“Be kind to everyone you meet because everyone has a deep secret which, if you knew, would break your heart.” Frank Warren, author
It’’s a remarkable story. Crazy really. Its one of those stories that defines a person and continues on, hidden deep in the memory. Thirty years later the terror of this experience is still raw for Angie.
It was a freak, unyielding tornado that ripped through this little town, wiping away homes and devastating businesses. There were many strange stories that came out of that violent storm on a Friday evening in late May. Everyone heard about the little girl who was swept out of her house while taking a bath.
It had been an ordinary day full of the promises that the beginning of summer brings. It was a bit windy and Angie’s dad guessed that the weather might turn and so they decided not to take the girls roller skating that evening. Instead, after dinner 5 year old Angie was hustled upstairs to take her bath.
Dad went to answer the phone across the hall. A friend was calling, he wondered if everything was ok. Seemed odd.
The lights started flickering, he went to see what was happening.
Angie sat in the tub in the bathroom at the top of the stairs. Down at the bottom of the stairs the door flew open and Angie’s 8 year old sister tried to get it closed. Whatever wild chaos was outside held on to the door.
Angie heard her mom scream.
Everything went dark. The minutes that followed are still dark for Angie—she remembers nothing until she again heard her mother screaming—calling for her.
That moment when the house was hit, the groaning of the walls, the ripping of the roof and siding, crashing doors, shattering glass—blank, no memory.
The very instant when this little girl, alone and naked, had the floor and the ground ripped out from under her—no memory.
Flying through the storm in her wingless, airborne tub—no memory.
Crash-landing in the driveway with walls and roofs smashing in a heap all around her—dark, no memory.
There was a small hole in the rubble, and this little girl, drenched and naked, climbed out of her ceramic bunker and began her journey up the hill to where her house had been. She climbed over splintered boards, nails, glass shards, all strewn in the chaos left by the massive tornado that had just destroyed entire neighborhoods in a few minutes of terror. Somehow she came through without even a scratch. Incredible.
Angie, now 35, is a true survivor—not the contrived, reality-show kind of survivor, but a real person who found something powerful inside of her tiny little self to climb out of that rubble, to save herself. To those of us who have heard bits of this story second-hand, we think of the strength and resilience of this small child. What an unbelievable event. We see Angie and think ‘wow, what an amazing thing you did!’
But to Angie that the sense of vulnerability is always there. Fear lurks in the shadow of storm clouds hovering overhead. Her closed-off memory spares her the details. She remembers climbing out of the rubble, screams, scrambling to find her family, walking together over the ripped apart walls, roofs, and shattered windows of neighbors’ homes until they found someone who could help. Angie was wrapped in a blanket and they headed to the hospital.
While Angie came through the storm without a scratch but she remembers hearing her sister scream as the nurses stitched up the gashes. She remembers the chaos as the hospital overflowed with more and more victims of the storm.
While the horrifying flight is blacked out of her memory, the sense of dread, vulnerability and fear is intact. She covers it well with a great sense of humor. I’ve come to realize that a sense of humor is often a sign of a well developed philosophical outlook on the world. Stuff happens. We deal with it. And when trauma insults our peace and calm, we block it in self defense.
So, Angie can let the rest of us do the remembering. This most-amazing-flying-bathtub-girl may still be haunted by the trauma but she is grounded.