There is an integral thread in the stories from Tuscaloosa that is important to remember. There is a piece in this puzzle, a word in these sentences that has been on my mind. These are the ones who left.
Something we need to remember about Tuscaloosa while we talk of its rich communities and beautiful, powerful people is that Tuscaloosa is a transient town. It is a city that revolves in orbit around a student population that breathes into the town like a cold, and they disappear every year leaving barely a symptom or a scar. But they called this place home, they worked here and made friends here and met their best friends and spouses here. Maybe they still get their mail forwarded.
And these people have this place in their blood and bones like the rest of us, the ones that stayed behind. They have scattered across the country and the earth and now they have been torn back into the town they left. A trail of breadcrumbs has turned into a taut and pulling rope. And now they are flying, floating, bursting back into Tuscaloosa at breakneck speed as they find themselves touching television screens with their index fingers, tracing the paths they used to walk, the homes they used to own. They are watching us, all of us, and wishing they could come home. Some of them will.
I have friends in Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Ireland, China, Florida, New York, all of whom are now left feeling like a piece of them has been torn asunder. Maybe they aren't in the middle of this mess of a place, screeching in the streets for their lost homes and scuttled trees, but in their dreams they are on 15th Street, looking down an endless block with no buildings and no signs and nothing left. When they fall asleep, even when they're awake, listening to our tearful phone calls and reading our frantic emails, they reach down to clutch their turning stomachs and feel the Tuscaloosa inside them rip apart. How hard it must be to lose a town that's all around you, and yet be so far away.
We know you are there, friends. We know this town is as much yours as it is ours. We know that these streets that we've lost, these homes and buildings that have crumbled, and this place that we will be re-mapping and re-writing for so long belongs to us all. We have not forgotten you, just like we know you have not forgotten us. We miss you so much. We think of you often.
For my dear friends who have tossed into the wind and blown so far from Tuscaloosa, I know that these pieces of you are still here. I see them in your old windows, in the photos you took, in the places we had together. No matter how far away you are now, we hold your hands now in these streets. We hear you cry into your pillow just like we do. And we hope to hold your faces in our hands soon.
For those who have left, for those who have moved forward, for those who are out in the world beyond this now impassable, inescapable town: We know you are home. We know you are here. We know you never left.
And for those of you making the trip here, we look forward to having our arms around you. We feel the thread growing tight between us and we tug, we tug, we tug.