Finding a Friend through the Rubble of a House
That time a tornado tap-danced through our neighborhood.
A few firefighters stood around the tipped-over house. The top story had vomited clothes into the yard, including a wedding dress in its original white garment bag. The fire chief belted out a few words, getting his team ready to rush in and rescue anyone who might still be inside.
“Guys, they’re on vacation,” Mike said. He had walked up the hill from his own home.
The fire chief walked over like a man on the most important mission ever conducted by humankind and placed a hand on Mike’s shoulder. He met his eyes for a few moments, then asked, “Are you sure?” The words had the weight of flesh and blood. That’s what was at stake, after all.
“Yeah, I follow them on Facebook. They’re out of town.”
“Okay.” The fire chief nodded. All of the tension went out of his face. “Then you need to call them and tell them what happened.”
Mike opened his mouth and closed it. He hadn’t signed up for that job. He didn’t even have a phone number. He was just an acquaintance, a Facebook friend, not anyone suited to delivering bad news about real life to these people. But he eventually tracked a number down, and that’s how my wife and I learned that our house had been hit by a tornado.
The phone rang.
We sat in the back seat of an old 4-runner, my pregnant wife in the middle, and our 16-month-old daughter in a car seat that looked like it had been forged when the world was young and there had been no laws requiring car seats. My wife’s aunt drove us down a Colorado highway toward the nearest Target.
My wife answered her phone. “Hello? Yeah.” Her hand darted over and squeezed my thigh. “Is this a joke?” I couldn’t make out the other side of the conversation clearly. Just some mumbling.
I looked at her hand and followed the arm back to her face. She looked at me, eyes wide. “A tornado hit our house.”
“Huh.” The truth took a while to find its way through my skull. It felt like a dream, and I glided along the rest of the day as if my body had lost half its weight.
After we got back to the aunt’s house, reality piled up the weight back on my shoulders, forcing me back down to earth. On the local news, there was our house. It looked like a one-story house on which a giant had stubbed his toe. In truth, it was a two-story house that had been picked up and slammed down by the spiteful winds of a tornado.
Spiteful, because ours was the only house with major damage. It was like the twister had tap-danced through the neighborhood, avoiding every other building before it crashed into ours. Other houses had some roof and window damage. A trampoline had been picked up and tossed into the nearby woods, a tangle of metal and nylon. Our house was a total loss.
Except for the mailbox.
It stood tall and proud, oblivious to the damage behind it like a CNN reporter standing in front of a blazing inferno while talking about “mostly peaceful protests.”
The fence was mostly intact as well.
That night, after the newness and the adrenaline had burned itself out of her veins, my wife cried in bed. Our daughter slept as soundly as if nothing was wrong with the world and nothing would ever be wrong with it ever again.
It’s amazing what you can live without. We had the clothes in our luggage from traveling and that’s about it. But really, we still had everything. We had lost nothing irreplaceable. If we hadn’t been traveling, my wife, daughter, and unborn son likely would have perished.
I can look back on it now and be thankful it happened. With good insurance, having a tornado hit your house is like holding a garage sale where everything gets sold for top dollar. Those 400 DVDs I had collected that I never watched anymore? $4 apiece. I couldn’t have given away some of those things. New appliances. New furniture.
And of course, eight months later, a new house. During that time, we lacked nothing. The church got together and heaped gift cards onto us. Our old church sent up support. Our families helped out wherever they could, including my brother-in-law, who risked life and limb to pull a Playstation 3 from the rubble (which worked for 5 more years). We didn’t ask him to do that, but he felt compelled. We also met more of our neighbors who came to look and wonder what could have been.
Mike is now a good friend. That comes with the territory of being drafted to deliver bad news. It’s amazing what you find in the wake of a tornado.
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