Cash

Grief is the strangest thing.
Currently my ears are hot and I’m a little bit sick to my stomach, and I don’t want to write this. I’m not crying, but perhaps that will change shortly.
When I wrote about my beloved cat Boo dying in September, I had to wait a few weeks before I could even get back on this blog and put words down. But what comforted me often during the period after I lost him was thinking about all the words I was going to write down when I inevitably blogged about it. When I finally did post, I sat down and just let all the words I wanted to say flow out, along with my tears. My grief for him was a storm– it was wild and often out of control, and descended upon me suddenly, often without warning, and sometimes when triggered by specific conditions.
On Friday evening my sister and I were at Target when my mom called me to tell us they were rushing our dog to the vet because he had collapsed. We found out he had an auto-immune disorder, where his immune system attacked his red blood cells and caused him to become dangerously anemic. He had possibly suffered a stroke when he had collapsed, and his spleen was enormously swollen. The doctor gave him injections, prescribed medicines for us to give him, and told us that he had a very good chance of being fine.
We took him home– we had to carry him because he was too weak to walk– and we settled him in our living room to watch. The vet had told us he would hopefully be up and around by tomorrow even. Throughout the night, he was able to lift himself and drink water numerous times, which our vet told us was a great sign. I sat up all night with him, and around seven in the morning, I realized he could no longer sit up. I thought he might have worn himself out, and so I hesitated to wake my mom up. After a little bit, however, I checked his eyes and realized they were rolled up into his head, and his breathing was becoming labored. I flew into my mom’s room and told her, begging her to call the vet. He told us to meet him at the vet office in thirty minutes.
We only live about five minutes from the vet’s office. It’s incredibly difficult to stall for time when you think your pet might be dying. We lifted my dog into the backseat of our car, with his head on my lap so I could hold him in place, and rushed over to the vet’s office. We arrived about fifteen minutes before he did. Or maybe that estimate was completely wrong; all I know was that my dog was not responsive and I was in something of a daze. We sat waiting in the car, desperately watching for our vet, while I ran my hand over and over my dog’s laboring sides, muttering soothing nonsense words to him.
Suddenly he jerked, and his breathing became erratic, and he started thrashing. He jerked so hard his back end fell off the seat. I was holding his upper body and desperately blowing air into his mouth, imploring my sister to push on his chest and doing it myself before she had a chance. I kept shouting his name, over and over, and telling him to wake up, to stop, to hold on.
It was so surreal. It felt like a moment in a bad movie, when one person dies and the other hovers over them, dramatically pleading with them to hang on even when they know they can’t. My sister and my mom had gotten out of the front seat of the car and were standing at the door, and they were crying and crying. And I just… I couldn’t cry. Because this moment couldn’t be real. It was like my brain simply could not comprehend what was happening. My dog was dying in my lap, and there was literally nothing I could do. Nothing. I was irrelevant. I didn’t matter.
I’m starting to tear up now as I write this. But I wasn’t at the time. I think someone finally said, “He’s gone.” And I just sat there, holding him in my lap and not crying, and in the back of my mind I distantly could hear a voice say, why aren’t you crying? but all I could do was just look at my boy, all I could feel was the way his body had gone slack in my arms, all I could hear was the absence of those deep, hard breaths he’d been taking.
What I’ve learned in the past few months is that one of the worst, most confusing moments of death is that moment right after they’ve gone. Literally seconds before, this body I was holding in my lap had contained my dog, Cash. It had just been the puppy we’d raised from birth, the one who had a white spot on his chest, even though he was an AKC registered Labrador, and they weren’t really supposed to have white on them. This was the dog my parents were going to sell because we already had three. He was the last of the second litter that we’d raised to sell to still be at our house (we had a boy dog named Riley and a girl dog named Sadie, and we’d already had a litter of puppies from them the year before that we’d sold, except for one named Johnny, who we kept).
This memory is so crystal clear to me. Cash was a few months old, and he was sprawled sleeping on the floor of our living room, right by the couch (because it was in a different place in our living room at that time) and next to the step up to the entry way. He was sleeping away, that hard, committed sleep of a puppy that’s worn itself out, a sprawl of black limbs, and I could just see that white spot on his chest. And they were talking about giving him to this sheriff who was interested in him, and how he could be a sheriff’s dog, and ride around with him, and I just started crying. And I laid my head against him and he looked up at me with these melting ambery-brown eyes and I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear for him to go. He was my Cash puppy; a strange name for a dog, but I was the one who had chosen it, because I was reading some ridiculous Diana Palmer romance novel when we were naming the puppies, and the hero was named Cash (the heroine was named Tippy, so the naming thing went better than it could have). And we already had a one year old dog we’d kept from our first litter named Johnny, so how cute to name a puppy in the next litter Cash! And now, how cute if we had dogs named Johnny and Cash! And I cried and I cried and I cried, and even after my parents agreed to let us keep him, I couldn’t stop crying for a while, because I was so scared at the thought of him going.
So come Saturday morning, I’m sitting here holding the body of this dog in my lap. And I’m so bewildered, because I’m staring at that little white spot on his chest, where the fur grew upwards for some strange reason, and I can’t understand how that white patch of hair means nothing anymore. This sudden absence, this disappearance to a place we simply cannot follow, is one of the worst things I’ve ever been forced to experience when losing someone I love. A few hours before, we were doing everything we could to care for that body, to make it better. And now, it was meaningless.
The vet arrived probably five or ten minutes after Cash was gone; again, I might be a little hazy on the details. My mom got out to speak with him; I couldn’t move because I was holding my dog on my lap. And my sister was sitting in the car crying and crying, and my sister never cries, and she kept saying, “Why can’t he just stop talking, we just want to go home!” and it was so strange because she is always the calm one, the reasonable one. And I remember thinking in this very distant way how I felt bad for the vet, because he’d had to drive from a long way out to meet us specially on a Saturday when the vet was closed and he was making an exception for us, and now he’d come all this way for nothing, and perhaps the least we could do was have our mom speak to him to tell him what happened.
Finally my mom came back and told us that the vet was pretty sure that Cashy must have suffered another stroke that morning. It seemed strangely irrelevant to me at that point. I was already bewildered with the rapidity of what had happened, the shock of finding out that our eternally healthy Cash had collapsed, to finding out he had some bizarre disease we had never heard of and knew nothing about, to thinking that he was improving ahead of schedule, to his sudden and abrupt decline.
My dad had had to work that day, and I realized I needed to tell him what had happened. I called, but he didn’t answer, and so my mom started the car. As we were pulling out, my dad called back, and all I could say was, “Daddy,” before I collapsed into sobs. As painfully dry as my eyes had been before, belatedly the truth struck me like a fist and I couldn’t even speak. I cried on the phone incoherently as we drove home, Cash’s body still in my lap, and I couldn’t seem to stop myself from still running my hand over him, like somehow that would soothe him from the trauma of dying. My dad just kept saying he was sorry over and over again, and again, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was so sorry for my dad, who feeds and waters and takes care of our dogs practically every day, and who had to go through an entire day of work before he could even come home and try and deal with what was waiting.
There was nothing to say when I finally could stop sobbing about how Cash died in my lap, and so I hung up the phone after telling my dad I loved him. We got home and parked in the yard, close to the gate to our side yard where we have an old pen that we kept the puppies in when we were raising them. We lifted Cash out in the sheet we’d put over the seat, and laid him down under one of the trees. It was cold outside, and my shoes had fallen off while we were trying to move him, but I couldn’t care enough to go get them and put them on.
Death is rarely a clean process, and I was determined to clean Cash up as best as I could. My mom brought me wipes and paper towels and I sat outside alone in my front yard, crying and snotting all over my sleeves, and doing the last thing I could think to do for my little black puppy with the white spot. The sheet Cash was on was very dirty by this point, and I was determined he would not be buried in it. I took the bright green sheet that I’d slept on my first year of college, and when I was finally done cleaning up Cash, my mom came outside with me and helped me move him onto it, and into the old dog pen. I wanted desperately to bury him, and it seemed impossible to wait the hours and hours for my dad to come home from work (it was barely eight, and my dad wouldn’t be home until around four or four thirty that afternoon). It was cold outside, and I just didn’t want to leave Cash laying in the yard in the cold. It was so wrong; I didn’t care if his body was empty of him, it was the closest thing I had left. I was ready to dig the hole and lift him into it myself at the point, until my mother quietly pointed out that my father would probably like to be there when we buried him. I thought of the hours and hours and hours my father had devoted to our dogs, and there was no more talk of burying him then.
I went inside to take a shower, as I was fairly cold by this point, especially since I hadn’t been wearing shoes. But when I went in the bathroom, I was suddenly overcome by the finality of it. It seemed like if I took a shower, I washed off the last traces of Cash’s life, and I just couldn’t take it another second. I kept repeating over and over that I couldn’t bear it, I just couldn’t bear it. My insides drew up so tight that it felt like I’d been punched in the stomach, and I kept doubling over in a fruitless effort to alleviate the pain. I kept flashing through parallels of my beloved Boo dying before my eyes and not even three full months later my precious Cash doing the same. And I was suddenly overwhelmed with the crippling, paralyzing recognition that there are so, so very many I love that can die, and it just didn’t seem possible to live with the knowledge.
I put my clothes back on and put on a bigger jacket, one which I always wear when I go outside to play with the dogs. I went into the pen where we’d put Cash, and I laid down in the leaves next to him and cried as I stared up at a beautiful blue sky, and ran my hand across his silky black ear.
I’ve no idea how long I stayed like that, but when I finally got up to go inside, I took my jacket off and spread it over him, so he wouldn’t get cold.
I slept until my father got home, and when I woke there was that brief, cruel moment where I didn’t remember what had happened, and the crushing, agonizing recollection that followed it. We buried Cash in the pen where he was raised, and I saw my father cry for one of the very few times in my life. We wrapped him in my sheet and tucked a tennis ball in with him and buried him.
I don’t know why I shared all of this. I didn’t want to start writing this post, unlike with Boo’s, and I in no way wanted to recount what was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. But these words have just come out, with no prior planning and intent. I couldn’t stand to post what the actual end of Boo’s life was like, because I physically cannot type those words. But for some reason, as I’ve written this, I couldn’t stop myself from speaking of Cash’s death. I am constantly perplexed by the infinite types of grief that exist, and the endless array of ways we deal with it. I’m sitting here and I cannot make sense of why I’ve done this. I still want to speak of Cash’s life, too.
He was barely seven years old, and I’m still stunned by the injustice of his death. He was the youngest of our four dogs, and he’d never been sick a day in his life. His favorite thing to do was chase tennis balls with his mom, Sadie, and they would play endlessly. Anytime Cash got the ball from Sadie, he would tease her with it, and jerk it away the second she got close to him. Then he would chew messily on the ball, drool flying, chomp chomp chomp, until I took the ball out of his mouth or Sadie managed to. If you scratched above his tail, he was physically incapable of stopping himself from lifting his back leg and scratching. He loved to roll around in the grass and half the time he didn’t even eat the little dog bones we give our dogs, because he was picky. He was ornery, and he loved to rile up his brother and dad, and you couldn’t have him in the house too long because he would usually try and pee on something.  He wasn’t a small dog, but compared to his 120 pound father and 100 pound brother, he always looked so slim and young darting around everywhere. When it snowed a few weeks ago, I remember looking out our bay window, and he was the only one out, rolling gleefully around in the snow. Cash was the most expert jumper I’ve ever seen. There was not a single fence or gate in our yard he couldn’t get over, if he wanted. But Cash loved us and loved his pack fiercely, and he never once tried to get out, even on a couple memorable occasions when certain naughty other dogs did and left the gate open. Cash always was a happy dog, and he always looked like he had a little grin on his face. We don’t have very many pictures of Cash when he’s older, because he was always running and moving and playing. It seems impossible to me, sitting here in my living room typing this, that he’s not outside in the backyard now, curled up with the other dogs. For seven years, every time I’ve looked outside my mind automatically looks for four, and for the past couple of days I’ve literally felt a stab in my heart when I count one missing.
I once read in a book that heaven is a place where every animal you’ve ever loved comes to greet you when you arrive. That’s certainly the most beautiful idea of heaven I’ve ever heard of, and that’s what I’m hoping for.

I love you so, so very much my sweet Cashy boy, and I promise you that will never, ever stop. And if I could go back this very second to that moment six years ago, when you were laying on the floor and I was sitting a few feet away looking at you and thinking about giving you to someone else, it wouldn’t even take a heartbeat for me to lay my head down on you again and cry until my parents let me keep you.

Cash

My precious Cash when he  was a puppy and my sweet Boo baby not being too pleased about his presence.

My precious Cash when he was a puppy and my sweet Boo baby not being too pleased about his presence.

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May 31st Was the Scariest Night of My Entire Life

UPDATE: This video is what we were listening to on our weather radio in our cellar. At the beginning of the video (0:05-0:08) he drives by a Taco Mayo. That Taco Mayo is in front of my neighborhood, and my house is barely two minutes from there. He stops in front of the the bank that’s on the corner of my neighborhood, and that’s the building he’s filming over during the video.

Hi again.
In my last post, I described what the May 20 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, was like for someone nearby but not affected. I have never been affected by a tornado, actually, at least not personally.
There’s even like this running joke that the town I grew up in, and the town I live in now, are protected by some Native American blessing from tornadoes. It’s almost easy to believe, because I cannot even count the number of times a tornado has been heading for my house, and then it will abruptly turn and go somewhere else, or barely miss us.
On Friday, I was even joking about this with one of my friends as we discussed how the risk for tornadoes that afternoon and evening was really serious. It was the last day in about a three day period where we were in a serious risk, the second week in a row where Oklahoma was supposed to have bad weather. We were all just grateful that, so far, we had had nothing like the week before with the May 20th tornado.
I went home to make sure we could keep an eye on the weather, and we kept hearing ominous warnings from the news that “the cap was about to break.” This meant that the conditions were about to become perfect for a supercell, which is what produces tornadoes. Finally, it did. Once that happened, things got serious really fast. I live in the central part of the state, just to the southwest of Oklahoma City. To our west, storms started building up and getting violent. Eventually a EF3 tornado broke out near El Reno, the town I was actually born in. It was particularly bad because it seemed to just be following the interstate. Most of the people who died were caught in their cars by the storm. We waited anxiously to see which way the storm would go, but it looked like it was going to go just north of us. As I stood in my yard, we could look to where the tornado was, and there was this constant growling, roaring sound coming from the clouds. Above us, hail clouds were blanketing the sky, but no hail was falling:
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I thought we were going to be spared again, and my mounting anxiety began to subside.
Suddenly the storm began to shift to the southeast.
Towards us.
Then, other storms began popping up all around to our west. Very quickly, the weathermen started calling out my town’s name. And all of a sudden, things got very real. We began gathering up our most important things to take to our storm cellar right next to our driveway. Only once before had we put stuff into the cellar, but the storm had turned pretty last minute, before we had to go down. I kept waiting for someone to say, nevermind, the storm has turned. But they never did. It was actually going to happen.
I have grown up in Oklahoma, and I have grown up terrified of tornadoes. A lot of people have recurring nightmares, and I am one of them. My nightmares are always about tornadoes. I have a very staunch respect for how dangerous they are, and I get very stressed about bad weather.
As I ran around my house, I was in a state of utter panic. I was grabbing things and running them outside into the cellar then running back in. I have two cats, as you may know, and I had to get them in the cellar, too. We only have one cat carrier, and Finn has to go in it. There is no way we could carry him anywhere, because he would flip out. Unfortunately, by the time I was putting Finn in the carrier, I was nearly in tears because I was so upset, and Finn could tell. He proceeded to flip out nearly as badly as I was. I’ll go ahead and tell you now, the only injuries sustained by anyone in my family that day were the claw marks Finn left on my legs and hand. Finally, I had to wrap him in a blanket to get him in and pull it off his head only after he was inside. I hurried to take him down to the cellar as he meowed piteously a few times, and then went quiet.
I rushed back in to get Boo, who was casually sprawled on the loveseat watching the proceedings with sleepy interest. I wrapped him in a sheet, listening as I did so to the weathermen telling everyone in my town that they needed to take their tornado precautions. My sister appeared with my nana, who lives next door, and her and I went down into the cellar to wait.
The rest of my family, who don’t have quite the same anxiety as I do over tornadoes, stayed in the house to keep watching the news. I sat with my nana, holding Boo, nearly paralyzed with fear. Some of my friends started texting to make sure I was getting to safety, and I was shaking so hard I almost couldn’t text them back. Then I waited, listening to the thunder growling and the wind blowing and hoping my family would come and tell me it was all a mistake.
I don’t know if you have ever sat in a tornado shelter, but it’s not terribly pleasant. Ours is not particularly big. It’s also damp, musty, and has lots of bugs. I fixedly watched the stairs, waiting for someone to come and tell us something. I was too scared to be above ground, but too scared to sit and wait without knowing.
My sister finally came back and told me that it looked like the tornado was turning and heading towards a town just barely north of us, the town our high school is rivals with. I know a million people that live there, and I was in no way comforted by this. My sister says to wait downstairs, just to be safe. After a little while, she comes down again, bringing some more stuff, and she tells me the same thing. Suddenly filled with restless, frenetic energy, I beg her to hold Boo so I can go in the house and clean the scratches Finn gave me. As I had sat in the cellar, some of the adrenaline from earlier was wearing off, and I was beginning to feel the scratches, especially a particularly deep one on my ankle.

This one.

This one.

As I rushed into the house, unable to bear not seeing what was happening while I was down in the cellar, I noted how ugly the sky looked, and what a bizarre color it was. The wind was whistling around me, and I was quick to get in the house. I cleaned the cuts up, but as I listened to the TV the weatherman started talking about how a new circulation was forming that looked like it would head towards my home. I pleaded with my dad to come to the cellar, and he said he would be down soon. I went back down to wait some more.
Eventually my sister and my mother joined us, and very quickly after my dad appeared. We were going to close the door. Our shelter was already in place when we bought the house we live in, and it’s pretty old. The door is partially rotted and pretty rickety. We chained it down taut to the stairs. Then, my dad placed a door that they bought on clearance in front of the stairs, and braced it with with a 2×4 against the walls. We had managed to get our weather radio on by this point, and we anxiously listened. Storms were forming everywhere, so many that the weathermen almost couldn’t keep up, and one of them was coming towards our town. In the confusion of all the storms they were trying to track, we were unsure of just exactly which part of our town it was going to hit.
Tornado shelters are very eerie. Ours has these two little holes in the ceiling that are the ventilation vents up to aboveground. It is bizarre, because it allows you to hear what is happening outside, but it is strangely muffled. We could hear the rain pick up and start hammering the metal door of the shelter. Our house is surrounded by trees, and we could hear them whipping and tossing. Things got louder and then quieter, and we had no idea what was happening. No one had mentioned my town on the weather radio in a while and I began to hope that they were wrong, and it wasn’t going to get to us.
Out of nowhere, the weathermen start talking about my town, and one of the stormchasers starts yelling that there are power flashes at a Lowe’s that was two blocks from our house, and that something is touching down on one of the roads that we live off of. Very shortly after that, the light we had plugged in downstairs goes out, and we have to turn on our lantern.
I spent three hours in that cellar. They were the most terrifying of my life. Honestly, I have never been so scared. It was mostly a haze of absolute terror for me, and I alternated between almost throwing up and almost passing out. Every time we thought about getting out, they would talk about how there was threatening rotation that could potentially hit us. Finally, as it got later and later, it seemed as though things were dying down. We kept waiting for the rain to stop pouring so we could get out, but it never did. Eventually we could stand no more, and we decided to venture out. My dad peeked out from under the lid, and to our relief he confirmed our house was still there. I was the first out, and it was pouring down rain so I was instantly drenched. There was still a little bit of light left,  and I was amazed to find a giant tree branch was blocking most of our driveway:
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I rushed to the backyard, my number one concern to check on our four dogs. We have Labs, and they are big and very unruly. There is simply no way to bring them in the cellar and still have room for my family. They also would probably get in a fight. This is probably the worst part for me in regards to tornadoes hitting our house; our shelter is really secure so I was never really afraid for my life. When I got to my backyard, I couldn’t even get to my dogs, who we keep in another part of our yard, because a huge tree branch had fallen on the gate and part of the fence dividing our yard. I splashed through my already flooding backyard to an unobstructed part of the fence and started yelling for my dogs over the noise of the rain and thunder. Johnny and Cash were the first ones I saw, and finally Riley came trotting up, completely unconcerned. But I could not find Sadie anywhere. I called and called, and finally I saw her little head peek out from under our storage building where our dogs love to lay. I called for her to come for me, but she simply laid there and whimpered. I was terrified she was hurt. I had to run to the back part of my yard and squeeze through another gate we never use in order to go around and get to her.
Sadie is a very courageous dog. I would venture to say she is tougher than any of the boys, and we are pretty sure she fought a coyote or something along those lines once. When I got to my poor girl, she was shaking so hard that water was flying off of her, and she was whimpering like I’d never heard her do. I was afraid she couldn’t get out from under the building, but finally she managed to drag herself out. She was scraped up and not putting pressure on her back leg, but she was not seriously injured. I cried because I was so relieved, and I knelt there, absolutely sopping wet with rain and tears and holding Sadie, while my other dogs came and rubbed their wet, muddy bodies on me.
After I knew everyone was okay, things didn’t seem as bad. There were giant tree limbs down everywhere, and our yard was turning into a bog, but there was no serious damage. Somehow, all the tree limbs had fallen just around our cars and our house instead of on them, even though we had parked our cars under the trees to protect them from the hail. We had no power, but we had a home still.
We began carrying things up from the cellar and lighting candles in the house and changing clothes because we were soaked. My uncle, who had drove away from the storm, showed up and told us that the nearby town we thought the tornado had hit was, in fact, essentially fine. He’d stopped and picked up food for himself. We all very quickly became aware of how hungry we were since it was nearly 10pm by this point. We decided to try and drive to the town to see if we could find somewhere to eat since we had no electricity and were too hungry to just eat simple, no-heat food.
We almost did not get out of yard because it was so muddy, and we were afraid if the water got any higher on the roads that we might not be able to make it back to our house. As we drove out of our town, there was no power anywhere that we could see. It was still raining ferociously, and on the way to find a restaurant, it started hailing again, big, ugly hail that beat the roof of our car. Desperately we pulled off at a 7-Eleven and tried to wedge our car in with the mass of other cars taking shelter by the gas pumps under the structure that shielded them. Eventually the hail began to slow, and we pulled out and hurried to find somewhere to eat. We tried IHOP first, but they told us there was a nearly two hour wait. Eventually we made it to Waffle House, who were short-staffed. It tooks us nearly two hours to eat there, but it was some of the best food of my life.
When we drove back home, we decided to look around, and drove through the Lowe’s parking lot that had been reported hit. The little metal sheds and display buildings they had in the parking lot were torn to shreds, and there was debris randomly scattered about. A power line was down along the road in front of it.

Photo credit: Jon Watje

We then drove down the main road we live off of, and the powerlines were destroyed. About a half a mile from our street, one had even fallen on top of a car and into a flood of water on the side of the road. It was nearly midnight, and already there were brave crews working on them. We almost drove onto a downed powerline, and quickly realized we needed to get back home.

Photo credit: Jon Watje.  The road we live off of, the next day.

On the road that crosses ours in our neighborhood, we found the entire road blocked by an entire giant tree that had fallen across it. As we went to go home, a fire truck and a towing truck were arriving to try and move it.
The next day was beautiful, and we spent it cutting and dragging limbs around. I made sure and took pictures of some of the worst damage:
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We are fairly certain that the tornado came right through our neighborhood, just skipping around and never fully forming. I could not sleep that evening because there were still thunderstorms coming through, and every time it thundered I got intensely stressed. We had no power, and all of our phones were dying, so it was nearly impossible to check the radar, even though there was not supposed to be anything serious. When I finally fell asleep, I kept having tornado nightmares. It was a long, rough day for all of us.
I can only say how incredibly thankful I am that we were so lucky. 14 people were killed as a result of the storms and the flooding that followed them. Our situation could have been much more tragic, and I am amazed every time I think what might have happened to us. Perhaps we truly do live in a blessed town; the tornado even tried to get us, but pulled up as it went over.
Sadly, I know that my tornado anxiety just reached a whole new level.

I want to say thank you for reading this. The past two weeks have had a profound impact on me, and I needed to write about them. Hopefully you found my story worthwhile.

With my gratitude,
Sara