The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 18, 2012

Joe Hadsall: While not hopeful, emotion is heartfelt

JOPLIN, Mo. — I tried, I really tried, to come up with something hopeful to say about the tornado anniversary next week.

Before I get into this: With this column, I am given a weekly honor. I get the privilege of writing to you about my irrational exuberance for things that geek me out.

I take this very seriously. Not everyone gets an opportunity like this, to have their fancies and faves typeset and printed for thousands of readers to receive in their driveways. I’m honored deeply when someone I don’t know approaches me and tells me they read my column, and I cherish this platform immensely.

So I really gave it a good attempt this week. I wrote drafts of this column that talked about me and mine, how we’re doing, where we’re living and all that. It was filled with gratitude upon gratitude for all the volunteers who came to Joplin, and even more to the friends, family and employers who gave to us so we could get back to normal.

I wanted to write about hope, love and triumph over tragedy and destruction. I wanted to write something heartwarming, that would tell you all that I’m OK, and we all can feel OK eventually.

I couldn’t. Felt like I was fibbing.

As I wrote, a singular statement occupied my brain and took over my thoughts, and I’ll share it with you. For the first time since May 22 I have one dominant feeling, one single sentiment:

Screw you, tornado.

Seriously -- Get bent, weather. From hell’s heart I stab at thee, storms.

I used to like watching storms. I used to stand on the back porch at Geek Central, formerly located near the seemingly redundantly named Gabby Street Boulevard. I used to watch radar like a TV Guide, hoping for storms to show up so I could enjoy the wind and lightning.

Not anymore. I now watch radar like I’m a policeman patrolling nightlife downtown. I can’t sleep if a storm rolls through -- I’ll let my family sleep, but I have my shoes on, flashlight handy, ready to dash into the basement next to a storm survival kit if things get hairy.

I’m still awed by the volunteers who came here to help. I’m amazed at the optimism and encouraged by the recovery efforts of the past year. But I’m still angry that Joplin had to endure the tornado in the first place, and I think I’m entitled to my anger.

So to hell with you, tornado. You really messed up a lot of lives around here.

Writing all that probably raises a few questions:

Do I remember that me and mine survived without a scratch, and that friends and family of 161 others would love to be in our position? Yes. Clearly. A lot of the people who died were, quite frankly, much better people than me.

Perfect example: Immediately after the storm, I tried to help a man whose leg was trapped underneath debris from his house. His eyes wouldn’t close, but his lips moved when I talked to him. I told him help was coming, and kept the rain out of his unblinking eyes with a piece of drywall.

Didn’t help. Not that I stuck around to find out -- once firefighters from Baxter Springs arrived, I went back to check on my family and figure out how to turn my gas off.

I later found out that man died going back to get his dogs. I forgot about my dog and cat until five minutes after the tornado passed.

Will I ever be happy again? Of course. I know I need to get over this grudge, and I will. Aside from not being able to sleep during storms and the occasional PTSD-triggered flashback, I’m already happy. We’re alive and physically uninjured. We have a bigger house with a lower mortgage payment. We have two cars we own outright, and we have a nest egg that will provide college education for my stepkids.

Am I ungrateful for all the help we received? No. Far from it. I still feel ashamed that I needed it, and feel like we got more than we deserved. Usually when friends and family come out of the woodwork, it’s because someone won the lottery or scored a big payday. Ours came out of the woodwork bearing gifts, shoulders and gift cards.

I know my sense of gratitude is messed up right now. But trust me, I’ll be thanking everyone who gave to us for the rest of my life.

Do I need counseling? Most assuredly. Mainly because while the tornado brought out the best in a lot of people, it brought out the worst in me.

Perfect example: We got moved into a new house about two months after the tornado. I was determined to get into a house at any cost, and I put a lot of people through hell, including my stepmom, Realtor and even my wife in the process. Mission accomplished, apologies delivered, forgiveness undeserved. I’ll feel shame for the rest of my life.

Since May 22, I’ve been snappy, sensitive, spent and sour. I’m grateful to all my friends and co-workers dealing with this not-me version of me, and I’m trying to change it.

Will I go on living life? Yes. Of course. This post-tornado life is too good, especially with family like mine. There are still places to explore, people to meet, New Orleans Saints games to attend and games to play (if an online version of “The Elder Scrolls” isn’t enough to get a geek excited, they don’t deserve the title).

There are blessings to be had, for sure. There are plenty of silver linings to the clouds that produced that tornado. And there will be plenty of time to focus on that hope, that sense of better days ahead. Things get better in Joplin a little bit each day, because of that hope.

But I think it’s perfectly justified to be mad at the tornado. It may not be healthy to dwell on it -- mental health professionals are probably cringing right now -- but on the anniversary, it sure feels good to pass the buck and point the finger of blame at the skies above. And I know which finger I want to point.

So while I won’t hold an official remembrance ceremony, I will take a moment at 5:41 p.m. on May 22 to give the skies a bird that doesn’t fly, and to say some words that can’t be printed here.

Joplin didn’t deserve what happened to it, and we all have every right to be mad about it. But even though the storm took my stuff, it didn’t take me or my family. I didn’t ask to be a survivor, but I am. Screw you, tornado.

 

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