If you follow me on Instagram, or even read my blog occasionally, you know I go down to the lake several nights a week to relax by the water. It’s only like a two-minute drive and it’s amazing for clearing my head. After a day behind the computer, the fresh air and long walks are magical.
Except, as you probably heard, last week my lake killed a bunch of people. (Link is to a recent CNN story, but there are a billion out there.)
I still have way more questions than answers about the whole thing. It seems like literally everything that could go wrong did.
The area where it happened is about a half hour drive from me, but only a few miles if you measure straight across the lake. Everyone in my town seemed to know the storm was coming. I woke up from a nap and saw the storm warning so I made a quick run to the store for cat food before it hit. I almost snapped a photo of the massive black clouds rolling on, since they were juxtaposed against glowing sun and fluffy white clouds. At the store, the radio was broadcasting the storm warning. A tourist asked if that was for our area. Yup. As I was leaving, another woman came into the store and told the cashier he should bring in the outdoor clearance items ASAP because a big storm was coming. I got home and fed the cats, and then had a call from my mom freaking out about this big storm coming in. Moral of this paragraph: It was a crazy storm and way more intense than expected in some areas, but everyone KNEW it was coming.
These summer storms roll in so quickly!! It was about a 30-second walk to my car from here, and it started pouring the second I got in. 😯🌧 pic.twitter.com/dmM7jIYOpt
— Crystal Ward (@Crystal11) July 9, 2018
I’ve posted about these weird storms several times this summer.
A few minutes into it, I tried to check the radar on my phone but I have the worst internet everrrrr, so it wouldn’t load. After many tries I gave up and pulled up my county fire department’s Twitter – I can always tell how bad a storm is by how many incidents they’re responding to. Instead of the usual trees and power lines down, I saw this:
After sending that screencap to a friend with a note that storms usually don’t freak me out but this one was a little eerie, I went over to their Facebook after the storm cleared up to see if there was more info, and saw that they had clarified that the Belle wasn’t involved. (And yes, if that sounds familiar, I just posted about the Branson Belle a few weeks ago.) After a bit, other Facebook users began posting that they heard one of the Duck boats was involved. It wasn’t long before the FD referred to it as a MCI – mass casualty event. (I clearly remember that because someone posted a reply saying that they hoped everyone was ok, and it took ALL of my willpower not to point out that if it was being called a MCI that um, no, NOT everyone was ok. By far.)
I’ve been through all kinds of feels this week because this literally hits so close to home. Not just geographically, but like, I do the hiking trail that passes through the Branson Belle parking lot fairly often, so I KNOW how close to the sinking site that there are boat ramps where they could have driven out. I have walked down them to the water. It’s close to home in the sense that I got a sudden, super strong headache when the air pressure changed as the storm hit, and it lasted from Thursday night until Sunday. It’s close to home in the sense that I was so, so, so thankful when all of the bodies were recovered not just for the obvious reason of closure for the families, but because I know that there was no way I could go back to sitting with my feet in the water when there was a literal possibility of someone washing up next to me.
This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I hated the “Branson Strong” images that started popping up on social media the next day, because I associate that kind of phrase with terrorist attacks. I was home in Orlando when Pulse happened. What happened on my lake was a horrible tragedy that almost definitely could have been prevented, but it is NOT the same as a single human choosing to devastate your entire city. They’re just entirely different kinds of awful.
Last night, though, I finally hit the point where I needed to go back. I NEED the fresh air and the sound of gentle waves and the little turtle heads popping up out of the water. Not taking those walks to decompress at the end of the day was really messing with my mental health. I’ve been waking up from lake nightmares unable to breathe.
I took my notebook and my bottled water with me as usual, but I ended up just sitting down by the water feeling all of the sadness until it started getting dark. I think I actually asked the lake, “Seventeen people?” at one point, as if I was accusing it, as if it was a beloved pet who had accidentally been incredibly destructive.
I went back tonight, walked around for awhile, sat by the water until it was almost dark again. It’s almost meditative.
For the record, I’m not trying to be like “Oh poor me, I lost my evening relaxation place” when a bunch of people lost their lives. I just wanted to share a bit of the weird way that an event like this affects people in the local area, even when they aren’t personally involved. It still *feels* personal. I feel absolutely horrible for the people who were on board the Branson Belle and watched it all happen. I can’t imagine seeing people in that kind of peril and knowing you can’t do anything to help. I feel bad for the teenage girl who survived who keeps being told in interviews that she’s meant for great things, because holy crap is that a lot of pressure to put on a young girl. I feel bad for the Belle employee who pulled at least two people from the water who didn’t make it. I can’t imagine how it haunts him. I feel bad for the hospital staff – I’ve been to that ER a few times and it’s always crazy. They’re so not equipped to deal with a sudden rush of people in critical condition, not to mention all of the extra press around.
I try not to get stuck in the loop of “What if?” What if ONE passenger had stood up when the water started getting choppy and put on a life vest, even though they’d been told they wouldn’t need them. Would others have followed? What if they had tried to head in two minutes sooner? (Under normal lake conditions, they could have made it to one of the boat ramps in 1-2 minutes max.) What if that family of 11 had gotten stuck in traffic and missed that particular boat? What if this had happened when I went on the Ducks as a kid? My mom is afraid of water and I remember her being nervous the whole time, so it was probably me who talked her into going. Is someone feeling guilty about dragging a nervous family member along on last week’s fateful trip? There are a million tiny details that can suck you into that rabbit hole of realizing how many decisions we make in a day that add up to big things.
Sorry that this is more of a stream of consciousness than a carefully crafted narrative, but my mind is still in a weird place. I’d be curious to hear from you guys if you’ve ever been through something similar – the weird feeling when your community is shaken by something that doesn’t directly involve you?