Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wednesday Confessional: I Cannot Watch the Oklahoma Tornado Coverage

I hinted at this in an earlier Facebook post after inadvertantly watching a video of a teacher and her students enduring the impact of the Oklahoma tornado. All you could see was blackness and all you could hear were the terrified screams of this teacher and her students. Just catching a glimpse of this video sent me back to my own experience and made me angry that someone would capitalize on such a traumatic moment. I am trying very hard not to be overly critical of this woman, but it baffles me why she took the video in the first place and why she would want to share that video with the world.

I understand that people are fascinated with tornados. Living near Tuscaloosa's own "tornado alley," I have exeprienced several in my lifetime. As a little girl, I remember being rushed to my aunt and uncle's basement and could see the tornado behind us as we fled our house. That tornado ripped off our front porch and destroyed my Fisher Price turtle sandbox. (I was really mad at that tornado!) But tornadoes were always so exciting - it meant rushing out of the house and bunkering down with my family. Surviving was like beating nature at it's own game! Storms and bad weather didn't bother me a bit. Until April 27.

(For those of you that haven't heard our story, you can read it here.)

After the April 27 tornado, I experienced severe emtional trauma (as did most everyone in our city, whether or not they felt the physical impact of the tornado). It took months for the nightmares and flashbacks to stop. It took over a year for me to be able to talk about what happened without reliving the whole ordeal. It took up until recently for me to actually be able to talk about it without feeling anxious or tearing up. And watching just the bits and pieces of the Oklahoma tornado coverage has reopened wounds I so desperately wanted to keep closed.

I guess the reason I am being hard on this teacher for videoing her experience is that, after experiencing myself, I don't want anyone to know what it's really like unless they have to. When I lifted my head that day after the tornado, I had no clue if the rest of my family was alive. I'm talking about the people I was with. It was so powerful and so loud and so dark, I had no clue what was happening just a few feet away from me. It was terrifying. Calling my mom, crying hysterically, saying "We are trapped, we are trapped!" was the scariest phone call I've ever had to make. Risking electrocution and carefully tip-toeing through dozens upon dozens of twisted and fallen trees just to be able to walk across the street was exhausting. Waiting for my uncle to literally run nearly a mile to my aunt's house to see if she and my cousin's five-month-old baby were alive was the longest hour of my life.

You see, it wasn't just the moment of impact itself that haunts me. It was the hours, days, weeks, and months that followed where the tornado still had its grip on me and on my loved ones.

It was awful and I don't want anyone to ever have to go through it or its aftermath. And I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for people who braced the storm, lifted their heads, and found themselves or their loved ones injured. Or found their loved ones dead. My heart just breaks for those who have endured such tragedy.

I cannot continue to watch the coverage of the tornado. I tried to watch bits and pieces but the video I saw today brought back way too many horrible memories for me to continue following that story too closely. The images and stories are too close to our own for me to handle right now.

Some things are just too hard to forget. I have realized this week that the April 27 tornado is not something I will ever be able to put out of my mind. It is always there. I will have always experienced it. It will always be a part of my story. The Oklahoma tornado has reminded me that there are moments we cannot ever forget no matter how hard we try. But I am learning that it is more healing to remember than it is to forget. But, remembering is not easy.

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