This past week, we had some severe weather here in Middle Tennessee. Our babysitter stayed at our house while we watched the warnings and prepared to go to our safe space. I couldn’t help but remember a time my friends and I lived through a tornado outbreak that tore through our college and the surrounding town. It’s been 16 years.
I was in Jones Hall, sitting next to my friend Michelle. I had been working all weekend as a server, and I was just so over it. They ALWAYS called us down to the first floor. I had my pillow and my cell phone, a Nokia with a bright blue cover and purple keys I had picked out myself. Some of you remember those, right? We were laughing and joking, lamenting how we had these warnings all. the. time. Until the lights went out. Then we heard it. I didn’t think it sounded like a train. Maybe a really low flying plane?
Then we heard screams as our smoker friends rushed in from outside and the glass in the stairwell shattered. Michelle and I hugged each other. It was so fast. Our dorm was separated from the destroyed gym by tennis courts and a road. I had walked across that road so many times I can’t even count. My room on the fourth floor looked out over those tennis courts. I loved hearing the tennis players out there, the skid of their shoes and the tennis balls on the court, and I had often opened my window just because of that.
When we emerged from our safe space, we saw utter destruction. The gym was destroyed. The art building was in bad shape. There were cars in the parking lot with shattered windows. It was like a scene from a movie. Flashing lights, darkness. I had just started dating a guy at the time who worked at the Air Force base. I can’t remember what his job was, but he was involved with the police on base I think. He showed up in full tactical gear, and I thought it was kind of funny. And then he got deadly serious as he said he could smell broken gas lines. I remember him navigating us out of the destruction and telling me not to step in any of the puddles. My dad would have liked him immediately. We met up with some friends who had also gotten out of the zone. It’s better to be with friends when there’s no power in most of the town, right?
My dad came up the next day to escort me back home in case anything had happened to my car that we couldn’t see. Amazingly, my windows hadn’t shattered, but there were several pressure cracks in the middle of the front window. Now that I’m a parent, I can only imagine what my parents felt when the phone lines were down and couldn’t reach me. Most of Columbus was dark.
Here’s the thing, it helped me realize I wasn’t in control. There was NOTHING I could have done except what I did– hunker down with my friends and hope and pray. I recently saw where a W alum in Ohio is going to the Senate. She credits her time at the W for a lot of her strength. And I have to agree. Every single day, I use something I learned there. I see my friends living their lives on social media and am thankful for their influence on my life. They helped me become who I am today. Mississippi University for Women (and smart men, too) was a magical place where I learned about strength and grit and follow-through. I learned confidence from my friends and professors there.
Today, the campus is as beautiful as ever with her magnolia trees and azalea bushes that show out in the spring. They have rebuilt the gym and the art building. I still feel the magic when I walk on that campus. I know I wouldn’t have had the confidence to branch out to go to beauty school if it wasn’t for the W (pronounced dub-ya). I wouldn’t have known I could organize myself enough to do this booth rent thing. All those late nights writing papers and pledging a social club prepared me for the rest of my life. It taught me that encountering difficult people is just part of life, and a very survivable and small part at that. So today, in the spirit of this lovely month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful that tornado didn’t destroy us.
If you want to read more about that tornado outbreak, you can visit the W’s website below. This is an article written 6 years ago.