Oklahoma isn’t where I was born, and it isn’t where I live now. But Oklahoma is the place that I always will consider home. It’s where I grew up. It’s the place that for better or worse made me the person that I am now. It’s where I got married. Had a kid. Held someone’s hand as they died. I am an Oklahoman. I grew up and was tempered in 105 degree summers. I was threatened by Klansmen and was protected by gutter punks from Nazi skinheads. I hosted a million parties. Read a billion poems. Hugged a trillion people. At one point, it seemed as if at least half of the state had spent time in my living room, or passed out in a corner of my bedroom.
The state of Oklahoma is both physical and mental. The physical space was just violated by the whims of Mother Nature. The Finger Of G-d came down out of the sky and erased a town or two. This happens on occasion in Oklahoma. It’s tragic, but it is also one of the things that make Oklahoma strong. We grow up there knowing that at any moment the sky might open up and swallow us up. I remember being a teenager. I was at some tacky all-ages show. One of those five bands for five bucks things that we used to do. Between bands we would go outside and sip cheap vodka out of the plastic handle and play hackey-sack and smoke cigarettes that we bought at Ziggy’s or the Asian run cornershop that didn’t ID. This time the tornado sirens went off. We all stopped and looked at the sky. A thin spindle of a funnel formed across the parking lot and tracked towards us. In front of us was this approaching menace, behind us was only this club and its massive plate-glass windows.
At that moment we were all transported into the mental state of Oklahoma. The state of mind that grows up knowing that your card could be pulled at any time. The state of mind that makes your first thoughts when staring down your possible death, “if I live through this, I’m going to have to help everyone else”.
Because that is what people from Oklahoma do. In the face of disaster, they help. They put aside any differences and help. They ignore the fact that Red Oak, OK is named after the lynching tree in town and help. They forget that they are feuding with their neighbors and help. They help and hurt and pray and help some more. They rebuild.
I was there for the May 3rd, 1999 tornadoes. I gave time and money and helped out however I could. We rebuilt.
On April 19th of 1995, I went downtown with countless others and began the process of digging out the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah building. In the dust, we all looked the same. Like Oklahoman’s. Like people who struggle and care and help and rebuild.
Right now, I don’t know if everyone that I know personally is alive. Even now, I am still getting the reports in. The one thing that I do know is that nobody is alright. The state is too small, and ties are too tight for it to be otherwise. Even as long as I have been away, I feel the wound in my heart and in my home.
Please, if you have the ability to do so, donate something. If you don’t live in Oklahoma, the Red Cross is probably your best bet.