Thursday, July 2, 2015

That Time I Survived a Tornado

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
We here at Across the Board are a community, perhaps even more so than the average reader knows.  Many's the night I've spent walking Brenda's twin schnauzers or holding back Tara's hair while she "worshipped the porcelain god."

So, when Jonathan recently mentioned to me that his greatest fear is tornadoes, I was immediately seized by a fit of, I mean, solidarity...and immediately knew what I had to write about for my next post:


The army has multiple major posts in Germany, where German linguistic skills are in particular demand to help American guests maintain a strong relationship with our local national hosts.  My degree being in the German language, the army entered my personal and career data into their normal decision-making processes and naturally concluded that my skillset could be put to best use in Oklahoma.  (My assumption is that if my degree was in Korean, I probably would have been stationed in Germany.)
One of the "perqs" of living in Oklahoma is the constant tornadoes.  Apparently the deal with tornadoes is that they can only really happen where the ground is flat.  As soon as a tornado hits a hill or a mound, poof, it goes up like a fart in the wind.  Oklahoma and Kansas basically comprise a giant flat-iron frying pan geographically, which allows near-constant pats of tornado "butter" to go sizzling by.
Native America: Where Simply Not Being Sucked Into a Sky Funnel is a Worth Singing About
Now in the very Southwest corner of Oklahoma, basically in and around the town of Lawton and the army post of Ft. Sill, we were supposed to be good.

"Look out at those mountains," our commanders would say, gazing out majestically, possibly misty-eyed at a few deflated lumps in the ground.

"You mean those hills?" I would probably not, in all actuality, reply.

There are, indeed, a few hills such as "Mount" Scott around Lawton, which are supposed to offer some protection from tornadoes.  And they do offer some protection, but ultimately Lawton is still a part of Oklahoma, and must take precautions.  For example, we had a tornado siren which normally goes off once a week.  Monday mornings if my memory serves me right.

A good friend of mine had just come back from his first deployment to Iraq.  He didn't have anywhere to stay so he was staying with us for a few days.  The great irony of this was that as he was coming home, I was just on my way out the door, which utterly sucks because it would have been nice to serve together in the same place for a bit.  Sunday I was scheduled to deploy and on Saturday we were all hanging out in my townhouse.

That's when the siren went off.

We turned on the news and all the local news stations were breaking in to inform us that a tornado was making its way to town.  The sky outside darkened as if on cue from Ed Harris in a weird beret.

One of the first things we had learned in Oklahoma was how to deal with tornadoes.  Ideally, you would get into your basement or crawlspace.  We had neither.  The next best thing to do is to get indoors, away from your windows, and if possible stand in a doorway.  (Doorways, for some reason, are the most structurally sound part of your house.)

My wife and I began to panic when the news announced that the tornado (I always imagine him twirling a cane, whistling a jaunty tune) was traveling down Northwest 75th Street.  We lived on NW 72nd street.  The tornado was quite literally passing within a few blocks of us.

My wife and I both hurried for the powder room, which was the best of our few "indoor, away from the window" options.  My redeployed friend, however, had not quite yet gotten over his "death wish," that weird consequence of seeing combat where you simply don't care whether you live or die.  He wouldn't come hide out with us, as much as we begged him to, and just continued to sit on the couch, watching TV, insisting that if it was his time, it was his time.

Well, he wasn't moving.  And we weren't exposing ourselves to the cyclone of terror.  So, huddling up with our cat Felix, we hid, trembling, in the powder room, and waiting for something to change.  We heard the TV turn off.  I'm not sure if the house quite rumbled.  That may have been an exaggeration of my mind.  But definitely something was going on outside.

We waited and waited.  I'm not sure what for.  Maybe for the house to collapse around us and to wait until the door opened up on a patch of rubble which had once been our first home together.  Maybe we were waiting for a dove to deliver a strand of laurel.  I'm not sure.  But eventually we opened the door again and everything was as it had been.  Even the raven-black sky had returned to a somewhat more normal, albeit ominous, yellow color.

And my friend had torn the couch apart and was now standing in a doorjam, shielding himself with a cushion.  Well, I guess the good news is something had scared him enough to get him over his death wish.  The bad news was the next day I deployed to Iraq.  And often since then my wife, my old army buddy, and I have laughed over the fact that the very closest I ever came to being killed as an army officer was the day before I deployed to a war zone. 

It's a funny old thing, life.


Carrie Beckort said...

Living in Indiana, I know all too well about tornadoes! My sophomore year at Purdue was my closest call. I was out and could tell that the weather was only going to get worse. I hurried back to the dorm and then sat in my window to watch. The young tree in front of my window was nearly bent in half from the wind. Suddenly, it stood straight up and went still. My reaction: "Oh crap." The next second the alarms were going off (which were on top of our dorm and we were on the top floor - read VERY loud). The tornado touched down a few miles away.

And Jonathan - with where you live you should be used to tornadoes by now!! Does your fear mean you won't go and see Sharknado 2? ;-)

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

This is a stupendous post. I'm tornado-phobic. I once had a panic attack as a teenager because we got a tornado warning in NJ. My 5yo asked if tornadoes hit where we live and I said, "No. Look at those mountains." But a funnel cloud was spotted last year. *shudder.*

Mary Fan said...

cool story bro

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Totes thanks, Mare.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Oof, that's a close call, too. I can't imagine being stuck in a dorm.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

He he, thanks. Weather's been getting pretty extreme lately. Starting to hear about weird things like tornadoes in Jersey.

Jonathan Schramm said...

Dude! Thanks for this post! Glad to provide inspiration-- though I do now feel totally one-upped.

I think my fear of tornadoes stems from a childhood incident when my family car literally ran out of gas on the railroad tracks in the middle of a tornado warning-- sirens going off and everything. If that wouldn't traumatize a kid I don't know what would?

Surprisingly, Carrie, we've only had like one tornado scare since I moved to West Lafayette four years ago... Thanks goodness.

Apparently, Kimberly, Lilapsophobia is the official word for tornado-phobia. It's an "abnormal fear of tornadoes or hurricanes." Lilapsophobia is considered the more severe type of astraphobia, which is a fear of thunder and lightning.Check and check...

Great post, Steve! It's so vivid with the powder room, felix and your buddy's death wish. Thanks for sharing!

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Yep, good times, good times. Thanks for the suggestion!

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