This morning I woke up with a Neko Case song in my head. After letting it roll through there for a minute I realized how strange it was that it hadn't arrived, unbidden, before. It's the only song I know (besides the one the munchkins sing in The Wizard of Oz) about a tornado, and the only one that, as I have been doing, tries to make a narrative of its randomness.
My family and I just "survived" the Tuscaloosa tornado in that semi-abstract way that unjustifiably lucky modern people like us live through these things. Our neighborhood by the Black Warrior River was untouched. We huddled in the basement on our smart phones, watching reports from local celebrity meteorologist James Spann and joking with others on Facebook. "James said put bike helmets on your kids — this is serious," wrote one. "I'm putting tin foil on the cat's head."
The gentle ribbings alleviated the fear. Joviality ceased once Spann's Ustream feed showed how devastating this storm would be. Suddenly this was the opposite of routine.
All we saw through the basement window was a little rain. After it passed through, we still had power and intermittent phone service. No cable or Internet; no way to consistently connect with the cataclysm a mile away. We didn't know for a while whether another storm would hit. Eventually we figured we were OK. I made soup and a neighbor came over and ate it with us.
Next day brought the news. This family's house gone; that person still unreached. Most of my people in Tuscaloosa are okay, thank what you believe in. Everyone wants — no, needs — to help each other. More joking, a light salve: "God loves Nick Saban — the stadium was spared — but how will we live without the Krispy Kreme?"
My family and I drove to Atlanta to catch planes to take us to previous commitments. I hated leaving Tuscaloosa for once — often the town feels too small to me, but it has now joined the list of my towns, embedding its charms in me: the Riverwalk, farm fresh eggs at the market, the beautiful WPA movie theater where I saw the Avett Brothers one night and my daughter's totally Toddlers and Tiaras dance recital another. And, as they say of any place that becomes home, the people. Many of them hurting now.
Personal fears and hopes left little space in my head for art to come in and make things more orderly. Yesterday I wrote on my Facebook wall that my writer's instinct to craft a narrative from what happened had failed me. Then that Neko song rose up inside. She had done it; I'd just forgotten. Is her interpretation right? It's only a metaphor. It opens the door to something like clarity. It rushes into the space of my questioning, maybe a distraction, maybe an answer.