Friday, August 24, 2012

I've got one heck of a story to tell...

Well, here we are. A brand new chapter has started writing itself, and I'm ready to share it with the world. To understand how we got here, we gotta go back to 2011. January 8th, 2011 to be exact.

 I was a 23 year old senior at the University of Alabama, ready to conquer the world!  I was making great grades, had a decent job, amazing friends, and the best puppy in the universe. Life was good! I was leaving work early that night, Tuscaloosa was having a (rare) snowstorm.

My roommates were out, and I was enjoying the solitude. I ordered some Jimmy Johns, lit a fire, and snuggled on the couch with my pup and some good tv. My phone rings. It was this guy I had been crushing on for years, but he had been dating one of my former coworkers. I kept my distance. Just a few nights before, he called me up. He said he was officially single and didn't want to wait another minute before he asked me on a date. My heart melted. I couldn't wait to see what could unfold between us. I answer the phone to learn that he is braving the snow to come see me. I was reluctant. I knew once he got here, there was no leaving. I decided to take a chance and make him sleep on the couch. A snowball fight later, the business major had stolen my heart. I was already in love.

A few months and several wonderful dates later, we were heading to Destin for my last official college spring break. March 17th, we became an official couple. I was over the moon. That night, the whole crew went to a foam party at a local club. Tony and I were dancing when he suddenly stopped and said, "**** it. I love you." My heart stopped. I immediately said it back, and meant it wholeheartedly. The cussing honestly made it that more real to me. We're both raw and uncut. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

We came home and Tony basically moved in with me. When you have that feeling, you just go with it. We were soul mates and there was no denying it. 

The semester was coming to an end. I was still going to have to take a few summer classes before graduating, but I was taking all my major senior classes and it was getting tough. Speeches, tests and papers. Things were stressful.

April 27th started out like any other Wednesday. We had been getting tons of warnings that the weather could get pretty bad later in the afternoon. That is pretty much the story of Tuscaloosa during the Spring. It's tornado alley, the sirens go off at least twice a week. We didn't think much of the warnings. A week before a minor tornado touched down on the other side of 15th street. My sister and her girlfriend's house received some roof damage and several downed trees. We were very lucky it wasn't any worse. We thought that was the worst that could have happened.

We thought wrong.

After my 2pm class was over, I was going home for the day. Tony didn't want me on campus alone if the weather was bad, so he was coming to pick me up from class. I was waiting for him under the shelter of Bryant-Denny Stadium when my brother calls me. He told me he was going storm chasing with his meteorologist buddy and he wanted someone in the family (that wasn't mom) to know. Before we hung up he told me he loved me and to be careful. It was going to be a long day.

Tony had picked up a couple pizzas for us to chow on before we hit the books. We were goofing off all afternoon, not worrying about what the weather could bring. We were actually out jumping on our trampoline late in the afternoon.

We were chilling on the couch, watching James Spann (our local weather aficionado) as the bad stuff got closer and closer to T-town. It was looking pretty dark out there, so we decided to let Lily (my wonderful pup) run around and do her business one more time before the bad weather came. We decided we needed to move our cars (which we had parked in the back yard) away from the huge trees back there.

As I was sitting in the drivers seat of my ol' red pickup, key in the ignition, door still open, I was struck by the strangest sound I had ever heard. I turned towards the back of the yard, and saw something I could never forget.

There it was...a supertornado. I couldn't see the top, or the bottom. Just swirling black clouds, debris flying everywhere, and pending disaster. I was frozen in the moment.

I couldn't think. I couldn't move. I was just staring. Finally I heard Tony screaming at me... "GET LILY! GET IN THE HOUSE! NOW!" Lily ran towards me. I scooped her up and darted inside. The power was gone. All I could hear was the sound of the beast.

Tony was in complete survival mode. Had it not been for him, I would have still been sitting in my truck, numb to the entire situation. He was grabbing pillows, blankets, anything he could. My roommate's dog was still in the house. I couldn't bear leaving her there to face the monster alone. She, as usual, would not come to me. Tony screamed, "either you're gonna die, or that dog's gonna die and I'm not losing you! GET IN THE BATHTUB!"

I crouched down on my knees and bent over, Lily trembling beneath me. Tony threw every he had on top of us. He laid over me facing the opposite direction. We waited.

For some reason, even then I didn't feel like I was in danger. I had the strangest feeling of calm. To this day I can't explain it.

Less than 10 seconds after we got in the bathtub, there was a huge crash against the side of the house. My heart stopped.

The pressure became so unbearable. I felt like my eardrums would explode at any moment. There was this huge relief in the pressure. It was the roof being torn from the house.

We literally felt like we were in hell. Everything was in chaos around us. It sounded like we were inside a jet engine. Stuff was flying everywhere, hitting you, scratching you, but you really don't feel it.

I heard Tony crying for forgiveness of his sins. That's when the calmness was drained from my body. I started praying. I tried screaming to Tony, to tell him that I loved him, maybe for the last time. My screams were muted. I felt his body being lifted up from mine. I somehow managed to free my hand, find his beltloop, and with two trembling fingers, I held him with all my might. I was not going to lose him.

In less than a minute, my home, my neighborhood, and my city were in ruins. I have never felt more scared or helpless in my entire life, but we were alive. I stood up and was overcome with disbelief. It couldn't be real. We couldn't be alive. There's no way...I didn't even have on shoes!

I stood amongst the debris in my bathroom, crying, screaming, repeating "my house, my house!" I didn't know what else to do. I learned later that my neighbor across the street was staring at our house at that moment, thinking there was no way we could still be alive. When he heard my screams, he cried with relief.

The front of the house
My bedroom

Our cars

The bathtub

Inside my truck

Our living room

Tony grabbed my trembling face and said, "Brittany, we're alive, okay? We're alive. You're gonna see some shit you don't want to see, but we're alive. We've gotta get outta here. It's not safe."

He was right, it was anything but safe. I found a pair of my jeans, Lucky brand oddly enough. I pulled them on over the cuts, bruises and god knows what else covering my legs. I stepped on a nail, because I couldn't find any shoes. Tony strapped his Chacos on my feet. He was able to pull a pair of his boots out of his car.

We found our phones, both with cracked screens. Tried to get calls out...nothing. I got one call through to my mom. I could hear her but she couldn't hear me. I heard her screaming, "Brittany, Brittany is that you? Are you alive?! Please Brittany answer me..." I was yelling, "Mom, we're okay! MOM! I'm trying to get to you, Mom can you hear me?!" Silence.

I found my purse. I put my jewelry box, my macbook (which was on my bed with roofing beams on top- still works to this day), and these vases that were my grandmothers inside. I shoved what I could in my oversized purse, before Tony literally drug me from the house. I snapped a few pictures (most of what you see above), I knew this was something I needed to capture.

The funniest part (if you can really call it that) of the whole situation was Coley, my roommate's dog. I was so worried that she didn't make it. Once the tornado wasn't directly over us anymore, Tony climbed up where the roof used to meet the top of the shower. He said he just "had to see it." As he watched the tornado rip apart other homes and building, I heard him say "that damn dog!" Coley was alive, and literally chasing the twister. For the first time in the 2+ years I lived with her, as soon as I called her name, she came running. I found a ribbon from one of my dresses and made a leash out of it for her. I was so glad she was safe.

We walked the streets of our neighborhood in disbelief. From what we could tell, everyone was okay! We found out later that 3 of the 4 people in the house directly behind us lost their lives. God bless their families.

The smell of gas was overwhelming. There was 2 gas stations on either corner of the main road behind our neighborhood. Both were in ruins.

I tried to carry Lily because of all the downed power lines, glass and other crap that was everywhere. She wouldn't have it. She's such a trooper.

The national guard came running towards us no more than 5 minutes after we got out of the house. They told us we needed to get somewhere safe because another storm was headed this way.

Where were we supposed to go?

We went towards the Midtown Village shopping center, behind our neighborhood and across a busy street. It had been damaged, but was still standing. As we were walking through the devastation, we saw 2 pristine white doves. It was the oddest thing I have ever seen! Everything around us was dead, but these 2 beautiful birds were sitting there, untouched. To this day I recognize that as some sort of holy spirit that was sent to watch over and protect us. Perhaps is was my late grandparents, Ginna and Papa. One thing is clear, something was watching over us that day.

As we made our way through the shopping center, we heard someone scream from inside Starbucks. Tony told me to stay outside with the dogs while he went in to see if anyone needed help. He helped lift a wall off of some people in there. Everyone was okay.

While he was in there, I stood on the sidewalk trying to make calls on my phone and keep the dogs calm. No easy task. This girl pulled up beside me. She rolled down her window. "Oh my God, are you okay?" She was pale-faced looking at me. I told her, "yes, we're fine. Just trying to get somewhere safe." She told us to get in, she'd take us where ever we needed to go. I called for Tony. We got in the car.

We started towards mom and dad's house. The roads were impossible. Her brother was in the car with us. He was in shock. He didn't say much. We made it to their house. I was SO happy to see there was no damage. I thanked the girl profusely. I was in tears. I just wanted to get inside. I can't remember the girl's name. To this day I wish I could find her, hug her, and thank her again.

As soon as I got inside to my mom, we both lost it. I told her the house and both of our cars were destroyed. She held me as we wept. I'll never forget how wonderful it felt to be in her arms.

Dad wasn't there. As soon as he heard our neighborhood was destroyed, he got in the car and tried to get to me. He couldn't get very close. I found out later that he parked about a half mile away and walked. As soon as he got close to Cedar Crest, he realized 2 things. One, there was absolutely nothing he could do. Two, if I was alive, I was smart enough to get out. He was right.

We waited and waited for him to return. I heard his car approaching. He flew out of the car and didn't see me. He exclaimed, "have you heard anything?! are they okay?!" He saw me. We both burst into tears. I have never seen my father cry. He held me so tightly it hurt. I didn't care. I was home, and I was safe.

My brother showed up later. He saw my neighborhood first hand, and was still in shock. He told Tony he had done his job, he saved his sister's life.

We spent the rest of the night counting our blessings, receiving numerous phone calls from family and friends. I have never been approached by so many crying people, glad we were alive. It was a humbling experience to say the least.

We didn't eat that night, didn't sleep either. Tony stayed with me there. I couldn't have kept my sanity if he left my side. I still hadn't "processed it."

I didn't sleep for days, not more than an hour here, and hour there. We even tried to go camping the next night, so we could turn our phones off and get away from the devastation for awhile. It didn't work. We had time to collect our thoughts together, and be thankful that we were alive and together. No sleep though.

My poor Lily shook for over a week. She still, like me, gets super nervous when the weather gets bad.

The next few days, we dug what we could from the rubble. President Obama walked the streets of my neighborhood, not that we were even allowed to be there. A cop was blocking the road, "you can't go in there!" I snapped. "Dude, I don't have any f**king underwear! I don't care if the president or Jesus Christ is in there, I NEED TO GET TO MY HOUSE!"

Tony talked to him much more rationally. I understand he was doing his job, and I apologized to him... I knew what he was doing wasn't easy. I had a lot of rage in me, and he was my whipping post.

I didn't salvage much. My grandmother's antique dresser was the only furniture we got. I got a good third of my clothes. Most everything was covered in asbestos so I didn't want to touch it anyway. What I recovered, I was happy with.

I have never been approached by so many members of the media. We were interviewed so many times. USA Today, a bunch of random news crews from all over the south. Our house was even on the National geographic special, Tornado Rampage. It was weird. I'll post some of the links to the stories later.

We kept being called "tornado victims." That really pissed me off. We weren't victims, we were SURVIVORS. By the grace of God, we were alive. I didn't appreciate being called a victim.

I graduated from Alabama that August with a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies. I have never been more proud of myself. It was a huge accomplishment, five years in the making.

Tony and I moved in with my parents. We spent the next few months trying to rebuild our lives. I got a job right out of school, not that it's the greatest by any stretch of the imagination. The job market here blows. I'm hoping this blog will take off and make me some money! READ READ READ! haha :)

In December, we got our own place. It was great to be out on our own. It has been tough, but no one ever said it was gonna be easy. On July 1st, we got a big shocker.

We had gone to Destin for the weekend, just to get away. I felt sick the whole time we were there. I thought I just had a bug. Well, I did have something. I was pregnant.

Now here we are, I'm entering my 2nd trimester. It's crazy to think how far we've come. We're making huge plans, and I bought my first pair of maternity pants last night. Quite comfy, I must say.

It may not be the plan everyone else has for us, but God doesn't care about your plans. We couldn't be more excited about this new chapter!

For weeks I've been sick and tired...throwing up all over the place. I'm finally getting my energy back and I'm keeping food down. YES!!

Follow me on this blog as I tell more of our story. From pregnancy, to birth, to the wedding, and through diapers and dimples...this is gonna be a great ride!

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