Standing on the rubble, looking up.
In the aftermath of the storm I remembered his words, 'it doesn't matter if you come back'. How could it not matter? I broke the chains of culture, abandoned traditions that wouldn't allow me to pursue higher education and left home an unmarried woman to travel across the country. I knew this suffocating sense of powerlessness; to feel crushed by another. Tears filled my eyes and I thanked him. The place I gave everything up for had declined me a second year on my assistantship and taken the only job I had known in Alabama.
I walked around my yard strewn with debris and fallen trees, cars with shattered windows and the impenetrable smell of gas. A mass exodus of people filled the streets and the scent of the earth from uprooted trees nauseated me. Hours passed before I could leave but the ordeal had just began. It would take days for the rest of the world to know. Displaced and without a car or money, a classmate took me in. We braved the chaos a few days later and returned to gather my personal belongings so I could leave the state. Like the trees, I had been uprooted but I refused to fall. I volunteered to help homeless survivors of the tornado wondering if I too was one of them? I could always go back to my home and face the shame of being a woman who ventured out into the world and failed. 'It doesn't matter if you come back', his words echoed.
But it does matter. I gave up everything for this, hadn't I? I needed another chance. I obtained a job with the university, received a scholarship and found another place to live. Suffering from PTSD and anxiety attacks, I pushed ahead even as my landlord threatened with a lawsuit. Immigrating to this country from the Caribbean, being homeless and enduring my parents' inability to work due to their legal status had prepared me to make something from nothing.
Tuscaloosa has taught me that I can survive. The only trees left standing in the complex guard my old apartment with broken branches. Mere feet away, my neighbors are without windows, roofs and some without their lives. I have stood up against a storm far greater than the deadliest tornado since 1950, I stand against patriarchy, misogyny and inequality to a future where poor immigrant women matter.