Natural Disasters

Crumbling Bricks (or Part 2 of ‘A Lasagna Saved our Lives’) | by Jeanne Marron | The Digital Journals | Nov, 2021

Joplin tornado 2011, Wikimedia Commons

*Trigger warning: unpleasant imagery, stressful situations involving the aftermath of the 2011 Joplin tornado. *

Looking back now, I don’t think I would do what we agreed to do in this moment, due to the ages of my children at the time. However, we were all my mother and grandmother had locally, and for all we knew, they were under the rubble of their house, slowly being crushed to death, if not dead. There was nobody to watch the kids at the time. So, we knew that whatever we did, we would have to bring them with. We packed up our van with whatever we might have been needed and headed out (cautiously) into town.

This time we drove from North Main street, the normal direction we always took to get to their house. The old, standing buildings on either side eventually gave way to many a crumbling store front. The road here was at least somewhat cleared for drivingyou. Other cars passed us, including a couple of pickup trucks with various stages of those that were injured, as well as people who were taking care of them. One of the trucks, I realized with a sinking thud in the pits of my stomach, contained figures wrapped head to toe is sheets, tarps, and plastic. Some of the coverings had been marked with different symbols by neon spray paint.

Photo by Mathieu Asselin, 2011

The road eventually became impassable, so we parked behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery on South Main street. We decided that we were going to load the kids up in the strollers and walk the rest of the way. We were very determined to reach our intended destination. We started walking along the side streets, careful to avoid wires and other possible hazards as well as making our way around any downed trees.

We finally reached the sidewalk right alongside 32nd street. At this point, we were not completely sure how to proceed. As if in answer to a silent prayer, two men in a pickup truck with a bed filled with people in scrubs and lab coats who looked exhausted, honked at us, asked us if we would like a ride. Hoping they could get us to my mother’s house sooner, we took them up on the offer (also something I am not a fan of doing; accepting rides from strangers, nor would I ever advise it, however, we were desperate). The man in the passenger seat offered us bottles of water, that we accepted gratefully.

After many a detour, turn-around, and then detour some more, we finally realized that this was the closest to my mother and grandmother that the truck would be able to take us. The medical professionals in the truck bed also got out at this location. It took me a moment to realize that we were right next to Joplin High School, where I had attended school for four years. It was completely destroyed. The huge, enormous trees that had lined the side of it were nothing but snapped toothpicks. It was almost unrecognizable.

We walked for a bit and turned down Connecticut, where we made the acquaintance of a vet who had previously toured in Iraq. He was trying to make his way back to his vehicle he left in a church parking lot. He told us that he had never seen so much destruction, even when he was serving overseas, and that it most certainly felt like a war zone. He pointed out that the sun had gone down and asked if we had a flashlight. I felt quite dense that neither me nor my ex had thought to bring one.

He led us to his car vehicle in the church parking lot, and handed us a decent sized flashlight. He also gave me a clean jacket, as I was so busy considering what the kids would need for this hazardous trip, I hadn’t stopped to make sure I had something to protect myself from the elements.

There were definitely people that night who were awesome and very helpful to complete strangers such as ourselves. I still think about that.

When we reached my mother’s neighborhood, we were so relieved that their street looked completely untouched by the storm, except for some fallen leaves and twigs littering the road. We knocked on their door to their completely unbothered house. My fully intact and living grandmother answered the door. We noticed, however, that my mother’s car was gone. My grandmother informed us that my mother had gone to work, which was only a few blocks down from their house, at the nursing home behind Food 4 Less.

Due to their power being out, and that they didn’t have any cable channels to begin with, my grandmother was not aware of what had happened to a greater portion of the town. We debated on walking to my mother’s work to check on her, however, after calling her work on their landline, we determined that she was okay. My mother had also not been aware of the storm’s aftermath until her coworkers had told her about it, looking as her like she was from another planet, or so she told us (they lived only a few blocks from her work and this area did not get hit at all). At this point, we were just exhausted and wanted to get back to our van, which required walking back. Completely relieved that they were safe, we parted ways.

It was a long, and twisting walk back to the van. More avoiding of wires, only this time there were police and firefighters that were helping us by telling us which wires were safe for passing over. This was especially slow moving with two strollers involved. At one point along the way, there were a couple of dogs fighting over something. I was only focused on keeping a distance from them, when my ex said “Don’t look over there!” So naturally, I did look. The dogs appeared to be fighting over a long link of sausage, only upon closer inspection did I realized, with dread and nausea, that it was actually something that I often saw on many a human anatomy chart (I will let you infer here). We got out of there.

The van was a sight for sore eyes. I was ready to go home, even if it meant to a dark house, and just decompress and digest everything that had happened. We were loading the peacefully sleeping kids (children amaze me) and strollers into the van, when two guys came around the darkened corner. Their conversation went something like this:

Guy 1: Ah man, it’s crazy around here.

Guy 2: Aww, dude, I know! Everyone is running around. My bud so and so picked him up a few cartons of cigs at that gas station over there.

Guy 1: The cops are busy right now, we could do whatever we want, grab s*** out of any store. Its all free tonight.

Guy 2: You can just kill someone and blame it on the storm.

Both guys looked up at us and our van of sleeping children, as if they were sizing us up. My ex was getting stuff into the van still, and I calmly, yet very pointedly, told him to get in the van and that we had to go immediately. Luckily, he caught on and understood there was a reason for it. He chucked the rest of the stuff into the vehicle, and got us out of there, leaving the two guys gawking after us and throwing their hands up.

The next day, we ventured back out. Some of the roads were getting cleared and marked for being safe to drive on. We encountered one of our friends that had worked at the Walmart that got hit. He and some of his coworkers road the storm out in the store’s restroom, holding onto a toilet. We ended up walking with him as close as we could to his apartment that had been destroyed. He was helping his parents salvage what they could.

Nearby, there was a lady and her two kids. They were looking for their dog. The kids told their mother they wanted to find him. Their mother told them “Dogs are really fast and can outrun a tornado. I am sure he is somewhere safe and that someone good is taking care of him.” I felt bad for the kids, having had pets run away myself when I was a kid.

At some point, I was passing between two separate apartments, when I noticed something under a piece of ply-board; a pair of furry legs, splayed out and motionless. I remembered the family’s missing dog. I found the mother and told her that there was something I think she should see. She told told me she already knew about it and not to tell her children. I couldn’t blame her. They already had their home taken from them, why add the grief of a deceased pet to all of it?

I also remember eavesdropping on a phone conversation a lady was having on a payphone with what sounded like the police. She was calling them because her sister stole her cigarettes and alcohol and that they needed to come arrest her right away. I laughed at the absurdity of it, especially when she screamed into the phone “What do you mean you can’t respond?! Stop being lazy and earn your paycheck!…..Hello?…Hello?…d*** it, a********!”. Some people are oblivious to what is going on around them, I guess.

The rest of the summer was definitely a transition for everyone. People grieved people who didn’t make it, adjusted to rebuilding their homes or finding new ones, and to the new scenery. A couple of months later, I found myself walking home one night from a late errand I had to run. I had no other choice but to walk through the part of town that was completely dark with only houses that had been completely torn apart with nothing but the flashlight on my cellphone.

It was surreal and completely terrifying. I felt like I was the only person left after an apocalyptic scenario. There was one house that was completely intact that was still where it had previously stood, except that it was taken and turned around to where the front of the house now faced catty-corner into the street. In complete darkness, something about that house sent chills up my spine.

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