June 17 to July 5, 2008
DRO 769-08: Mt Vernon, Iowa, July 4, 2008
It is the end of a long and trying disaster in which I have been assigned to headquarters for the Iowa floods. Three weeks of frenetic activity, long hours, and a constantly ringing phone have left me jittery. Strong coffee and sugary snacks are no longer enough to keep me focused. I am ready to go home. My airline reservations are made and my bags are packed. What remains for me is a few hours of sleep and a brief ride to the airport.
I suffer, as I always have, from post-assignment depression. The operation and the people in it continue around me, but I am no longer a part of them. My immersion in this world has come to an end. I am become the ultimate outsider. In twelve hours, I'll be on the ground at O'Hare. In a bit over sixteen, I'll be home. For me, the disaster and all that I have done here will soon be just a memory.
It is dangerous to become too enamored of the adrenaline of this world. It is also dangerous to ignore the effect it has on us. Denial of the physical and emotional toll is a trap. Self-awareness is the way to repeatedly survive this environment I've chosen to make my own. I owe that understanding to my very first Red Cross instructor.
After the scavenger hunt that is out-processing, I was no longer a part the operation. I stood to one side and looked around. Nothing had changed from one minute to the next. The people were the ones I had been working with. The desks, piles of supplies, and everything else was exactly as they had been moments before. The noise and movement had not changed. Yet I was curiously detached from it. Time slowed down for me. My goodbyes had all been said, and I left with only the briefest backwards glance.
With hours to go before sunset, I drove alone on US 30 through Mechanicsville, Stanwood, Clarence, Lowden, Wheatland. I stopped nowhere, spoke to no one, and my phone didn't ring once. My world was a moving panorama of cornfields, rolling hills, and small towns under the clear sky of a summer afternoon. The quality of the light had changed. The greens and blues of the fields and sky were painfully intense, but at the same time seemed filtered through crinkled cellophane. Sound had altered as well. Road noise, the radio, and my own voice sounded distant.
Tomorrow I will steal away early in the morning, by choice solitary, silent, and unnoticed.
Southern Baptist Convention Kitchen-Wapello, Iowa
Cedar River, Iowa
Dale Austin 2008
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008