How do I write this post? How do I put into words the horrors of the past week? I will try.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2011, I found out a friend of mine had committed suicide. I was shaken, but went to class, where I gave a presentation. I walked home and decided that a nap would be the best way to clear my head. Bad weather was predicted for later in the day and the tornado sirens were blaring in the distance, but that isn't unusual for spring in the south. So I went home and went to bed.

Around 4pm I heard Sam run up the stairs, and groggily looked up. "You need to come downstairs. Now. It's coming." I had heard this so many times before that I lazed around in bed until he came up to get me a second time. I got up.

We found ourselves out on the balcony of our house, and that's when we saw it- huge swirling clouds half a mile wide. Heading straight for our house. Clutching our kitten to my chest, we ran downstairs, into the closet beneath the staircase. I called my mom and told her we were bracing for the worst. I heard a crash, and, chest pumping, decided if I was about to die, I did not want my mom to hear it. I hurriedly told her I loved her and got off the phone. The radio, which we had put on to hear updates on the storm, blurred to static. The power went off. The noise of a freight train began to pound all around us, and all I could think was, we're about to die. I clutched Prime to my chest with one hand and held Sam's with the other. I kissed him, and told him I loved him over and over again. For several heart-pounding minutes, we waited. The crushing noise of the tornado passed, and we left the closet to find the world completely changed.

It would not be until hours later that we could finally access the internet on our phones and see a video of the tornado that literally shows it jumping right over our house and continuing its path of destruction, where it would ultimately take dozens of lives and leave thousands homeless. We didn't understand the scope of the destruction then, just that we were very lucky to be alive.

Entire neighborhoods of Tuscaloosa were wiped out. Over 100 tornadoes were confirmed making ground in Alabama alone that day. The University of Alabama went largely unscathed, but at least 5 UA students lost their lives. Every single house we had considered living in, other than the one we ultimately decided on and took cover in, is gone. If we had chosen differently, we would surely be dead. Tuscaloosa is unrecognizable. The tragedy is unfathomable.

That night, gunshots sounded around our house as looters took advantage of the power outage which would last for nearly a week. Terrified, we crouched in our bedroom with a large steak knife and waited. There was nowhere else to go, no other options. Nowhere was safe. We were truly all alone in the world.

In the darkness we left our home to drive to a different town to find gas for our car, in case we decided to leave town, which we ultimately did. As we pulled out of our pitch black neighborhood, we saw Bryant Denny, UA's football stadium and Tuscaloosa's main landmark, lit up against the night, the only light for miles. And in that moment, I had hope. In the terror and tragedy of that day, there was Bryant Denny, proclaiming in the darkness, we are still here. Tuscaloosa is still here. We will go on.

Please send your thoughts to Tuscaloosa and all of Alabama as we recover from our loss. Over 30 were killed in Tuscaloosa alone and hundreds are still missing or unaccounted for. Donate to the Red Cross. Send items for those who lost everything. I am very, very lucky to be alive, but so many others were not as fortunate. Please give, so that we may rebuild and recover.
Today it finally happened.

Since I came back from Egypt in early November, I've felt like my heart has been enduring a long winter. Where I used to feel vital, infinite, limitless, I felt only doubt, worry, and the slow withering drain of depression. It should have been the happiest time in my life- I had just gotten engaged to the love of my life and we were beginning our lives together in the town where it all began. But I was lonely, bitter, and painfully insecure. I've spent the past several months wrapped inside this cloak of insecurities and fear- of what, I'm not sure. Fear of the assault that brought me home, and all of its repercussions. Fear of losing the most precious thing I have in my life, my darling sweet fiance. Fear of coming back to the place that broke my heart- Tuscaloosa, with all its hierarchy, antiquated ideologies and deep-seated hate. Fear of losing the beautiful person that I felt I had become in Egypt. Ironically, all of this fear and anxiety robbed me of just that. The carefree, open spirit I posessed in Cairo became little more than a memory to me, a shadow of a girl who had now become tethered down by responsibilities and realities far beyond her maturity level or emotional threshhold. I worried every day that Sam would realize I was no longer the girl he had asked to marry him and leave me, disillusioned with the sad, solitary person I had become.

But today, it happened.

A week ago today I quit smoking and started running. I started eating healthier and cut sodas and energy drinks almost completely out of my diet. I felt like I was opening a door to let a little light into my dreary world. And then today, as I was driving in the afternoon sunlight by the flowering Tuscaloosa wisteria, I felt a slow bloom in my soul. I felt a surge of pride as I took the University of Alabama exit on the interstate- a surprising feeling. I glanced in the rearview mirror of my new BMW and saw the simple American University in Cairo decal, and instead of feeling a desperate longing, I felt a slow, glowing nostalgia. Shafts of sunlight danced through the car as I pulled up to Academy Sports and treated myself to a new running outfit. I walked out of the store and into the light and I felt like I was walking into a bright new place. My heart was blossoming, opening itself again to the beauty of life and the world and yes, even Tuscaloosa. For the first time in months, I felt full and innocent and integral- like I was worth of the love Sam showers on me, like I deserved to be happy and healthy, like everything was going to be alright again. This long-absent sensation literally feels like someone injected pure light into my veins. I feel like I have things to look forward to and strive for again. I feel confident that Sam and I are going to have a long, happy life together. I feel healthier than I have in two years. I'm starting to feel comfortable in my own skin after spending much of the past year hiding behind extra pounds in a desperate attempt to be invisible and unoffensive. I feel like nothing's missing. And I feel like life is starting over for me- in a new, exciting way. I think I've finally learned that I can be as excited and passionate about life as I was when I was constantly gallivanting around the globe, simply by finding adventure in the simplicity of life in this funny little town.

I'm so excited to start over.

I'm so excited that the longest winter is finally over. The snows are melting, and the world is springing back to life. And I'm ready.

Why am I marrying him?

In a huff of frustration, as the hands on the clock ticked past 3am and I carried the big, soft comforter to the guest bedroom across the hall from the one I share with Sam, I asked myself, why am I marrying him?  Like clockwork, reliable as the minutes ticking past one at a time, never ceasing despite the ebb and flow of humanity, he stalked into the room where I had settled in to the partially deflated, queen size air mattress, kneeled at the side of the bed, nothing visible but his figure silhouetted by the light from the streetlamp streaming in through the window behind him. He refused to leave, he asserted, until I came back to bed with him. To our bed. I prickled. This is my bed now, I growl, even as I turn over in my mind that this bed is uncomfortable. I want to go back to my big, comfy bed and melt into the down comforter and sleep and forget all of this. But I can't. It's my pride, my damn pride, that has exiled me into the guest bedroom. My feelings have been hurt, and, damn you, this will not stand. He eases his hand into mine, somehow finding it in the dark quiet of the early morning hours, his thumb instinctively caressing the ring on my left hand. I snatch the hand away, roll over, will him to leave, and then, pray he does the opposite of what I've willed him to. To stay here, in the dark and the quiet and the angry and to stay with me. To fight for me, and to love me despite my damn pride. So the question remains, why am I marrying him?

Daytime. The same bed. He's flopped down, cycling kit half stripped off after an invigorating, exhausting afternoon ride. I've come and laid down, perpendicular to him, stroking the disarray of thinning hair as he draws in heavy, satisfied breaths. He rolls over onto his stomach, his face squished between the air mattress and the weight of his shoulder. Golden soft afternoon sun streams in the windows and the quiet is light and effortless. Quiet but for the soft scrape of three day old stubble on the vinyl of the mattress, until suddenly he shifts, extends his arm, slowly intertwines his fingers with mine, kisses my fingertips. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you." He says, his eyes locked on mine, gentle but serious as sin. His earnesty disarms me. As I lay on this mattress, in our first house together, half sick with the flu, hair ratty and face pale and plain without makeup, the first thought that springs to his head is I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you? This, I think, this is why I'm marrying him.