We got home from Parkersburg Sunday morning.

I wonder if I’ll ever be able to use that word again without an overwhelming flood of emotions, not the least of which is guilt. And confusion. And just raw, raw, raw… emotion. My perception of home has changed dramatically in the last week.

It is a strange thing to stand in the rubble of the town that you fought so hard to leave. I remembered how defiant I had been, convinced that I was bigger than this place. More, somehow, than these people. It shames me even now to write those words. I left kicking and screaming, hell bent on proving myself.

I ran back desperate to connect with any part of it I could find.

I found it difficult to look them in the eyes, these people I’d abandoned. I’d been so maliciously proud when I’d finally stopped referring to them as Home. I’d moved on. Left them behind. And as they clung to one another I found I was ashamed that I was no longer one of them. How could I tell them now how wrong I’d been? How could I make them understand that this was my home too? How could they believe that my heart was just as broken and shattered and thrown about in the debris as their own?

What a hypocritical slap in the face. My home was not shattered. My house was not lost. It was standing with four walls and a roof, completely in tact 1400 miles away in Florida. My children’s beds would not be found in the trees. Our pictures are safely tucked away in boxes and photo albums. Without telling them when, they knew the moment I arrived that I would be leaving again… back to my life. Back to my home.

And they never will. They will pick through the piles and dust off what they can find, clinging to whatever trinkets of their lives they uncover. They will meet with insurance agents and fill out papers and deposit claim checks. Some will rebuild and some will move on. But all of it will take months, years maybe. And it will never be the same.

And yet in some way, I envied them.

That itty bitty town swelled with love and courage and compassion. They were in this together. Those who weren’t hit by the storm emptied out their souls to help their neighbors and friends. They planted flags amidst the destruction and scrawled “A-P Will Stand Strong” in spray paint against whatever walls they could find standing.

They’ve lost everything – and yet they know where they belong. They know who they are. Mixed among my own self absorbed guilt was tremendous pride. Through their fear, through their devastation, through their incomprehensible loss – they held each other together the best anyone could hope for.

You simply cannot deny or minimize the painful truth that our parents and friends are homeless. Their heartbreak is palpable in the air as you walk down what used to be streets and neighborhoods.

But so too is their spirit. Palpable, I mean. It is as much a living, breathing essence as the tornado itself was. It is impossible to stand in the path of destruction and not be overwhelmed by the fact that so, so many of them are alive. People would meet you in the street and habitually ask “how are you?” and the answer was just too damn big to verbalize.

You are broken. You are scared. You are heart sick. And you are grateful. You are clinging to your loved ones with a sense of joy that you could not have ever possibly understood before. You are crying and you are talking and you are laughing, because God damn it – you can.

And you are home.

Without walls, without rooftops, without furniture or clothing – you are home. Surrounded by those who you have now imagined life without – you are home.

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  1. avitable says:

    I, for one, am glad that you are back, safe and sound, in your home #2. :hug:

  2. whall says:

    Avi is such a suck-up.

    I *mean* it when I say I’m glad you’re back safe and sound.

  3. Sonia says:

    Your post made me cry, it reminds me about how proud I am to be an Iowan, because “home” is everything…in the ways that matter. I’m glad to feel this way, too, about my home.

  4. Robert says:

    You really succeeded in bringing these tragic events into focus. What you’ve written is genuine, obviously from your heart, and poignant. It has made me grateful for what we have, and to know that if my family lost our roof, walls and belongings to sudden devastation, home is much more than the sum of our possessions.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Fogspinner says:

    That is exactly how I felt about our home town after 3 devastating earthquakes in a row back in ’92. I had moved *away*. 10 miles that felt like a million yet when the chips were down (along with half the houses in town) I ran home to help. There was no where else I’d rather have been, and found that those people, those people I too had ran from, scorned, mocked, pitied, were my best friends and family to the bitter end.

    I’m glad your back home and if there is anything we can do to help, anything at all, please ask.

  6. Karl says:

    Amazing post. Hell, I feel guilty and I’m not even FROM there.

  7. Fantastagirl says:

    Home is where your heart is, some of your heart is, and always will be, stuck in Iowa.

    Big hugs to you, Jared, your families, and your kids.

    My grandma has told me for years, “what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger.” A-P will be stronger than ever – the AP 12 and under soccer team – kicked some Cedar Falls BUTT today!

  8. when i lost so very much in the hurricane ivan flood of sept 2004, the overwhelming support and sense of community and neighbor helping neighbor somehow made the financial loss seem bearable. i had become a part of a bigger picture. it was amazing.

    but although we were buried in mud and soggy carpet, we still had roofs above the walls. i can’t even imagine the loss you witnessed, the devastation is inconceivable. britt, your family and friends can’t possible be angry that you moved away. they can’t possibly wish that you were still living there, where you might have been injured. it is easier said that done, however please don’t be too hard on yourself for wanting to move to florida.

    i am so glad that you are safe and back in your new home. please continue the updates whenever you want to, without worrying that we will somehow tire of them or you.


  9. Jay says:

    Very heart-felt post Britt. I’ve been in a similar situation and I do know how you feel. I don’t think I could articulate it anywhere near as well as you did though.

  10. Mary says:

    Sit down and put your feet up young lady. “Home” tends to be a flexible term. On a good day, “Home” is where you reside. On another good day, “Home” is where you were born. You left “Home” and went “Home”. You helped. You participated. You ROCKED.
    I’m glad that we’re such close personal friends that I can tell you these things.

  11. kim says:

    This is such a poignant and well written post. I am sorry for everything your family has gone through, though it sounds like they are gathering strength from one another.

  12. Hilly says:

    Your post has rendered me speechless. That’s very hard to do, as you know.

    I am so glad you are home safe.

  13. Rayne says:

    glad you were able to connect with your home and the people you love, and you’re back, britt. to mirror what jay said, you articulated this beautifully.

  14. Mik says:

    Glad you made it home safe. Hard to imagine what it was like to go back and see the devastation.

    Your post was heart wrenching.

  15. Selma says:

    What a moving post. I’m glad you made it back to Florida in one piece and I’m glad you found a palpable sense of home amidst the devastation. I am thinking of you and all the people from Parkersburg.

  16. Penelope says:

    I’m so glad you made it home safely and so sorry that you’re having to deal with all of this at all.
    All of you are in our thoughts over here :hug:

  17. Dawn says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  18. Mr. Fabulous says:

    :heartbeat: We are glad you back, hon.

  19. Nat says:

    Glad you made it back to Florida home safe and sound.

    I am sure that whatever help the people of your home town received was appreciated.

  20. kapgar says:

    Glad you’re home and I’m glad you sounded as optimistic as you did when I talked to you the other night.

    I hate that it sometimes takes disaster to bring people so close together, but it’s nice to see people rise up in spite of what has happened. Does that sound bad? It’s not meant to if it does.

  21. Lady Jaye says:

    Beautiful post. I know what it’s like to think you’re bigger than your home town. I’ve felt like that most of my life. You’re post help me put that into perspective a bit more and helped me realize that I need to apprecitate my home a little bit more.

  22. You captured that need to leave but also stay so very well. Whenever I’m back in Charleston, WV, I feel so superior that I’ve left, gotten out of there. Especially when I bump into an old friend/acquaintance. Yet, when I’m here in Georgia, I want to shout it to the world that I’m a mountaineer. That I’m a hillbilly, and that I’m proud.

    I’m so glad you went and so glad that you’re back. And I’m so very thankful that your loved ones are OK. Physically.

  23. Lisa says:

    Home is where the heart is. I mean, isn’t that the truth? You can never deny where your roots are so I think how you are feeling makes complete sense. That being said it’s O.K. that you have a new home and are safe. Who would have been there for your family? Who would have been the pillar of strength last week otherwise?

    Glad that you are HOME, safe and sound.

  24. Miss Britt says:

    avitable: I’m glad to know I’m not alone here.

    whall: LOL I *mean* it when I say thanks. And me too.

    Sonia: who would have thought being an Iowan could be so cool, eh?

    Robert: it was actually kind of empowering to see that and realize that even if the worst happen, you could survive. Thank you.

    Fogspinner: yeah, people I hadn’t talked to in MONTHS cried when we saw each other. It’s funny how that works.

    Karl: well everyone keeps telling ME not to feel guilty. So I guess I should pass that on to you. :D

    Fantastagirl: big, big, HUGE hugs to you and your husband for all of your amazing *close to home* support through all of this. Thank you.

    A million times, thank you.

    hello haha narf: oh I guarantee you’ll get tired of them long before I do. LOL :heartbeat:

    Jay: I can’t decide if I’m glad or sad to know you’ve been in a similar situation. Knowing all of the things you take away from it… I guess it just is what it is.

    Mary: not ONLY are my feet up – but I am SHOWERED and wearing MY OWN MAKEUP.

    Which is awesome.

    kim: my family is very, very lucky. They have a huge support system to draw from.

    Hilly: marking date on calendar… Hilly speechless… got it.

    Rayne: I’m glad we were able to go back too. I know a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to do that. We’re really lucky in that sense.

    Mik: “heart wrenching.” That’s what it was like.

    Selma: yep, 22 hours into it I wondered if we’d make it – but we did.

    Penelope: don’t be sorry we have to deal with this. It is what it is, you know?

    Dawn: OK, I don’t know how to respond to that comment. LOL

    Mr. Fabulous: thanks babe. And thanks for letting me hang out last night.

    Nat: it was such a drop in the bucket. A very, very small drop.

    kapgar: it doesn’t sound bad. And thank you SO much for calling the other night. That was awesome and very, very much appreciated.

    Lady Jaye: yeah, I think we get more from a little more balanced perspective on it than total disdain for it. At least, I do.

    CMG: yeah, it’s funny when I’m HERE I talk about how “we do things” – and when I’m THERE, I say the same thing about how “we do things” in Florida. LOL

    Lisa: I think “pillar of strength” would be overstating it.

    Home IS where the heart is. And I’m lucky, because I have lots of places I could call home.

  25. Nobody™ says:

    It sounds like they really didn’t lose everything after all. They still have the most important things, their families, friends, and neighbors. Those are the things that can never be replaced, and yet we don’t realize how important they are until something like this happens to remind us.

    Glad you made it home safe.

  26. Finn says:

    Home is so much more than four walls and a roof, so much more than a place to lay your head. It’s a place to lay your heart.

    Well written, darlin’. Welcome back. :hug:

  27. Willie G says:

    There is nothing more powerful than tragedy to remind us all of our commonality through mortality; our humanity through the measurability of our days. At some basic level we all share in both your family’s loss and your strength to reach out and assist. Your courage and love for your family has been inspirational. Thanks as always for sharing.

  28. martymankins says:

    So glad you are home. And sorry to had to go through all of that. Thanks for sharing what you’ve been through in your blog, Twitter and Flickr. I hope things start to get back to normal for everyone. I know that takes some time, but when it does, all of this time will be a reflection more than a sadness.

  29. Unfortunately, it usually takes something awful to realize how fantastic something is.

  30. I wish your family and friends in A-P well with the finding and rebuilding and I’m glad all you folk made it back to Florida safe.

  31. AmyD says:

    The timing of your move and the timing of this event – it’s very easy to see that you guys weren’t meant to be hit by this disaster (meaning your home, your children) and that is something to be grateful for.

    I’m glad you made it home safely.

  32. Dragon says:

    I’m glad you made it back safely. I’m at a loss to find any other words right now. :hug:

  33. Miss Britt says:

    Nobody™: and insurance. Which might be even better than family.

    Finn: good to be back. And thanks for all you did while I was gone. :hug:

    Willie G: courage? I don’t know about that.

    But definitely love. Lots and lots of that.

    martymankins: thanks for following along with me. I know it sounds weird, but being able to take 5 seconds and reach out really helped. You have this feeling like “damn it, people need to know this shit!”

    Or something.

    Undomestic Diva: I suppose that’s true. Damn it.

    Captain Steve: we did indeed. Thank you.

    AmyD: I am grateful. Especially when I look at my kids – of course I am grateful. But it’s hard not to feel guilty at the same time.

    Dragon: it’s OK – there really aren’t any right words anyway. :D

  34. Lynda says:

    Don’t fault yourself for wanting to grow and change. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to realize what is really important in our life.

  35. Britt's Mom says:

    You know darling, the pride and spirit you speak of, it oozes from you too, which means that you took the best parts of “home” with you when you moved.

    I have been proud of you a million times already in your young life, but never more so than to see you and Jared pick up and kids and run up here.

    “Home” is in your heart, sweetheart. You never left.

    I love you.

  36. Sybil Law says:

    Life has a shitty way of teaching us lessons, doesn’t it?!
    I’m really glad you guys are safe and home (in Florida), and that your family is safe (in Iowa)…
    I can barely form a sentence now…
    Good to have you back!

  37. Divalicious says:

    *hugs* Britt, I’m glad you are home safe and your family is safe as well.


  38. DutchBitch says:

    Choke… :wha:

    Cry… :cry:

  39. Robina says:

    My God Britt. I don’t even know what to say. I’ve never seen anything like, and I’ve never known anyone who had to go through something like that. I only wish I could help, if not with money or items, at least physically help.

  40. Neil says:

    Glad you’re home. I hope the community gets all the help they need in order to rebuilt and become even stronger.

  41. Summer says:

    Don’t feel guilty that you were no longer living there when this happened. People leave their hometowns all the time. What matters is that Parkersburg will always be “home” and a part of you. My mother left her small hometown in Ohio 51 years ago and she still says she’s going home when she returns for visits.

  42. Coast Rat says:

    Glad that you folks arrived back to your home safely, and I pray that emotionally, you are able to ‘come back’ a bit from what you have seen and experienced, so that the pain and anguish of it all for you is less than it is now. It was so good of you to go and be of comfort and support to your loved ones during those moments of shock they experienced right after the tornado.

  43. Bec says:

    I can only repeat what everyone has already said. Holy Hell, Britt, are we glad you and yours are safe. You stay in our prayers.

  44. It’s amazing how horrible things have the ability to pull people together. I’m glad you’re “home” safely now.

  45. Meg says:

    Am I at the right blog? Because you and Avitable are being… NICE to each other in print. Huh. [scratching head]

    OK, and your mom’s post? I’m all choked up. Gawd love her. And you.

    I myself made it my sole goal to achieve “escape velocity” from my podunk little Pennsylvania town to the “big city” of Washington DC. And so did my husband. But I just asked him, how would you feel if your hometown was leveled by a tornado? And he and I both were like, huh, I dunno. That would be heavy.

    We totally GET you and what you must be going through. Heavy, heavy, heavy.

  46. metalmom says:

    Thinking about you! :hug:

  47. Stephanie says:

    I know you don’t know me at all,and we will probably never meet, but I am totally honest when I say I feel like I know you….you write so honestly, so openly, and so well…this post brought me to tears..and I’m pretty much a hard-ass, I don’t get sappy easily. The emotion in the post was so raw that I felt it thousands of miles away. We had tornados here in Indiana this weekend, luckily they missed our little farm area. Glad you are all safe and sound, and take some Britt time to unwind. :hug:

  48. sue says:

    What a beautiful post. I have always been glad I lived in Iowa for all those reasons you listed. My heart goes out to all of those who have lost so much…

  49. Colin Brooks says:

    I felt exactly like that when I left my old home too. The more years that pass the less strongly I feel about it. If anything happened to where I grew up I would be devastated. I am trying to put myself in your place and it hurts. Going back to help was the best thing you could have done.

  50. Miss Britt says:

    Lynda: where can I send a letter to God? “All lessons learned. Thanks. No more tragedies please.” Can that be arranged? LOL

    Britt’s Mom: I love you too mom. :heartbeat:

    Sybil Law: I think I would prefer a class you can just sign up for. Wouldn’t THAT be awesome?

    Divalicious: thank you.

    DutchBitch: oh damn it. I hate it when people cry!

    Robina: I soooo know that feeling.

    Neil: me too. And somehow, I know they will.

    Summer: the guilt is definitely getting easier. Thanks.

    Coast Rat: time heals all wounds and all that shit – right?

    Bec: thanks babe.

    Black Belt Mama: it really is. Amazing, I mean.

    Meg: I am scheduling Adam’s punching for tomorrow. Everyone keeps telling me that normalcy is important. :evil:

    metalmom: thanks honey.

    Stephanie: promise me if one ever comes by that you will go to the basement, k?

    sue: and believe me, I KNOW those people appreciate all those good vibes being sent their way.

    Colin Brooks: oh please don’t put yourself in my place. Just, you know, look for the nicely packaged lessons and move on.

  51. awesome post. more hugs.


  52. This is the best post you’ve ever written.

  53. Miss Britt says:

    Aimee: thank you. Really.

    maggie, dammit: Seriousy??

    Shit. Maybe I should just quit now.

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