TW: Tornado aftermath and loss.
Lyle awoke in a gloom and in pain. Damp earth made him shiver. Pressure pinned him down. Ragged plywood. Had he been buried alive? Their house come down on them?
“Amy…? Hello?” It came out more of a croak. No response.
He ached. Every joint cried for relief. His skin burned. Splinters tore at him. He couldn’t move.
Cool air flowed.
He called out, and coughed.
Something pressed him into the ground. He groped at the damp earth, trying to gain room to maneuver. He dragged himself toward the brighter gloom.
Every part of him hurt. He lay there. He called out.
He twisted, and pulled his knees beneath him. He rested until the damp cold brought more chills.
Lyle heard voices and called out. He pushed against the weight.
More voices. People came.
Suddenly daylight. Hands pulled him from the wreckage. A blanket landed over his shoulders.
He gulped from a water bottle. It tasted so good. But he couldn’t keep it down.
Most people, watching TV news, could not comprehend the devastation. Pictures of neighborhoods stripped of any structures brought images of Hiroshima to mind. Searching for survivors continued. The body count kept rising.
Relief organizations arrived, but manpower and rations remained in short supply.
Cold. Lyle got dry but the cold lingered. His skin, a giant scab, he felt like one big welt. His clothes, hanging in shreds, looked like he’d been swimming with razorblades.
He waited outside the medical tent, pacing to generate heat.
Amy hadn’t been found. ‘I don’t get it. I held her so tight. How…?’
A rash covered his exposed skin like a gritty sunburn.
The doctor examined him and said, “You’ve basically been sand blasted. Should clear up by itself. Don’t scratch or rub. Watch for infection. Maybe some scarring.”
Sand and glass, and who knew what all, embedded in his skin. His body would slough it off and heal. They gave him a tetanus shot and some ointment.
The doctor shook his hand and said, “Nothing broken. Mainly need a bath. A miracle you weren’t torn apart.”
Lyle felt shunted around by a ‘bunch of strangers trying to help.’
He stood under the shower until the timer shut it off. Warm water felt good, even on raw skin.
They gave him clean, dry clothes, some of which fit. They smelled good. Someone joked the ripped jeans would sell for a fortune.
Overwhelmed and dazed, Lyle followed, they led . ‘Why won’t they tell me about Amy?’
“Hey, don’t forget this.” Someone handed him his cell phone. He looked at it dumbly. “Towers are down, but you’ll want it later.”
Lyle said, “I never wanted it.” But now he needed it. He texted Amy, racing against the waning battery. ‘I’m ok. Where are you?’ The phone died. Message sent?
Many first responder charities are Christian based. Light on their feet, they arrive days before big government bureaucracies can.
When the sun set, a worker invited Lyle to the tent revival. They offered preaching, music, and hot food.
They sat him down in the tent. The revival began. Still dazed, the intense stimulation overwhelmed him.
He tried singing, but storm images returned. His loss sank in.
Before finishing a verse, his voice became a wail of anguish. Lyle fell to his knees, wracked with sobs. The dam broken, he feared it’d never stop.
Hands held him. Someone said, “Leave him be. He needs to get it out.”
Eventually the tears stopped. Lyle said, “I know your intentions. But I cannot rejoice. I don’t feel it.”
A relief worker shared her concern. “We’re all so sorry for your loss of home and family…”
He stood to leave. “This isn’t my home. I know nothing. Don’t know anyone. Have nothing. It's all gone.”
He stepped into the night and walked. ‘What’s more annoying, the pity in their eyes, or their awe at my surviving?’
Sleepless, he wandered once familiar streets, now clogged with debris. Trash and broken buildings lay everywhere, boundaries and landmarks erased. Trees ripped from the ground. Overturned cars. Even street signs were missing.
The style of a partial chimney felt familiar. Lyle made his way down that lane.
Eventually, he found his address stenciled on the curb. Nothing remained but the foundation of what had been his and Amy's home. Where had she gone? Would he ever know?
He picked up some damp paper. It belonged to someone in another town.
Memories flooded back. Having heard it, no one will forget that gut wrenching roar. The grotesque droning, moaning from the pit of hell would haunt his remaining nights. Like the maw of an organic jet engine. A wavering, ear splitting chorus of the damned, played off-speed and off-center. So loud, even screams went unheard.
The house came apart over their heads, and they never heard it.
They hid in the basement. Safe. He held her so tight. They did everything they were told. How did he lose her?
‘Whatever happens, we’ll be together.’ They clung to each other. And they went aloft.
Next thing he knew, he was wet, lying under that cold pile of crap. For how long?
Where had his Amy gone? Why not him?
The next morning, Lyle stood in an open part of camp. Workers had formed a perimeter of piled trash, ragged wall board and broken two by fours.
A bunch of kids played a rowdy game, kicking a ball around and laughing.
‘No stopping kids,’ he thought. ‘The world could end and they’d make a game of it.’
The ball came to him and he stopped it with his foot. They looked expectantly. One waved and called out. Lyle walked away and left the ball where it lay.
Another dawn arrived. Had he slept? Just stared? He didn’t know.
A young girl approached and offered him a paper plate with a sandwich and some chips. “Eat, Mister.” Relief workers watched from a distance. “I’m Jenny.”
Jenny’s eyes looked haunted. What had she seen? Who had she lost?
He took the plate, nodded, and thanked her.
“Jenny, if you need anything, find me and I’ll make sure you get it. Okay?” She nodded.
He ate without tasting it, and wrapped half in a napkin for later.
Hours passed. Lots of people, movement, vehicles, and activity. Unable to track it, Lyle wandered and stared.
He sat on a broken tree, maybe for hours. A dog, matted and boney, sniffed at him. Lyle patted it and put his sandwich down. It ate and laid at his feet.
About sunset, Lyle noticed a clutch of men standing nearby. They laughed and talked like everything was fine. One broke away and approached Lyle. He glanced around and slipped him a flask.
Lyle took a swig. The other men drifted over. The bottle passed around. They were relaxed. Lyle didn’t know them but they talked like old friends.
A relief worker watched from a distance. She disapproved but couldn’t blame them.
Someone said, ‘That’s the thing about pain, as long as you feel it, you know you’re still alive.’ That brought a big laugh. Someone dropped the empty flask. Lyle tossed it onto a pile of debris.
The next morning, the back-up signal from a big box truck drew Lyle’s attention. Several men shouted at the driver backing into a tent.
Lyle ran up, and stood visible in the driver’s side mirror. He directed him through the wreckage to the makeshift depot. The driver waved thanks.
The foreman pointed at the forklift.
Lyle said, “Yeah, I can drive it.”
“Keys are in it.”
Lyle started the forklift. The foreman opened the truck. They slid a pallet out. Lyle maneuvered the lift and placed it where the foreman pointed.
They got the food and blankets unloaded in no time.
FEMA arrived the next day. They brought equipment, supplies and their way of doing things. The organic community formed since the storm got put on hold. But no one complained. Suddenly, everyone had plenty.
More assistance and supplies meant more oversight. People received tents, heaters, trailers and food. At last, things didn’t feel so dire.
Lyle sat, lost in reverie. The dog lay at his feet. Jenny touched his shoulder and sat.
“Hi, Mr. Lyle. I didn’t see you for a time. Thought I’d say ‘hi.’”
“Still here, Jen. How are you?”
“Warm and dry. And fed.”
“That’ll do. Hang in there.”
“Still no word from your wife?” He shook his head and looked off. “Mr. Lyle, there’s a lot of people coming and going. What’s she look like?”
“Oh, I don’t know… She was, uhm… is beautiful. Blond…” He choked up.
“You have Facebook? Maybe I saw her.”
“Yeah… my phone died. Towers are down.”
“I have a phone. Show me.”
Jenny handed her phone to him. Lyle opened his account and showed her Amy’s picture.
“Look…” She pointed at a message. Lyle looked, scrolled, and typed.
“She’s in the hospital. Trying to find me.”
Jenny said, “If I don’t see you, the lady said I might go with a new family.”
“Take care then. You’ll be fine.”
“Okay… Bye now…”
“Hey, Jenny… Thanks!”
She waved and ran off.
Lyle let out a ‘Whoop!’ and ran to the main tent.
The soccer ball rolled across his path. He stopped it and looked at the running kids. Lyle kicked it over their heads and ran on.
Someone helped him call the hospital. When he heard Amy’s voice, he could only sob. He choked out he would get there, somehow.
He got a man to promise him a ride in an hour.
People drifted toward the revival. Lyle stood in the back. People gave testimonies. Everyone sang with the band.
Lyle sang too. Tears streamed down his face. But this time, he held the notes.
His ride dropped him at Amy’s hospital. He found her room and saw her lying in bed, all bandaged. But she was alive. She’d be okay.
Seeing him enter, she brightened.
Amy said, “Lyle, you look like shit.”
They burst into laughter and he fell into her arms. They couldn’t stop kissing.
She said, “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” and they laughed even harder.
Finally, the laughter settled into his holding and kissing her unbandaged hand.
He said, “We made it, babe. I missed you.”
They held hands for hours. The nurse let him sleep in the chair.