My snow boots are still covered in mud. Every time I pulled them on this winter to head out into the snow, I thought about that warm day last March that turned our town upside down.
I didn't have any hiking boots – I'd given my old trusty pair away when decluttering a few years ago. But when my husband came to get me out of the basement bathroom, where I'd taken cover with our three kids, our nanny, the dog and the birds, he said he thought a tornado had hit our neighborhood. He wouldn't let me go outside until I put on better shoes. All I had were my snowboots.
I grabbed my camera, the reporter's instinct always kicking in, and headed out. Flipping through the photos, you can almost see how in denial I was when the walk started. I had photos of hail on the ground, a basketball hoop overturned. Then a house with some tiles ripped off, some pictures of puddles. A picture of a street sign bent in half.
I totally missed the house that was leveled 10 doors up from mine. Walked right past it without seeing a thing. Everything else was too overwhelming to process. Walls torn off the side of houses. People's closets exposed to the outdoors. The smell of gas in the air. People milling around, in a daze, checking out the damage.
And now here we are, a whole year later, and to be honest it all still feels very surreal. There is snow on the ground this year. Last year was a warm, early spring. It feels unreal to be marking the anniversary of a tornado barreling through town.
Our neighborhood is mostly put back together, at least from the outside. We've all struggled, to varying degrees, with getting our homes repaired or rebuilt. One house is still leveled. Most homes have been made whole again, but it's hard to tell if the residents inside are back together. Some people are grateful for new friends, new siding colors, a new sense of community. Some people are still overcoming the shock and sadness.
There are moments in everyone's life when you can say things changed inside you forever. The first big moment for me like that was when my father died. My memories are categorized as before, and after. I suspect the tornado did that for many people in Dexter, even if we're grateful for new friends, new support networks, and new perspective. But that dinnertime storm on March 15, 2012 will always be a before and after moment.
I can see it in my own kids. They carry some residual stress from the tornado, especially my six-year-old. We'll be sitting around the kitchen table in a quiet moment, and all of the sudden he's asking questions about tornados. He keeps an eye out, looking for places we could go in case of an emergency. He wants to know what we'll do in case of a fire. Where we'll go if another tornado hits. How fast does it take the police to arrive if we have an emergency? Sometimes it gets me choked up, but this is his reality. At six he already knows the world works in unpredictable ways.
And we only needed a new roof. I can't imagine how kids from the homes that were destroyed feel. Or how vulnerable their parents must still feel.
When a one-in-a-million thing happens to you, it's hard to see the world as a safe place. You watch the news with new, empathetic eyes. You see tragedies on cable news and remember all those news trucks lining your streets. Perfectly coiffed newscasters standing in the middle of your rubble. Everything feeling upside down and nauseating.
A lot of people say we are a stronger community for it. And that's definitely true, but there are still people healing from it all who might be a little angry, a little jumpy, or a little sad. Everybody's got to deal with it in their own way.
There are times when I'm walking around the neighborhood and I get struck with awe for a moment. A tornado passed right through here. Usually, for some reason, it's when I'm walking up Lake Street near the little park. I can see images in my head of the tornado cresting that hill and heading into our homes.
I'm probably never going to wash the mud off my snowboots, just as a reminder. Not that I need a reminder. And I'm not a big believer in what my husband calls "anti-holidays" – days marking sad things that happened. So this will probably be the last time I write about the tornado. But however you chose to remember, or if you chose to forget, it's all good. Treat yourself kindly and move on.