On Point: Anguish has its very own sound

Ted Streuli, The Daily Record Newswire

Dawn let out a shriek and sobbed in the way I have not heard since 1978.

Dawn Darbon is a researcher in our newsroom at The Journal Record here in Oklahoma City. Her son, Hezekiah, is a student at Briarwood Elementary School in Moore.

That sound, the only sound that’s like that, came in 1978 from my mother, Frances. She had answered the phone and learned that her sister, Chrissy, was dead.

Dawn’s son was trapped at his school, the tornado of all time having torn the city apart for the second time in 14 years.

Hezekiah, it turned out, was OK, and he came bounding into the newsroom with his father and sister a couple of hours later. But we couldn’t say the same for students at Plaza Towers.

In Newtown, Conn.,  27 students and teachers died at an elementary school. That was less than six months ago. Just a month ago, three died and 264 were injured at the Boston Marathon. And now, there are 24 dead in Moore, many of them elementary school students who should have lived long, long past the third grade.

People say a tornado has a sound like a freight train, but it has another unique sound: anguish.

It sounds like a mother, on television, at Plaza Towers Elementary School, hours after the tornado ripped apart a school and community and a thousand hearts: “I don’t know where he is — he was here — I don’t know where he is.”

Less than 24 hours earlier I was racing a tornado across Edmond, the 3-year-old in the back seat, stuck at a traffic light, praying it would change, the radio telling me the twister was 11 minutes from Second and Bryant. That is where we are stuck. Change, damn you, why won’t you change? Into the house at last — the radio has no batteries; where is the flashlight? Sirens. No time. We must go now. Right now.

“Come on, buddy,” I say in my calm voice. “We’re going to the shelter. It will be fun! It’s going to be like camping!”

We slid the steel over our heads and waited, in a small box, not quite six feet under our garage. There was an odd peacefulness to it.

It stayed a few blocks south and missed us. We climbed out of our hole and started worrying about our friends who remained in the storm’s path.

Twenty-four hours later, it was not peaceful in Moore. There was anguish in the newsroom and on TV. We listened while KFOR’s Lance West tried to keep his tears in check as he looked at what little remained of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where 75 students and teachers were still in class when the tornado touched down. The search was underway and no one would say out loud what everyone was thinking: There are a lot of bodies in that rubble and most of them are children. If anyone is alive it’s a miracle.

No one will say that because it’s too horrible to be real but if we say it aloud we can no longer pretend it’s a lie.

I had this same feeling right after Newtown, when I was the Watchdog Dad at my first-grader’s school. There they were, playing tag at recess, their biggest worry being who was it, and all the adults watching Newtown play out all over again in their heads.

Tonight I have no patience with the boys and I am mad at myself for it. I cannot explain to them that it’s about Sunday afternoon at a stoplight, Sunday afternoon in a storm shelter, six months ago in Connecticut, a month ago in Boston, two hours ago in Moore. But I am watching the news and my eyes are wet and they are that way for hours.