After the terror, after the all-clear sirens have sounded and the current threat has passed, after the adrenalin quits pumping and you stop talking a mile-a-minute, repeating things like, "It's veering north, right? It's veering north?" in order to convince yourself you're going to be okay, everything gets gloomy. The town is eerily quiet. Few cars drive by and when they do there are no blaring car stereos. You hear emergency vehicle sirens in the distance and helicopters overhead, but at street level it's as quiet as a tomb. The light is weird, not unlike that during the totality of a solar eclipse, but with a sickly green cast.
If you're like our family, you take a couple of beers out onto the front porch hoping to catch a breath of air that isn't heavy and sticky, and you start sharing your experiences of the event. You talk, joke, laugh, cry, and comfort each other, and your phone is swamped with texts, both incoming and outgoing. Everyone's accounted for, the cat comes out from under the house, and you surreptitiously watch the skies hoping no one will notice and get scared all over again. You take pictures to post in Facebook and Twitter so that your friends in other states and countries will not worry. And when you go to bed, you sigh overmuch, but you don't really sleep because you know those sirens could go off again at any minute, any day, for the next month or two.
You tell yourself this is the last spring you'll spend here and you promise yourself and your family that you will somehow find a way to get them to a safer state. You wonder how long it will be until your number comes up and it's your face on the news, or the TV cameras closing in on your family digging through a mountain of rubble looking for anything—your grandmother's wedding ring, your child's plaster handprint, even that trinket you hated but would now give anything to find because it was the last thing your troublesome mom gave you before she died. You pray you will never be digging to find a family member, or a family pet. Eventually, you come to a place in your exhaustion when you have to think, "If another tornado comes, it comes. I can't care anymore." Then you sleep. Fitfully, but you sleep, and when you wake up in the morning after only an hour or two, you find you've become a little more philosophical about death and the meaning of life.
The EF5 tornado that hit Moore on Monday was, we've been told, the largest and most devastating in the recorded history of the world.
OF THE WORLD.
OF ALL TIME.
You've probably seen more pictures of the destruction than I have, since I don't have cable, so I won't rehash everything you already know. What I will try to relate to you is the emotional and psychological impact it has had on the people of Oklahoma. It's a depressed state anyway. Besides having the highest poverty rate, lowest wages, unemployment, expensive or no healthcare, no rights protecting gays from violence, eviction, and being fired, the terrible state of the education system, and the Half-Nelson that the loony, bible-thumping Republican fringe has on it, Oklahoma also has its tornadoes. And BIG ones. Monday's was more than a mile wide, traveled 17 miles, and was on the ground for a solid 40 minutes. That's like a nuclear explosion on rollerblades.
The people who were hardest hit lost more than a night's sleep, of course. They lost their homes, their cars, their pets; some even lost family members, including children. No one can adequately describe what those people are suffering and will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives. We all have been impacted to various degrees. The tornado was 75 miles south of us. A safe distance, but still close enough to knock out power, halt cell phone service, and to pose threats of other tornadoes that could drop from the storm clouds above us at second's notice. We got rain and wind, and the green sky. Thankfully, that's all we got physically, anyway.
What we got emotionally and psychologically was depression, shock, exhaustion, hopelessness, terror, grief, and a big old dose of that survivor guilt that we human beings are so good at inflicting on ourselves. We all know someone—some of us a number of someones—who were hard hit. The degree of separation is about nil, one at the most.
And then, on top of everything your psyche is trying to grasp and make sense of, you're subjected to arseholes who blame YOU for the devastation, if you happen to be gay, or black, or Jewish, or, or or... the list of scapegoats continues to grow. Hell, if I as an out gay had the power they endow me with, do you think I'd be living here to deal with their hatred and their devastating tornadoes? They also judge people who lost the shirts off their backs while braving the storm to save people and animals. Your neighbors are called rednecks, hicks and hillbillies, and are callously advised to build a storm cellar or move, not understanding that most people just can't afford to do either. Most people couldn't afford to move before the storms; they especially can't move now that they're paying mortgages on houses they no longer have.
On a personal level this has all played havoc with my ongoing health issues, as well as the depression I battle on a regular basis. Scientists are telling us that even the barometric pressure drops can cause depression, anxiety, and impedes short-term memory, concentration, and attention span. Small prices to pay, comparatively, but viable—and horrendous—nonetheless.
Finally, what it all settles into is gratitude. You're sorry for everyone else, but you're grateful that your family is okay. There are those who will try to make you feel guilty for feeling, or acknowledging, that gratitude, but they don't live here, have never been through anything like this, and they can f*** themselves all the way to hell's kitchen door.