Survivor's Guilt cover image

Survivor's Guilt

Matt Trask • March 10, 2020

Read Time: 7 mins


It's been a weird week. The pictures won't ever do justice to what actually happened. It's been a week since it happened and I realized today I really havent had a chance to process it completely, or come to terms with just how lucky I am.

Before anything else, let me express my deepest gratitude to everyone who reached out in the morning to see check in. It meant a lot and helped keep me going that day.

The Night Of

I don't know what woke me up. But around 12:30 I remember hearing sirens. Going to bed I remember reading on NashSevereWx that it would be a rough storm but only a 2% change of a tornado. One big problem in Nashville is that we use a county based siren system (more here about that), so the sirens will go off even if there is no impending doom right outside of your window. It has numbed people here, and quite shocking that the death toll in the city was so low because of it.

When I woke up, the sirens were going off. The rain hitting the windows of my apartment strong, I redownloaded twitter to my phone and went right to NashSevereWx to see what was up. It was then I recognized the magnitude of what was happening. At the same time Kieran started messaging me about the storm. I did the typical guy thing and told her to get into her bathroom while I stood in my living room looking out for a storm. Men are fucking idiots y'all.

I don't remember the exact time the storm rolled by. Truth be told, I saw nothing. I just knew a gnarly storm rolled by me and then put Kieran's apartment in its path. Kieran lost power and the apartment gate at her complex was busted. Losing power made it hard for her to get updates, but I was able to screenshot NashSevereWx updates and get them to her. The people who run that twitter account truly saved lives that night.

As I scrolled through Twitter, I started seeing hashtags and pictures pop up. Local places that were favorites among a lot of people were destroyed. Words can't do justice.

Ultimately, my direct area was spared. I took Molly out around 2am because like I said: men are fucking morons. The storm had passed and it was eerily quiet though while we walked. Looking around, you would have never guessed an EF3 Tornade ripped through the area.

Days After

As you can imagine, I got zero sleep. NashSevereWx said another line of storms was moving in at 4am and they weren't sure what was coming with them. I finally got a few hours to sleep, and when I got up I went to the local coffee shop and tried to go vote. Waiting in line saw people talking about their experience, hugging, trying to find some semblence of humor and expressing joy they made it through the storm unscathed. Since police had all the major areas blocked off, all I could see were images. Images are great for a lot of things, but someitmes they can't convey the magnitude of the subject. This was one of those times. I left Nashville the next day for Atlanta. It wasn't until Friday night that I really got to see things up close when the roads I took to get home took me right into one of the harder hit areas. Seeing trees still in living rooms, debris scattered all around and police caution tape just hit me.

I woke up the next morning resolved to do something. People on reddit organized an outing to North Nashville to cook food and hand it out. I went from waffling on what I should do to getting a cart at the store and looking like one of those crazy prepper people with the amount of water and soda I bought to hand out. Driving to North Nashville adding to the magnitude. North Nashville is generally the poorest area of Nashville. It's a target rich environment for real estate developers right now looking to prey on people. Handing out the food and drinks to people was fulfilling. It was great to see people smiling and relived, even if it was just for a few moments. However it didn't bring the closure I wanted.

Why me?

After a disaster, a common though is "why me?". Why was my apartment spared while friends lost everything. A guy I ride with in the cycling group Im in had a tree come down on their living room. Another guy in the group had a stroke just two weeks ago and then this. How is any of this fair? It's not, and I don't get to pick and choose these battles. Because of that, it adds a weird feeling to things. People I know are trying to figure out the new normal for them. Navigating insurance to figure out their next steps while I can grab a bike and get a ride in.

The night after it happened, Kieran and I went to dinner at a local place. I won't lie, it felt weird. It felt weird that people were picking up pieces of their lives right around the block while we were out to dinner. It felt weird that two people had just died (in the city. Overall the death toll went up to around 25 I believe) and we were having drinks. It felt weird yesterday driving past houses that are condemned and deemed unsafe with my bike strapped to the car looking to get some miles in. It feels weird to go to the store like I normally would, while othes can't. It just feels weird.

Over the past week I've struggled rather silently to figure out what feels off. And it's this. It's the fact that people right down the road from me, not even 2 miles away, lost everything while I was spared. It brings a small sense of mortality to life. I've had brushes with death before, I almost died a few times when I was born. But being up here on my own and living on my own makes this situation closer than I could imagine. It's one thing if you live in another city. It is just business as usual for you, but when it hits this close, it changes things. It's ok to feel weird about things. It's ok to feel weird about having a beer at the brewery down the road while others figure out life. In due time the roles will be reversed and you will have to go through what they are. Do what you can to help out when you can. Amazon lists have been circulating around, which have made it easy for me to buy things the organizations leading the clean up need.

Nashville Strong

While feeling weird is normal, feeling an overwhelming sense of pride is normal too. I've been pretty open about my disdain for this city. While there are parts that are great, overall I fail to see what people love about Nashville. This past week though, I've had a huge sense of pride for this city. The day after the tornado, people were out there helping clean up. People with chainsaws were out cutting up downed trees. Businesses figured out what they could offer and made it happen, whether it was a drop off site for laundry or a place to charge devices. Restaurants that were detroyed in the tornados were the first ones in the damaged areas cooking for the first responders. Bars and restaurants opened their doors to the displaced staffs of closed restaurants so that they could make some money and not miss rent. This is a city that knows how to help and I am looking forward to more opportunities to help. One easy way is with Amazon Wishlists like in this post.

It's ok to feel weird. It's normal.