Turns out, I could’ve learned more from Dorothy had I paid closer attention. Funny how hindsight works… as the upcoming anniversary of one of Canada’s largest tornado approaches, I can’t help but ruminate on that particular day and how the tornado itself was a telling event.
It was July 1987 and the first months of my married life. I was terribly lonely. It was the second year living in a city that was new to me. I had left my friends and family behind just a year ago and was having trouble establishing roots. People here didn’t know the real me. I felt like a stranger even to myself some days. That summer I was between semesters in studies at the University of Alberta, working part time at my new husband’s office.
One of my marital secrets was my new husband preferred the golf course to our bed, even in those early months of our marriage. He preferred his buddies, I would soon learn, to spending time with his new wife. Maybe he thought he had me ‘in the bag’ so to speak and wasn’t going to be whipped into submission. He wasn’t going to give up his leisure activities to provide company to his lonely, young wife.
He would have been wise to pay closer attention.
So, I wasn’t very surprised when he told me he was planning a trip to Las Vegas with his buddy to see a fight. It was Mike Tyson and I don’t recall the opponent because I’m not interested in boxing. Suffice to say it was a ‘big’ fight in the summer of 1987. I had never been to Vegas and I would have loved for us to go but I knew better than to mention this out loud and oppose his plans in any way.
I was alone that week except for the honeymoon present my parents sent us earlier that month, my brother. He had been sent out to live with us, temporarily.
It wasn’t long before I realized all that I had been running from was following me like a scene from a movie you can’t get out of your head and before you say The Wizard of Oz, I’m thinking more Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. See, I was often left in charge of my brother growing up and the truth is, he probably didn’t like the arrangement anymore than I did.
On July 31, 1987, also known as Black Friday (only three months after my wedding), there was a thunderstorm prediction. I finished work early and went to the mall to look around and fill my lonely hours. The sky was dark in the south as I drove but the sun was shining and the heat bounced off the pavement like vapor. I cranked up the air conditioning but still stuck to the seat.
About 30 minutes later, inside the mall, the sky lights turned deep black. It looked like nighttime. People were staring at the sky-lights wondering where the light had gone when heavy, loud thumping began sparsely at first and then crushing within seconds… Thump, thump, THUMP! What looked like great big white snowballs slamming the glass skylights, in July. “What the ….?” We all seemed to be asking with our expressions. Snowballs in July?
Within all of 15 minutes, the hail stopped. It got very quiet inside, but the storm raged outside. When I went to my car, the rain drenched me and the trees across the street looked like they were bent in half. Street lights lit up as if it were night. The hail damage to my husband’s car was extensive. There were dents all over.
I drove home with the radio on. There was an emergency warning everyone was to go to their basement until further notice. When I got home, I rushed past the huge snow rocks on my green lawn to hurry inside. My brother was there already. He was in the basement with a portable radio. The fear in my brother’s face reflected and the gravity of the situation and while I struggled to find words of comfort, I felt a tiny bit of resentment toward my new husband. I remember thinking here I am alone again.
If there was a time my husband should be with me, isn’t it now? Of course, it was an irrational thought. How could he have known? It wasn’t his fault. As much as I expected of my husband, having him predict a tornado would be the most ridiculous thing of all.
So, I turned on my best defense mechanism—denial. I told my brother not to worry so much, we’ll be just fine. You know what? We were just fine but our city was not!
An F4 tornado had passed through our city wreaking havoc, killing 27 people injuring hundreds more and costing $328 million in damage. We would find out in hours to come the whole chain of events leading up to the horrific event: The sighting, the touchdown, the deaths, the stories of survival. Telephone lines were tied up for days as news spread across the country about the tornado. Loved ones calling to make sure their family was safe. I never received a call from my husband. Remember, this was long before cell phones were the norm. Finally, when my clueless husband did call and I told him about the tornado, he didn’t believe me. I guess he thought I was exaggerating (that would be another ongoing problem in the marriage). When he got home, however, we drove to the site of devastation. He was shocked to see it.
For years, living on the prairies, I would search the sky in July for funnel clouds certain it would happen again.
In hindsight, the tornado is a fitting symbol to my marriage and the wreck it became. The path of destruction in my heart was nothing compared to that tornado but to me, it was decimated with loneliness. It would turn out the tornado in my heart would blow me away from him eventually.
I may have learned from Dorothy “There’s no place like home.” But that wasn’t the whole story because, for some of us, you can never go back, especially after An F4 marital tornado.
Do you ever see things differently looking back? Were there signs of marital doom?