My mother has always had only my best interest in mind. So when she told me to cut off my visit and get home due to approaching storms I followed her advice. "Storms are in Arkansas so you'd better get home before they get here". I guess anytime its in the 70's on January in Tennessee you can expect a little violent weather.
It was around sunset when I took off on the 30 minute drive from rural Madison county in West Tennessee heading towards Jackson. Along the way heavy storms caught up to me but I was young and immortal and didn't think about stopping...I turned up the radio to compensate for the rumble produced by the hail bouncing off the car. The storms were brief and were quickly over so I decided to take a slight detour by my mother-in-law's to see if my wife and son were there visiting. The detour took me through Bemis Tennessee which is an old cotton mill town with huge oaks hanging over the orthogonal streets.
The storms left a very calm and even pleasant evening as I swung around the last corner. Suddenly a mass of leaves blew across the road like a bucket of water spills across the floor...as though the leaves were a sheet being pulled over a bed. This event was not altogether unusual but oddly out of place somehow. Shields up.
As I drove past my MIL's I saw that my family was not there. As I turn my head away from the house and back to the road in front of me the leaves did it again. And again...more leaves each time. No longer an oddity, something bad was near. As the terror of what was about to happen gripped me, I decided to steer my Nissan Sentra off the road and against the side of a nearby steel building for protection.
Things were changing as fast as I could react...it was overwhelming in the same way that seeing the birth of my son was overwhelming. My brain and emotions were maxed out but the stimulus was still coming on strong.
At this point visibility rapidly decreased to zero. I could tell that stuff, lots and lots of stuff, was blowing all around the car. I no longer had control of the car...the wind did. I quickly lost all sense of direction.
My fate was clearly out of my own hands and I never felt so out of control. I screamed to God praying that I was still on the ground and not hundereds of feet above it. Mostly my mind was consumed with fear about leaving my son without a father. I had the whole father thing planned out and being dead was definitely not part of it.
Breifly I saw an object coming towards me from the right. I flenched at the impact. When I opened my eyes everything was calm again. Was it over? I heard a voice shouting, asking if I was OK. Was I? I looked around and noticed no pain or blood but the car had landed on its side with the passenger side against the ground. The seat belt was holding me securely in my seat despite the odd orientation. I pushed on my own door but it wouldn't budge. I swung my feet down below me and unfastened the seatbelt to land standing on the passenger door. I reclined my seat and climbed out the rear door and jumped down onto the ground.
Everything was dark and calm with a light rain falling. I still didn't know if it was over of if this was just round 1. The person inquiring about my condition was standing nearby and we ran across the street into the nearest aparment. Suddenly I was among a friendly and amazed bunch people that were preparing for a cookout when the storm brew up. Many of them saw the whole event and were amazed I had crawled out of the car. They offered drinks and an ear for which I was greatful. When everything had been calm a few minutes I walked down the street to my MIL's.
The next morning we learned that 8 people were killed by several tornados. Entire subdivisions were flattened. From the looks of the car, I had been rolled all the way over at least once. The passenger's side roof was smashed in, all of the body panels were beaten up, and all of the glass was broken. I was fine...not even sore. A few hundred feet from where I had landed a cell tower (built to withstand 250mph winds) laid twisted on the ground.
After this event I have a very unhealthy fear of driving in bad weather. Panic grips me whenever I see leaves blow across a street. My own mortality is now very real to me. I feel like a bit like Plato's Cave Man now. What happened changed me. I know whats important in life and, perhaps more importantly, I know what things are trivial.
These events are true and occured on 18 January 1999.