There is a woman in my hometown walking through a house. The house no longer has a roof.
I heard it on NPR this morning as I was driving to work. I’d heard within hours of it happening from family and had already seen photos, seen updates on Facebook, been made aware. My town is so small that NPR didn’t even say its name, just placing it in its state: Wisconsin.
I don’t know whose house this is. Whose house it was. It doesn’t matter, not in a certain way. Because how do you look at photographs of the place you grew up and see this?
Every day when I have checked websites to see what there is to know, numbers go up. 25 houses destroyed. 50 houses destroyed. Today: 100 houses destroyed, widespread destruction. The building where my dad kept an office for over 10 years now has no roof, has two inches of water where the carpeting used to be.
I looked through the photos for anything familiar. I recognized one face, the woman at the top of this blog post, who lived next door to me for 12 years. When I was growing up, she had a dog. It was named Tyler. A poodle. It was so smart and scrappy that it learned to jump up–seriously three feet up–and ring the front doorbell with its nose when it wanted to come back inside.
Behind there house, a small grove of trees left wild, just large enough for children to slip inside. I spent whole days in there, sitting on tree branches with my friends, climbing trees, trying to see in our neighbors’ windows.
Beyond that, the iconic water tower: a yellow smiley face. Yes. It lacks irony.
Eagle–the name of the town, I said it, I named it–is the place where two state highways cross. There are railroads, a lumberyard, a family-owned grocery store that finally shut down. It was the kind of town where the man who owned the furniture store and also owned the funeral home because, at one time, the guy who built the couches also built the caskets. There were more churches than banks, more bars than churches, and even train tracks that had a short but noticeable wrong side.
My childhood is filled with unsupervised afternoons and evenings, freight train horns, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles that crackled through town, like robins, to recognize the arrival of spring.
And now people who helped raise me are picking up splintered wood and clothing and broken glass from their yards.
How do I tell you I lived in the house in this photo? Not the one that was wrecked; the other one. The one that survived. My old house, leaning out of the picture shyly as if it would prefer not to be photographed. My old house, nearly undamaged.
How do I explain to you this house overlooks the neighborhood of newer homes that was flattened by the tornado? That once, before there were houses there, they were fields, wide and empty.
That my classmates from high school who live nearby are going home to help people in whatever way they can.
That I am sitting by my computer, clicking through photographs, looking for someone I know. A place I know. But I know all the places. I know all the people. Because they are me.