Friday, September 2, 2011

Helping One of Our Own

If I had to make a list of the least fearsome names in modern time, Irene would be near the top. You just don't think of an Irene knocking over convenience stores or beating down armed gangs of disaffected youths. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irene missed this memo. She rolled into the continental U.S. like a ninja jacked up on glue and Pixy Sticks. Her rage was sporadic and terrible. Her destruction hit very, very close to home for one member of the fandom.

If you don't know Mrs. TheKing, I feel sorry for you. She is genuinely one of the nicest people to ever grace the Earth. Words can not possible convey how generous, caring and benevolent she is. I have no idea why she associates with the likes of me. If she was even aware of half of her awesomeness, she would run for the hills.

MTK (aka Debra) lost her house and most of her belongings in the storm. She's been living in a hotel with her husband, kids and animals. She wrote out the harrowing tale of that night for her publisher, Omnific. (Oh, did I mention she recently published her first novel, Crushed Seraphim? Go check it out.) I'm inserting her account below.

The night was dark and stormy. No, it really freaking was.

We’d waited all day for the category 1 storm to arrive. I’d spent the last 24 hours amassing all the things that might make our stay inside easier. I’d gone over the lists online and looked at the feed for ideas. I perused the evacuation lists and thought about where in my house those things might be. We didn’t have a portable radio, and that bothered me. But my biggest concern was the length of time after the storm we’d be without power. I’d filled everything in my recycling bin with water, and I was proud to have stuck some soda bottles in the freezer. I’d even found bread—at the dollar store, of all places.

My husband and I watched Date Night as the wind picked up. The kids watched recorded Disney Channel shows, all of us trying to enjoy the fact that the power was lasting longer than expected. Finally the lights went out, and we all got together in the living room. My husband began lighting candles, and I pulled the last of the huge load of laundry I had drying. I was folding it in my bedroom when I heard a big thump and the ground shook.

We peeked out the front window to see that a huge tree had fallen on the lawn, landing inches from our front door. I called my mom while I herded the kids to the hallway. I marveled at the fact that it had been a silent destruction. There had been no telltale cracks to warn us that the tree was about to fall.

No time to hustle out of the way, so the husband and I tried to decide where the kids would sleep. I wasn’t comfortable with them sleeping by a window, so we decided on a twin mattress in the hallway.

Just a quick explanation about my house: it’s a small brick rambler on a sweet cul-de-sac. Every room has windows, so the hallway is the only window-free space. We have many large trees, but the largest is what we called the family tree. We name everything in my world, just to make the kids laugh or love things. Like stuffed animals. So the huge oak that umbrella-ed the house got the same treatment. The family tree got plenty of love, as far as a tree goes.

I stood the kids just inside my son’s doorway and told them to sit for a minute while I folded by the light of a flashlight. It was going to be a long night. Now I could hear branches cracking outside like King Kong was swinging from tree to tree. I looked out and spied my neighbor in the road, checking on our tree, making sure we were okay. I waved and she ran back inside. My husband and I were so touched that she checked on us.

Soon after that, it happened. Again we had no way to know it was coming when the family tree landed on the roof. No cracking. Nothing. Just an instantaneous thundering and the amazing crunch and whoosh of thousands of leaves. My husband rushed to the kids, screaming at them to stand up as he gathered them in his arms.

The house groaned. My daughter sobbed, and my son paled.

“It hit. Oh my God, it hit.”

I swallowed because my unflappable guy sounded scared. I left the kids in the hallway to take a peek. The family tree’s root ball eclipsed my bay window. I tracked it with my eyes over the ceiling and followed it to the porch. My kitchen’s new view was the top of the massive tree.

My husband hustled the kids to the front door where my neighbors were peering through a pile of trees to wave us an invitation to their house. I knew I had to pack quickly while my husband got the kids to safety.

“Shoes! You need shoes!” My son slipped on two left sneakers. My husband threw our daughter over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and they threaded their way out the door and through the tree branches.

I gave myself just minutes to grab what I could from the house. I knew how big that oak was, and I fully expected the house to buckle.

Think, think—what do you need? The lists I’d read earlier flashed in my head. Underwear, medicines, important papers, cell phone. I ran to the bedroom and looked at the piles I’d been folding. It would all come. My husband busted back in the front door.

“Deb?” He sounded panicked. “Grab garbage bags.”

My suitcases were in the shed—no way to get to them—so we opened bags, and I began filling. I tried to concentrate. Maybe five days of clothes? I kept losing count. My brain filled with the static of fear. My husband just stood there with a bag. I forced myself to think. Lord help me—I need my bra!

“Go get meds and underwear for the kids,” I told him. 
I pretended to pack for a vacation, itemizing what I’d usually bring. Kids had clothes—all that was on my bed went in.

He was back. “Grab the bills bag,” I instructed. He was doing great at listening and following through.

I knew next door my girl was panicked, crying for sure. My son would comfort her. But he was so pale when I saw him last…


I ran to the bathroom: toiletries. Back to the bedroom: pillows, blankets. I found a bra and thanked God as I slipped it on.

“Deb, stop,” he said. “We have to get out.”

Think. “Get the kids favorite toys,” I said.

The house groaned as the winds went crazy. Pounding rain. Dogs barking.

Think. Purse, cell phone.

I looked around. That was it. I’d already pressed my luck. I dragged the garbage bags to the front door because we couldn’t get out the back. My husband and I looked at the dogs. They would need another trip. I stuffed his huge shoes on my feet, and we took off. Getting out the door required weaving through the branches of the first tree and ducking under the root ball of the family tree. I slipped in the mud as I maneuvered around the crater that used to hold the large oak.

Getting three dogs and the cat out would be nuts. The rain instantly drenched me. I didn’t look back as we ran the bags next door. It was about 3/4ths of a soccer field away.

I was greeted by hands with towels and water bottles. I shook my head. We had to get the animals. Before we left I said, jokingly, “My parents get the kids.”

As we ran back over I understood my husband’s panic. We could barely make out the small hole in all the branches that led to the door, and the oak was really pressing hard on the roof.

Juggling our flashlights, we made our way back in. He leashed the animals while I hunted for the cat, finally finding him under my bed.

I had nothing to put him in, and he was already clawing to get away. Out in the rain he would get away from me for sure. I met my husband’s eyes, and we were both at a loss as to how to get out and do the brief mountain climbing required. The cocker spaniel pulls with all of her 48 pounds, the blind dog would be more than disoriented, and the poodle was very small. The retractable leashes are even harder to hold.

I stuffed the cat into my lidded ottoman. Soon after I did it I realized it would be impossible to carry across the mud. The cat popped out and took off running. My husband insisted on taking all three dogs.

“We have to get out.”

“You go. I have to grab the cat.”

“I’m not leaving you here.”

“Go. I’ll be right behind you.”

Were we really saying this? This wasn’t a movie. He took off out the door as I searched for the cat.

I checked the dining room, which was now basically a sling for the tree. I couldn’t help myself and swung the light around to see the damage. The ceiling was buckled and pouring water. No cat.

I hustled back to the living room, trying to come up with something to stash him in and coming up blank. The ceiling above the load-bearing wall cracked like an egg shell. The roof protested. I heard one of the dogs yelp in pain from outside.

Think. A backpack!

I ran to the front door, grabbed my son’s new backpack, and went back to looking for the cat. I tried calling him, but my harsh voice scared me too. I got low in my room and saw fur in the flashlight’s beam. I’m sure it will be a few years before the cat forgives me for the way I got him into that bag and fastened it shut. It’s a messenger bag, so his head peeked out. I squeezed him tight.

At the door the poodle looked back at me from the other side. He was the reason for the yelp and must have slipped his leash in the dash. I squeezed the cat harder and locked the door. I ducked, threaded, and slipped while calling the poodle. He followed me but then fell into the crater the tree had created. I watched as he panicked.

I had no idea how deep the hole was. He floundered while I called him. My head raced because if I eased my grip on my cat, he would take off into the night. At least I knew the dog would follow me. I called him again in a sweet voice, as if we weren’t standing outside in a hurricane. The trees bent and limbs fell all around us.

“Here, Spikey. Come here, boy!”

He swam out of the hole and followed. I ran to the neighbors’ and passed someone my angry cat before I turned back outside.

My poodle went back to our house, too afraid to follow. We then played the stupidest and most dangerous game of hide and go seek. I cursed him in my head and smiled like we were totally so happy to see each other out there on the road.

I tried getting low and he inched away. I knew if I chased he would run back to the door. I was really not looking forward to standing under the root ball again. It had been kind enough to not hammer me into a pancake so far, and I didn’t want to test my luck again.

I finally scooped up the poodle in the driveway and felt him go boneless with relief. That made one of us.

I eyed the trees. They were all acting like wet spaghetti. And the wind wouldn’t choose a direction. The gusts picked up. I watched the trees as I sprinted back. The door flung open and there were my neighbors with towels. Someone whisked the dog away. Someone in the room said, “Good job, Momma!”

My daughter came up from the basement to hug me, followed by my son. I hugged them back, but it took me a while to catch my breath, then some more time to slow my heart. I saw my husband, and then there was relief. All the faces are safe.

My neighbors are sweet and understanding. They already had a full house, and yet they made room for all of us and offered ice cold water bottles.

I went upstairs to change into something dry. My husband followed and we stood together and hugged.

“We just lost our house.”

There were no tears, because how could there be? Safe. We were safe with our neighbors—their basement the perfect place to wait out a long storm. I sat watching my kids sleep for hours until I finally just laid between them.

I waited for the sun to come up, and when it did there was still the scary wind. When it finally died down I went outside to see. And I did.

I saw that we were lucky beyond reason. I saw that my house was still struggling under the weight of the oak. My sweet brick home was still trying to protect us, and even though we left, it did a damn good job. Yet another tree had fallen on our house, blocking the front door even more. Thank heavens it wasn’t there when we were getting out.

From my brief trip inside to grab my computer and pictures of the kids, I know the house is lost. The big load-bearing wall is buckling more each hour, the brick seeming to crumble around it.

My town was just beat to hell by Irene. Our roads were blocked completely by trees, and fire and police stopped responding to calls soon after my first tree fell. Had any of my people been injured, no one would have been able to help. That’s chilling—understandable, but very chilling.

I’m writing this on my phone in a cool hotel room. My dogs are here, and my cat is at the neighbors’.

The word safe floors me now. I never thought I’d stuff so many grateful blessings into one small word. Kindness has poured in from everywhere as my house has turned into a must-see destruction zone.

People have been asking me what we need, and I honestly cannot think of a single thing. I had everything that mattered when I stood soaking wet on my neighbors’ doormat.

I have no idea what’s next. We’re meeting with the tree removal and insurance guy today, I hope. I know we cannot live in the house, so we will live somewhere.

I haven’t cried, and I’m surprised to find no need for that at the moment. Grateful, lucky, stupid and loved. I’m feeling all of that this morning.

I was completely floored when I read this and saw those pictures. It's an absolute miracle no one was hurt, or worse. Because Deb is the most unassuming person in the world, she would never ask for help. So, the lovely Shalu set up an account to help with hotel costs, food and insurance deductibles. Please consider contributing, even if you can only spare a dollar. When we Twitards get together, we are a force to be reckoned with. A force that can make a real difference in people's lives. A force that makes hurricane winds pale in comparison.

Who's the bitch now, Irene?


  1. That was really very moving. And hella well written from a phone! I'm sorry I couldn't give more, I only could give a little. But I'm a student again, so...

    Sorry, gotta stop, the tears are about to spill over (I've lucked out w hurricanes and tornadoes, so I know that fear).

    All my best and lots of love MTK!!!

    don't you ever not tell us if you need something--

  2. I cried through nearly this entire story. I can't even imagine... I'm so happy to know that everyone is safe because holy shit, that was one mutha of a tree. I fear for my house every time we have strong winds. I have many big oaks too.... My heart is still racing. Irene is a vicious bitch and I'm glad to see her go. Hugs and kisses to the whole MTK family. I'll be happy to do whatever I can to help... xoxo

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hey Other Anonymous: You speak like someone who's never been in a disaster situation yourself. Insurance companies take their sweet-ass time cutting you a check, and there's plenty that they don't cover even if your coverage is excellent and you documented everything.

    Huge props to MTK for going after her pets (I would too) and for typing up all that shit on a PHONE. Sweet Edward with a Broken Headboard, that feat alone was worth my $5 chipin. Thanks to Twitarded for facilitating this.

  5. I cried throughout the whole story. I am so happy that everyone in the family is safe. I'm happy to contribute what I can.

    Lots of love to the MTK family!

  6. Thank you for being a responsible pet owner. That is why I donated some money. Good luck with everything.

  7. Wow I'm touched and moved by this, It's inspirational that she went back for her pets and made sure that they were safe too. So many people would have just left them behind. Being a pet owner with fur babies I'm more than happy to contribute.

    I'm so glad that everyone is safe and I hope that they can eventually rebuild what they had.

  8. You can delete my comment, that's cool. I sounded like a troll. I just have a problem with the fact that people could only muster $300 for an elderly woman who has to turn her heat off at night, when they're more than happy to give thousands to a woman who's about to get a brand new house. This, of course, has nothing to do with Mrs. TheKing. I lost my house to a tree a few years ago. It an expensive, trying situation, but if you're smart and you know how to work within the system, insurance will take care of everything.

    So, again, I ask (albeit more politely), why are we giving money for this?

  9. Anon. how long have you been here? Twitards stick together and rally around lots of different causes. Some people donate more, some less, some for friends, some for dogs, and lots for kids cancer. Who are you to judge and criticize where fellow twitards are donating their money? Different people value different things, and it is important to note that everyone's values are accepted at Twitarded.

  10. I am so relieved that MTK and her family got out of that nightmare alive. That fact that she didn't abandon her pets to the ravages of nature speaks highly of her character.

    MTK's stories are among my favorites. I can't pass by a Target pharmacy now without smiling and I have more compassion for people who appear down and out because of her writing. I would have paid to read Poughkeepsie.

    I am in tough shape financially right now but I can spare a few dollars to help and to show her that I care.

    Don't judge others for what moves them to support one cause over another. Help where you can.

  11. @ilikeitlemony--Just FYI, Pough is revamped (pardon the pun) & will be published this fall, I believe. Yay!

  12. I'm more than happy to chip in a little all the way from Australia ;)

    I have kids, and animals and if I were in that situation I would also have all I needed if we all got our safe and sound but a little help never goes astray :)

    Pough is my ALL TIME favourite story thus far and I would also have paid for to read it - and I believe I will when it is published ;)

    All the best Deb, hope you are all settled and back on your feet soon.

  13. @MTK, this story had me absolutely terrified for you all as I was reading it. I have huge oaks around my house too and they terrify me during storms. I am so relieved to hear that your family (pets included!) made it out of there. You're really brave. Sending thoughts and prayers your way. We're here for you!

    Also, what is Poughkeepsie? I can't find it!

  14. @My After Car--Pough was a fanfic she wrote a while back ago. She's rewritten it & I think it comes out in a couple of months. I can't remember the actual date.

  15. What a horrible experience. I'm so glad they made it out safely. Such a devastating thought 'what do I take?' I'm from kansas and growing up my things to 'take to the basement' have changed over the years. It was the dog & cat when I was little. Then I added pictures as a teenager. now it's The kids and husband, the cats, my cello & my purse, in that order.

    I contributed, and hope more people do. I give $ for a lot of reasons to a lot of causes, even if it's just a few $ here and there I can spare. And if you think I insurance replaces everything right away, you should make a trip down to Joplin, MO. That tornado was months ago, and the hotels are all still booked because residents don't have any other place to live.

    Thanks, Twitards, for posting this and donating.

  16. Oh MTK...just awfule and you were so brave. I am so happy to hear that your family and furry family members are safe.

    One of the main reasons have stuck with this community (besides our insane shared love of a British celebrity and a certain YA series) is the level of generosity and compassion that abounds here. Thank you TK for making us aware that one of our own needs us. Off to donate. xoxoxoxoxo

  17. @Anon -- I deleted your comment because I did not think this was the proper forum for this kind of discussion. I would welcome you to e-mail me privately with your concerns. MTK/Deb is a close friend of mine and I felt compelled to help her. I know her gregarious nature has garnered her many friends in the Twi world and a number of people had already contacted me as to how they could help. MTK has never asked for a dime and could not be a more unassuming human being. I strongly believe everyone is entitled to their opinion and has a right to voice it. I had to balance that with what I know of our readers — they are equal parts loyal and generous. I removed your comment so as not to detract from the point of the story.

    Whether people donate or not is their own decision. There are many issues I feel passionate about, as you no no doubt do as well. Supporting my friends falls just below supporting my family on my list of priorities. Most people won't or can't donate for a number of reasons. If everyone who read this story just hugged a loved one and felt gratitude for their presence, then this post has done its job. It's a reminder of how small the world is, how quickly it changes and how easy it is to lose the things we love most.

  18. After my mom lost our family home to a fire in '03 I started working with disaster survivors to get through the insurance company. I hate to say it, but that part of recovery is 100 times worse than the harrowing disaster you just read about. I now work for a non-profit organization and would be more than happy if she contacted me. If she uses the "contact us" button at I will get an email.

    Take it from me... talking to someone who has been through it and can give you helpful advice is more help than all the donated money in the world.

    Well... maybe not ALL the donated money.

  19. Sweet Jesus, how scary. MTK, you are so brave and bravo for going back for your pets.

    Once again I am amazed at the caring nature of most of the people who visit this blog.

    I just love you guys.

    Off to donate.

  20. @Lila - What a wonderful offer! I am sure that your assistance would be invaluable.

    As always, you guys knock my socks off with your altruism and generosity.

    : )

  21. @Lila--MTK can't access the site from her phone, but I'm sending you her contact info now. Thanks!

  22. All of you make me proud to be a part of this fandom. The power of positive thoughts is priceless. Donate what you can, no matter how big or small. Just a simple "how are you doing today?" can lift spirits and remind people that they aren't alone. Thanks, guys, for being so damn generous with your time, money, and most of all, your love. xoxo

  23. Wow. MTK - my heart goes out to you and your family. I am in tears reading this and clearly, from the comments above, I am not the only one. I am so pleased to hear that your family and pets are all ok. Take care xxx

  24. Wow, what a story. I'm crying right now for MTK's losses, but more for her blessings. That she and her family and pets are all safe is amazing, considering those photos. You wouldn't think anyone could survive that. Living in S. Florida, hurricanes are a part of our life, and while I was immensely relieved when Irene passed us by, I felt great sadness that while it wasn't us who was getting it, someone would. I prayed it would stay out to sea, and it broke my heart to watch on the news the devastation in its wake as it dragged up the coastline. I am happy to donate, and I am grateful to do so from the safety of my home. I know only too well it could be us next. And you know what? I'm going to give my kids a big hug. We all should be grateful for what we have, and reading a story like this reminds us of that. Not to make light of the situation, but damn, just reading her harrowing account of this, you can tell why she's such a great writer. It would make a hell of a fictional story. Anyway, my thoughts and prayers are with you, MTK, and I'm so touched by the amazing people in this fandom and their generosity. It's really gratifying to be a part of it. Off to donate!

  25. @TK - I got the email and I'm sending an email now!

  26. Just read the post and gave what I could.

    Love you guys!

  27. I am happy to donate something. I too feel a sense of community here at Twitarded and although I don't know MTK, I do know how scary it was to go through Irene. I know many folks here in Vermont who have lost everything, and our physical community is rallying around them. It is only right and good that we rally around her. I send her warm wishes and strength in the months ahead as she navigates the insurance minefield. If my small donation helps in any way, it's worth it to me. We take care of each other, however we can. I am proud to be a member of this community!

  28. Wow. There just aren't words, but MTK somehow found some. I was already a huge fan, of course, and am now even more of one. Good job, Momma, indeed! Love and strength to your family, MTK, and to everyone so affected by the hurricane.

  29. MTK..Glad to help out..I was so worried for you that night, we didn't get it bad, but it was scary listening to you and others it was affecting. I wish you and yours all the best..And Hope you can recover from this disaster quickly. All my love xoxox.

  30. And I would just like to add that this community continues to always blow me away with it's generosity and love for each other.. I love you guys...

  31. @MTK
    I'm so glad that you, your family and pets are safe. That is what matters. Your words and pictures show just how serious and frightening that storm was. My own community as well as my home town are still struggling with damage from this storm. My heart goes out to everyone and my hope is that you get your homes back soon. Donations are certainly one way to help our friends and family, but also volunteering in your community. The generosity displayed by Twitards is amazing.

  32. Mrs. the King has been my hero for ages, and I only love her more, the more I hear from her, and about her. Thank you for setting this up for Deb and her family. Even Mr "I'm such a tightwad" Boyz didn't question my contributing when I told him it was for Mrs. TK. -Linda (Cullenboyz)

  33. So happy that ALL the family (including animals) is safe & sound. Teary eyed here of this one.

  34. Thank you all so very much. Your kind words are just so welcome.

  35. I like it here. I think I shall stay...

    Thoughts and virtual hugs go the the 2 and 4 legged MTK family

  36. MTK, I am so sorry for the things you have lost and for the long road ahead. More than that, I'm so very happy that all with true, irreplaceable value; your husband, children, and pets remain safe. You are so brave. Thank you, for once again, extending to us your talent and telling us your story. I am definitely going to help. Because this community, that's what we do; we lift eachother up. No conditions. No strings attatched. Together, stronger than a hurricane, Twitards conquer.

  37. I know exactly what you are going through. Living here in southeast Texas we have "the fear" every day of hurricane season. I am so sorry that this has happened to you. We always say this will pass and everything will be better. We are all praying for you, your family and everyone affected by this storm.

  38. Oh geez, I feared Irene bad that night too but luckily she passed me by without a hitch. But the fear got me. And it got me good in realizing how i never got that fear from seeing photos and video from other disasters and the people sitting on their destroyed homes crying.
    And then i had to go to a couple of nearby towns to do exactly that, photograph people in their times of trouble. All the innards of alllll these homes set out on the sidewalk to be trashed. I felt fucked and could barely photograph a person. The trash piles are easy, but how do you photograph someone you can't help cos there are too many to try to help and just to make a picture for a profit making company? Blech!
    Well, I wasn't in a good state of mind to do that work.
    SO.. It helps me feel better that I can finally give what I can to someone who needs it.


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