Today started early, but then again, most of our days do. I knew it would be a hectic day even before I slowly coerced my weary body from its warm bed. After all, Rowdy and I are traveling to Oklahoma City on Saturday so that I can photograph the wedding ceremony of Kassie Jackson and Mike Lee. After a few hours of quality time with Lyndi on Sunday, we are driving to Galveston with Chad and Jennifer and then boarding a cruise ship to the Yucatan Peninsula on Monday. Between newspaper articles and feeding thousands of stocker cattle and climbing to the summit of Mount Laundry, for the past three days, I've been in a dead heat against time. And, I don't think I've been winning. Before my feet hit my bedroom's brown shag carpet (I know, I know), my feet were destined to hustle about in a mad frenzy, bound certainly not even to come close to running all the miles laid out before them. Hell, we hadn't even picked up our boarding passes for the cruise yet. I had to drop of picture CDs from last weekend's wedding and purchase all the necessary supplies for our upcoming voyage to the tropics. You know a ginger like myself must be prepared to enter into the steamy, blistering, drunken sauna that is Mexico. I had to try to find some bathing suit that would somehow cover all that is Shonda. Most assuredly, I knew this would be like finding a tarp for a whale. And, I had to accomplish all this rushed packing and cursing and cleaning with enough time to actually snuggle up to Ridge and Rolan. After all, I've only left Ridge once in his 3 1/2 year life. Rowdy and I took a three day trip to Vegas when he was about eight months old and I spent the last two days gazing down Freemont, pitifully lost without my baby. And, I've never really left Rolan. I know I am placing far too much importance upon myself, as though my rambunctious boys will sulk in the corner without me. They will be fine, I know. Mostly I know myself. While they will joyously indulge in rolling in mud and gorging themselves with ice cream at Grandma's, I will likely long for them. The time away will be good for Rowdy and I. It will. I'm sure it will be good for the two boys, too. But, preparation for this small hiatus has fully occupied my last three days and, with the wedding and the trip right upon us, today held a iron-clad guarantee for endless errands and cursing.
Or at least that's what I thought would make my day full of chaos and stress and frenzy. Because I had engagement photos scheduled at 7 pm in Cheyenne, I had planned on leaving the house before noon to get back in time. Like all good plans, they were, of course, broken. My computer, the never-ending thorn-in-the-side that this piece of shit has been, wouldn't fully burn the wedding photos I needed to deliver. Tech genius extraordinaire, I whizzed through the problem. By that I mean cussed out loud and periodically kicked the damn thing. Ten ruined CDs later, each of the five disks were burned. At the last minute, Rowdy decided to take the boys with him to check cattle at the north end of the county. With the slow start and the engagement photos later in the day, I was relieved at the prospect of running around Elk City without the added time of loading and unloading the boys at each stop. Apparently the authorities really frown upon the whole leaving the kid in the car thing, or so I read in the Elk Citian a few weeks ago. While I waited for Brooke at Kathy's Travel to activate our Fun Pass (get the booze a-flowin', bitches!), I braved a trip into Stage for cruise-isque attire. With a bag full of new clothes and our Fun Passes in tote, I was off to Maurices when all the weather phone calls started flooding in. For those unfamiliar with my mother's side of the family, let me just say this -- you will not find folks more scared of increment weather than these people. For that very reason, a F5 super tornado could be streaming right toward me and if they were my source of information on this, I would likely blow it off. Honestly, when my grandmother began her campaign for today's storm awareness, I really wasn't too concerned. I did call my husband just to pass along her information, but she was already on the phone with him. It wasn't until 15 minutes later when Lyndi called from Norman to suggest I stay in Elk that the idea that this might be a legitimate storm crossed my mind. Quickly I finished my shopping and went to my mother's hair salon. She was cutting Catch's and Alivia's hair, the children of my cousin Krista. Mom briefly mentioned the storms in the Cheyenne area, but she really lacked an urgency in her voice. And, given her well-documented history of cloud paranoia, I took that to mean maybe the worst was over. I knew a rotation from this same storm had touched down on the north side of Denver, causing significant damage and killing a mother who gave her own life to shelter her children. But, I honestly thought the storm must've weakened as it moved across the country's center. And, to be fair, it had. It was just so impressive in the first place that even the dimmed storm was enough to perk your ears up.
After Mom finished the little Geno's hair, we went inside her house. The news was on and Cheyenne was the total feature of the coverage. Immediately, I grabbed my phone and called my husband. When he answered, the strong whipping gusts of wind pierced through the phone. I knew there was trouble brewing when Rowdy said even he was taking shelter. The storm chasers on the television said the same thing. Helplessly, I watched the satellite graphics of the storm and its many, many rotations. Although they were in a shelter with their father, I was stuck in Elk City with my babies in the eye of the storm. I tried to bite my lips and hold back the flood gates of emotion. I couldn't. After another two droning minutes of Jonathan Congers assessment that the downtown (downtown, funny, I know) Cheyenne would likely be hit by this huge tornado with a possibility of an F3 or F4.
At the risk of prompting rounds of snickers from my readers, I've always believed I could contain myself in these situations to keep others from freakin' out. And, I was, after all, with my mother. I don't worry every year during the Spring and the Summer tornado months based purely on the fact that she worries enough for all of us. However, today I couldn't help it. Channel 4, KFOR out of Oklahoma City was the only channel out of the three locals to give steady reporting upon the storm because, after all, this ominous cloud with nine separate rotations, each of which could pop out a twister at any second, wasn't looming of the Oklahoma City metro. And, the Grey's season finale was on. Thank God NBC has shit for programming, otherwise we would have left to our own humble devices to predict this storm's potential wrath. Now, had it started sprinkling over Edmond or Warr Acres or Midwest City, holy shit, the entire state would've been glued in for three hours of a streaming play-by-play. Grey's would have been moved to some obscure 2am slot because it had rained a half inch in two hours. I am bitter, if you can't tell. I am bitter because I miss shows when the metro is in no serious danger and I am bitter because they damn sure don't have to miss theirs when my babies ARE!
Moving on. KFOR's storm chaser and meteorologist Jonathan Conder was south of Cheyenne, sending live feeds of this threatening wall cloud descending upon my babies. With live video of the storm on the tv screen, Chief Meteorologist Mike Morgan put up graphics in the corner from the satellite. Small, colorful circles lit it up like a Christmas blimp. Each one represented a rotation, a possibility for calamity. And, as Mike Morgan projected the suspected path of the storm, I could easily see that several of these small, colorful circles would soon be hovering above my house. Above my husband. Above my boys.
I hit my knees and my mom started praying for the safety of my boys. I couldn't. I don't know why, but I just couldn't. Instead, familiar feelings rushed over my body, the sense of restrained helplessness, like when I watched awestruck as the second plane sailed into the second World Trade Center. I know for many that may seem like a dramatic comparison, especially since the night did eventually end safely for my family, but that's how it felt to me at that time. Miles away, I could watch on television and know the potential havoc stalking my home from the skies above and I could do nothing but that -- watch. As I stretched my arms and body on my mother's coffee table, eyes locked on Mike Morgan, the urgency I felt most of the day to accomplish all that I needed to accomplish to leave carefree for the wedding and my trip just disappeared. It evaporated. My thoughts were fully consumed with this.
Since the city of Cheyenne, including my trapped family, had lost electricity, I relayed all the weather information to my husband via cell phones. One rotation would appear to be dissipate, relief would roll over my body like salty water on the beach and then Mike Morgan would crush that by reporting that another was gaining momentum. When Jonathan Conder, who was still chasing storms in Roger Mills County, used his cell phone to tell the station he thought he saw a funnel touch down, my emotions were in a total state of panic and confusion. I didn't want to further upset my mother, who was mummbling jibberish prayers like a gypsy or a televangelist, so I tried to restrain my anxiety and fear. On the other hand, the before mentioned anxiety and fear were pretty damn overwhelming.
Mike Morgan would say, "Well, this should be hitting Cheyenne in the next two to three minutes." Two to three minutes would pass, but the satellite graphic would remain virtually unchanged aside from the expanding girth of the storm. With each tick of the clock, I felt more and more like my mind was going to explode. I needed this to be over or at least for something to change, but it wasn't. Periodically, Rowdy would sneak out of the shelter to steal a peek at the clouds. He said the wind was so powerful it nearly knocked him off his feet.
After another ten minutes of unchanged reporting, I told my mom I had to stop watching it. The endless loop of the same information was maddening. We drove over to my cousin Krista's, where she was having some sort of American Idol singing party. Two people get microphones and karaoke while a video game console somehow determines whether or not the contestants were on pitch or sang each word on time. It was foreign to me. Krista, though, appears to have missed her theatrical calling. She would have Saddam Hussein or Kim Jung Il or maybe even George W. Bush over if they promised to play this singing game with her. Honestly, her bliss would have been cute had I not been consumed with worry.
A few moments after Mom and I arrived across town at my cousin's, Rowdy called to say it appeared to be over. I was safe to drive home. However, we weren't without casualty. I don't know if it was the wind gusts well over a 100 mph or if a small rotation dipped out of the sky and then quickly pulled back up, as tornadoes are well-known to do, but the boys' two-story playhouse with a swing set, slide and monkey bars had been blown 15-20 feet, resting on top of our fence. Random pieces of the pricey and well-loved contraption littered our yard and the wheat field south of our house like war debris. Ridge, who definitely worries when life is amiss, called each grandparent, aunt, uncle and friend to detail the atrocities of the storm. His "park," as he coined it, is broken. It is broken and twisted and, frankly, not where it is suppose to be. With each and every person he told, he went through the list of items torn, tattered or no longer with us: the slide, the ladder, the flag, the chains, the seats, the handles. He's too young to understand the ferocity of the wind, invisible to his tiny eye without the ribbons of dusty red dirt, so he repeatedly explains to his audience that the rain did it.
With this storm that destroyed big chunks of Denver passed us and well on its way to terrify the folks of Eastern Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and maybe even Tennessee, Rowdy cleared me to journey home. I took the back roads, a staple in my country life. An hour earlier, the western sky was a deep, turbulent blue, full of treacherous opportunity. With the Ford pointed toward home, that was all beyond me now, over my shoulder on its way to torture some other community. I hoped that wasn't the case, that somehow this mother cloud would disband into nothingness. But, I know better. Countless rain-soaked midnight dashes to the cellar ensures that impossibility.
As the wall clouds rolled out, I was awe-struck by the clear horizons left in its place. The sky was a palette of soft blues and pinks. The sun was a perfect glowing peach. At least for this day, there would be no more storms. No more worries. The calm after the storm, as cliche as that may be. Of course, as soon as pulled into the driveway, Ridge darted outside to show me his "broken park." To him, this was a disaster. To his momma, it was a blessing of relief.