Whoomp! Whoomp! Whoomp!
The Day the World Stopped Making Sense
by Nina Soden
©2019 Nina Soden
I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the tragedy that befell Southern Alabama on the day Bamgila made his way out of the bay. It was over twenty years ago, August 2019, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
Thousands were killed, more were injured, and hundreds were left homeless as billions were reported in property damage. It was a miracle how the community came together, over the five years following the tragedy, and rebuilt the city from the ashes left in Bamgila’s wake.
In order to explain what happened, I first have to tell you how it was that I came to live in Southern Alabama. I wasn’t born there, nor did I choose to make Mobile, Alabama my home; it was forced upon me. The journey had started ten years before Bamgila’s invasion in the summer of 2009. My husband, David, moved me, and our then 4-year-old daughter, Darby, from our home in Northern Washington to the depths of Alabama.
David’s work was transferring him, whether I liked it or not. He had cheated and I had considered letting him go without us, but for Darby’s sake, I decided to give our marriage one more chance. I had hoped that a new start would do us both some good. Besides, I had learned that my best friend from high school, Susan Miller, now Susan Garrison, had moved down to Mobile, Alabama about fifteen years earlier after marrying her husband. I hadn’t seen her in over twenty years, but we still talked from time to time and of course, we kept in touch through social media. Susan was a very successful real estate agent, with her own firm and a wall full of awards. She helped us find a home, my dream home, with a wrap around porch and a backyard pool.
Susan’s husband, Gill, helped get me a job at WCHZ, a local radio station. I quickly made a name for myself at the station and my co-workers became my family. I worked as an anchor, along side Walsh Chandler, one of the world’s most conservative republicans. He made Rush Limbaugh look liberal. Walsh and I never really saw eye to eye, but I suppose our disagreements made for entertaining radio. Deep down, I always knew Walsh had a soft side. That night, in the basement of the station, Walsh showed his true colors. He proudly exited the closet and came out to all of us while declaring his love for his secret lover, Douglas. If only he hadn’t died that night, I think we would have become fast friends.
Working in media, you’re trained to hold your composure. Don’t show fear or emotion, that’s the number one rule. It’s to easy to evoke mass panic if the audience hears fear in your voice or see’s it in your eyes.
It’s hard… It’s hard trying to encourage others and spread hope when you know people all around you are dying, if not already dead.
That night, the world grieved for the loss of thousands, but in that basement, we grieved for the loss of our co-workers—our family.
Until you’re in a situation like the Bamgila Invasion, which is what the history books are now calling it, you can’t possibly understand the pain and suffering that comes with such a loss. The decisions I made, hoping to keep myself and those I loved alive, and the relationships lost in those endless moments of fear will forever haunt me.
The day started like any other Tuesday, except instead of dropping Darby off at school on my way to work she came with me. She was suspended, three days for skipping class. I suppose I can’t blame her; kids tend to lash out when their feeling stress. Darby’s life had been turned upside down, not once but twice. The most recent being the summer before she started ninth grade when her father decided to leave, moving into a flat in the city with his twenty-three-year-old mistress, Bambi.
Bambi had been Darby’s nanny, up until she turned twelve, and had spent many family vacations and backyard BBQs with us over the eight years she worked for us. It turns out her benefits package was better than my own. She walked with a new condo, money in her pocket, and my husband at her side. I got the house, 75% custody of Darby, and no alimony because David lost his job a month before our divorce became finalized.
When I found out Gill was cheating on Susan, with Crystal one of the stations anchors, I lost it. I gave him an ultimatum, tell Susan before their next anniversary or I would. That gave him five and a half months to decide how to do it, but it didn’t take that long. About two months later, Susan had cornered him in the den, demanding to know the truth. In Gill ultimate wisdom, he confessed thinking he had no other choice. It turns out, Susan had no idea about the affair and only wanted to know how he could possibly spend $2500 on golf clubs without talking to her first. I’m only thankful that Susan didn’t have to live with that pain for too long.
very next day, Bamgila came walking out of the bay. I won’t go into the gory
details of how Susan died, I don’t want to relive those memories. Over twenty
years later and her death is still just as painful today as it was then. In
fact, I’m tearing up just thinking about her now. If you had known Susan; her
passion for life, her extraordinary lust for excitement, and her never ending
love of friends and family, you’d understand the gaping hole her death left in
all of us.
Darby and I made it into the station about seven o’clock, in the middle of Sunny Storm’s morning weather report. She was a twenty-something, brunet with dreams of one day becoming an actress. The problem she ran into wasn’t a lack of talent, no, it was that no one was looking for fresh talent in L.A. That’s lower Alabama to those of you who haven’t lived in the south, not to be mistaken with Los Angeles, California.
Sunny’s personality was much like her name, sunny. She was eager to learn and although many of the men in the office saw her as a ditz, I knew better. She was a social media wizard. She had over ten thousand followers on Instagram and double that on Twitter. I’m not sure why they were so fascinated by pictures of what she ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner which she posted on a daily basis. However, I will admit I often found myself getting lost in her ramblings whenever she posted videos.
Gill was always the first one in and the last one to leave at the end of the day. He greeted Darby and I moments after we walked in. I could tell something was wrong, but with Gill you never know if it’s a stubbed toe or a plane crash, everything is over the top with him. Either way, I had my own drama going on, trying to deal with Darby and her recent acts of defiance. By the time I got Darby out of the lobby and settled into a quiet place to nap before hitting the books, Gill was half way into his story about how Susan had pulled the truth out of him. I wont lie, I was glad she finally knew. I hated lying to her.
By the time Gill was done ranting, I had barely finished my first cup of coffee. Kenny Kramer, the WCHZ office intern, came bumbling into the lobby in a very Cosmo Kramar way. If you’ve ever seen Seinfeld, the early 1990’s sitcom, then you know what I mean. The irony that his mother named him after Michael Richard’s character Kramer is not lost on anyone who meets him.
Kenny proceeded to bombarded Gill and I in the lobby, going on and on about something he found amazing and world altering. It wasn’t until Gill turned on the television and the image of Bamgila filled the screen that I realized Kenny had no idea how right he really was. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t excited about Bamgila’s existence, not like Kenny was. No, I was terrified, much like the rest of the world.
In a matter of hours,
less than twenty-four, Bamgila had appeared as if out of nowhere. He walked out
of waters of Mobile Bay defying all laws of physics and whether maliciously or
not, wreaked havoc across the state. Fire exploded from his mouth, vehicles and
buildings were crushed under the weight of his mass, and lives… so many lives
were sacrificed to his will. The whole city fell under his shadow. We were all
at his mercy, but Bamgila showed no mercy.
Skip Starke was the sports anchor back then. No one really took him to seriously, though. He presented himself like a has been football player who thought he should have been more. To be truthful, the only reason I even remember his name was because he had professed his feelings for me only thirty minutes before Bamgila took his life. He didn’t go without a fight though.
Charging toward the fire breathing monster, Skip managed to put two bullets right between the monster’s eyes. It didn’t make a difference, they barely penetrated the skin, but that isn’t what mattered. What mattered was that he had done it, bravely and selflessly, in an effort to save us all.
The weather girl, Sunny Storm, or rather Ethel Eugenia Furbish as we learned that night, was never found after the attack. Members of the National guard were sifting through bodies for months, identifying those they could and contacting family members if any were still living. Sunny’s body never turned up. There have been reports, over the years, that she had run out of the building, heading west, and never looked back. Some even say she kept running until she reached the Pacific Ocean. Considering she only owned four-inch heels, I find it hard to believe she could have run that far. I’m sure she called an uber as soon as she was out of the state, but you never know. Secretly, I hope she did make it all the way to California. I hope she changed her name, again, and took up acting out on the golden coast.
Crystal and Gill ended up throwing a huge party a few months after the event. They called it a funeral, to honor Susan’s memory, but it was a party. The only thing Susan would have liked about the party was all the alcohol. Everyone was drinking in her honor and somehow it felt like she was there too. I couldn’t stomach it, I still missed her too much. Life just wasn’t the same without my friend. I ended up leaving thirty minutes in, just after Crystal announced she was pregnant… with twins. Somehow that didn’t stop her from taking shot after shot of Gill’s expensive tequila thought.
Kenny, the WCHZ intern, who Walsh had hired must to my chagrin ended up being my hero. When Darby and I attempted to get away from Bamgila, I lost hold of her hand. She slipped right out of my fingers. I searched through the rubble for what felt like days trying to find her. Then, after hours of interrogation by General Stone of the U.S. Army, Kenny brought her back to me. I will forever be grateful to him. In the twenty years since the incident, Kenny has continued with WCHZ, moving his way up the ranks until just five years ago, I heard he had been promoted to General Manager in charge of all programing. He has turned into a fine man and has done the station, and all of us old-timers, proud.
The high school my daughter attended, like most of the city, was demolished. She ended up completing the year, and her next three, through a virtual academy out of Texas. She graduated with honors and moved back to Washington to attend university. She came down every few months to visit, but once she got married, I decided it was time to pack up and move back up north too. I let go of my wrap around porch and backyard pool, in exchange for living just down the street from my two beautiful grandchildren; Sydney and Ethan. I wouldn’t give that up for all the world.
Whoomp! Whoomp! Whoomp! ©2019 Nina Soden