Monday, May 09, 2011

Life and Death and In Between

Note from konagod: Wilf has contributed to my blog several times in the past. He and his wife, Netta, had a rather large loss recently. I asked Wilf if he would mind posting a diary of the event, and this is his submission. They are both very lucky people and I'm so happy they are a part of my life.

April 25, 2011 at 7:18 PM. My wife has left our house in Vilonia to go to her Nephew’s house down Highway 64 because of the impending severe storm. My son has already left the house to go stay at his friend Cody’s house who has a safe room. Nothing left in the 108 year old house at 945 Main Street but me, my dog Daisy, and my two cats, Zoey and Kelly Pavlik. Kelly has spent the day in the house, as he usually does, but has decided not to foray outside, as is his nightly routine, likely because of the stormy weather; he has the good cat sense not totry to brave this storm!. Unknown to me, Zoey has decided that hiding in the master bedroom bathroom walk-in closet is a good idea, and she is safely nestled in my wife Netta’s side of the closet, in amongst some shoes.

I have decide to stay behind because frankly I hate having to go and spend time in a dark, damp basement for what inevitably turns out to be a non- event. Severe storms with possible tornadoes have come through this area since I moved here from Canada in May of 1999, and I have steadfastly refused to budge out of what I imagined to be my safe little home regardless of how bad things are predicted to be. “What are the chances of a tornado hitting this exact house”? I often joked, just before my family, often at the insistence of Netta’s mother, lit out to take cover. At first Netta would get upset that I refused to take these storms very seriously, despite having seen what damage a tornado can wreak. Eventually she became resigned to the fact that I did not have the good sense to realize that the low odds of a tornado hitting our house did not mean zero odds, and that despite her pleading, I would always stay behind. I was probably a little smug even when the family returned and once again, I had escaped the big bad weather bogeyman.

April 25, 2011 was no different. At 7:00 PM, before Netta left in her truck to go to her Nephews she asked, with her usually silly sense of humor, “If something does happen, is this double indemnity”? “Nope” , I quipped, ” I think a tornado is considered an act of God”. We kissed, and I told her to be careful driving, and to call me when she got there. Mason, our 17 year old had already left to ride out the storm at his friends house, west of where we live.

At 7:05, I post on facebook “”All of the family off to shelters. Ill ride this out with the animals. I’ll take snow over this crap any day!” Netta posts back at 7:10 “Love you Wilf”, follow immediately by “Its almost like we are together” I respond at 7:18 with “Love you too, Netta”. Lots of lightning. Worst storm I’ve ever seen.”

Lighting strikes close to the house, thunder follows immediately, followed by more lightning and more thunder.. The lights flicker, then go out. My IPAD from which I have been posting to facebook loses the WIFI connection. I am really alone. The lights briefly flicker back on and almost as quickly the house is once again pitched into near darkness as the electricity to 945 Main Street, Vilonia Arkansas is cut off for ever. As I sit in the double recliner my in my bedroom, a recliner Netta and I have spent hours on, with Daisy, our Great Dane, snuggled between us, in our bedroom with the perfect bed, in our house that we have poured years of love, sweat, and tear into fixing up, remodeling, entertaining our friends and family in, raising two fine sons, and numerous pets, at times loving, at times laughing, and at times arguing, and at times making up, I realize that I may have made the final mistake of my life.

A tree limb, or possible an entire tree, crashes on the deck out side the French doors of our bedroom. I know this is no ordinary storm.. The rain is beating on our tin roof and the wind is screaming. I know that something very bad is going to happen. Daisy is in the bedroom with me. I grab her by the collar, pulling her with me towards the bathroom door, and towards the one place in the house my dear and beautiful wife has told me to go if I need shelter against a tornado. The one place surrounded by four walls none of which are on an outside wall. The closet in our master bedroom. I run into the closet with Daisy, close the door, and lay down with my arms around here, and then notice that our sweet little rescue cat, Zoey, is peering up at me from the corner of the closet. Kelly Pavlik, the cat who showed up as a scared kitten four years ago and who Daisy the Great Dane carried around like her puppy, is in the bedroom under the bed.

Then hell comes to 945 Main Street, Vilonia Arkansas. The wind is furiously ripping at the house, wanting it gone. Unknown things are hitting the house, wood is creaking, glass is breaking, the entire house is shaking. I look up to the ceiling as it disappears and is replaced by a view of a putrid yellow sky. It is now raining plaster and debris on me and the two animals I am sure are going to die with me on this terrible night. I hold on to Daisy, the rescued Great Dane from Mississippi who survived being abandoned, brought to Arkansas, and being adopted , only to end up here in a closet with a stupid, stubborn old man clutching her and trying to protect her from this cruel attack from mother nature I think of my wife and my sons, and I think what an idiot I am to be dying this way. I know that I will die, and am strangely resigned to that. I am wondering, though how exactly it is going to happen.. A tree on my head, or worse yet trapping me? Will I be sucked out of the closet and end up impaled on something? Will it be painful, or quick? There is no life flashing before my eyes, no panic, just the thought that if I have to die, please make it merciful.

Then it is over. Somehow, I am alive. How can that be? I stand up in the debris filled closet. I grab Daisy by the collar. I look around for Zoey but cannot see her. .. I open the door, not knowing what to expect. The bathroom is destroyed, except for the two closets. My wife has saved my life. I grab a jacket and some shoes. Outside the bathroom, all that is left in the bedroom is the floor. Both outside walls have vanished. The king sized bed is gone. I notice a TV set on the floor as I make my way to step out onto the deck. The deck is no longer there. I jump three feet down in mud and debris. I gingerly make my way along the side of the grass by the house and notice the Catawba tree the one that used to shade our front porch and was the place Netta always took a picture of the boys on their first days of the school year, was completely uprooted, and now lay across the walkway to what was left of our heavenly littlie home. I make a mental note that my carport is gone. Of the two cars that were parked under it, the convertible seems to have fared better than the new KIA. The KIA looks as if some giant has stepped on it, crushing it, while the BMW with its cloth top and plastic rear window seems unscathed.

I start running down highway 64 towards where my wife had sought shelter. I hoped the thing that had tried it’s best to kill me had spared my nephew’s house and she and her family were safe. There are trees, all manner of debris, power lines and telephone pole all over the highway. I run a quarter mile until I get to the Captain’s Carwash” where I see two trucks and people. I make my way into the carwash, and immediately hug a stranger who suddenly not a stranger, but a brother. A brother survivor. That was the first time I actually cried that night.

I decide to continue east, and flag down an SUV, that somehow is making its way down the obstacle course that used to be Highway 64. Two women let an old man with a Great Dane into their SUV. I am soaking wet, I am exhausted, and it is the best truck I have ever ridden in. We make our way through a maze of destruction: a semi tractor rig is overturned, on the side of the road, it’s under side facing the highway, the cab wrapped around a tree. Power lines criss-cross the highway. The destruction seems utterly complete. Houses are without roofs, trailers have disappeared, every tree seems uprooted, and everywhere there is debris form a hundred people’s lives. As we drive further into Vilonia, the damage lessens, but is extensive. After what seems like an eternity, but is actually probably 30 minutes we arrive at my nephew’s house. I get out of the truck, and am greeted by the most beautiful woman in the world. My wife Netta is safe. I cry for the second time that night. It is April 25, 2011, 7:54 PM, and my life has changed forever.

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