I am Dayton Strong

The morning after Memorial Day, I’m outside chasing my dog at 4 o’clock in the morning. The sky is full of stars and the air is perfectly still. I breathed a sigh of relief because I made it through the holiday without any major incidents.

Then the news comes in that morning about George Floyd and his murder by the police officers. Protests begin to erupt throughout the United States and the world.

The year before, our communities of all races, nationalities, genders, and sexualities came together to lift each other up. Now a year later, the city that had celebrated unity now could have been torn apart.

         As I heard the news that weekend, I heard that one of my favorite historical buildings had been vandalized during the peaceful protest that ended with rioting.

         I cried out, “No, not the Victoria Theater”

         There had been another protest of sorts in my town the year prior. The KKK had been allowed to hold a gathering in the downtown area just down from that Victoria Theater. People came to protest them being allowed to hold an annual meeting in our town. Fortunately, nothing had been destroyed during that protest. The city had come together united.

         Two days later, our city was hit by a tragedy that could have broken us apart just like the KKK meeting.

         On the night of Memorial Day 2019, the dark sky full of stars was expansive. There was a stillness in the air which was sort of like a foreshadowing. I was outside with my oldest, Nick. We walked around the yard letting the soft freshly rained grass tickle our toes with our words floating in the air because he was trusting me with his teenage secrets.

         We were laughing because we in the middle of a tornado watch. In our part of Ohio, it was common for us not to take those tornado watches seriously.

         After some time outside, we went in to get ready for bed before our last days of school. Anticipation of summer lingered in our good nights.

         Even though I had gone to bed, the thought of the tornado watch hung over my head like a bee trying to find a flower to land on. I kept scrolling Facebook to see status updates from my local friends and meteorologists. Suddenly the words, “I think a tornado just went over my house. The are police surrounding it looking for damage,” jolted me out of bed. No longer tired, my adrenaline was heightened. I began to pray. Worry filled my thoughts.

         Then I saw the words “Tornado hit Trotwood!”

         I bolted out of bed like I was suddenly shocked by an electrical shock screaming, “The sh- – just got real.” Tears flowing down my face. Breathing was hard at that moment.

         As I gathered everyone for us to head to the bathroom, there was a sense of urgency in both my voice and actions. “NOW! Move it! Let’s GO!” could be heard throughout our tiny ranch house.

         My husband, Todd, refused to budge from the living room. His stubborn self was skeptical about there being an actual tornado even after me yelling about a tornado hitting Trotwood. He wanted to see it on the Weather Channel before he believed it. Finally, after getting confirmation, he reluctantly headed to the bathroom

         Our walk-in closet sized bathroom barely fit all four of us plus our almost 15-year-old dog. Will, my youngest, took one wall while holding the dog. Nick sat in the bathtub with his swim trunks on. Todd sat on the toilet. My back was to the bathroom door. There was no room for anyone to move around as we played the waiting game.

         We heard the wind beginning to pick up outside. It was a ghost howling in the darkness. After a few moments, the hail began to hit our house. The pinging of tennis balls being hit at a gym wall unsettled us. While the rest of the family relied on sound to know what was going on outside, I felt the force of the wind and the hail since I was against the bathroom door.

         As quickly as it had started, it soon was silent outside.

         In the silence, my phone began to beep. People were texting me letting me know they were either okay or were praying for me. We were not alone in that bathroom. God was with us.

         Minutes that felt like hours in that tiny bathroom. Every time we thought it would be safe, another ding would go off on all our phones. Tornado watch extended for another half hour. More waiting and worrying.

         Then we were given all clear. Our adrenaline was sky high at that point, but it was after midnight and we needed our sleep because we didn’t know what was waiting for us the next day.

         Sleep evaded me that night. I would cat nap for a little while and then would wake up remembering what had happened earlier that night. At 3 o’clock in the morning, I decided to take a walk around the yard.  There was a calm in the air. No indication of the damage Mother Nature had caused a few hours prior. As I breathed in the sweet summer air, a sense of peace filled my heart because I was alive and safe.

         Our communities came together during the days and weeks that followed the tornado. People from all over came to help remove all the debris and tree limbs, feed the volunteers and victims, and to provide food and clothing to those who lost a little or all. All races, nationalities, sexualities, and genders came together to help each other.

         Now 52 weeks later, our Memorial Day is marred by another tragedy. I’m left to wonder again is Dayton going to come together like we did the year prior or are we going to be fractured?       

         Then I remember that I’m Dayton Strong. In the last 52 weeks, we’ve had a KKK meeting, the 15 tornadoes ripping through our area, a mass shooting, Covid-19 and now the Black Lives Matter protests. We will come out of this stronger and a more united community. I am Dayton Strong. My city has taught me to be resilient.

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