showering as they have a generator, thus we’ve been able to stay hygienic. Texts have been pouring in from friends in neighboring towns offering their homes to us for whatever we need. This storm has shown us the best of people, not the worst.
I have done well for the most part and tried to keep it all together. However I feel myself starting to crack. It’s day 3 (considering storm day as day 0) of no power. With all the line damage near my home I don’t know when it’s coming back. I know when EverSource says, but I know what my eyes tell me. There’s a major incongruency there. I need to replace the contents of my entire refrigerator. The thought of it is daunting and stressful and anxiety provoking. I haven’t been sleeping despite my medications. I’m losing compassion for others yet keeping my feelings to myself because I’m scared to verbalize them and make them real. I try to think this isn’t Texas or Puerto Rico or Katrina. However my brain isn’t allowing me to separate them. Is that my bipolar talking to me? I don’t know. I’m cracking and feeling unsafe and vulnerable. I KNOW that’s my bipolar talking. Because I handled Tuesday well and did what needed to be done. I need a shred of normalcy in my day, but my brain is not granting me it. It’s granting me ruminations and obsessions of what happened. It’s focusing on worst case scenarios, not actual case scenarios. That’s my bipolar talking too. I can recognize it.
Today, I have to learn to make the healing the begin. As the town heals, I have to learn to heal my brain. The question is how. Introspection when one isn’t ready for it is hard, but like everything else I will get through it. If I have to crash through a tsunami of emotions to do it, so be it. Hope my team is ready.