I’m directly addressing you because, well, everyone who has come up to ask me about Joplin ever since they first heard about it because of those heartbreaking and devastating tornadoes has been from California. I’m well aware that there are some of you who can find Missouri on a map and have some knowledge about the rest of the country. I also know there are other geographically challenged idiots throughout the country who have completely forgotten that there is more than the east and west coasts or think the only city in the middle of the country is Chicago (thanks to their knowledge of people like Oprah and Barack Obama).
Many people I never actually knew have somehow found out that I am, indeed, from the Midwest. I don’t know what the interest is to gossip and point at me, only to say “Hey, I think she’s from Missouri” (by the way, I’m not; I’m from Illinois). It’s not that big of a phenomenon to think that there are people who no longer live where they were born and, for whatever reason, they became transplants in a new state. However, people I don’t know seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to wander up to me and start a conversation by asking me the following:
“Have you heard about what happened in Joplin, Missouri?”
Of course not. It’s not like it has been on the news since it happened, and it’s not like it’s made national headlines. No, I’ve heard absolutely nothing about it! So please, by all means, reiterate everything I couldn’t have possibly heard on NPR or seen in any national (or international) newspaper and on its related website. I rather enjoy living under rocks, and we don’t often get news down here.
“Is the Midwest completely ruined?”
You bet your life it is! Rather than being a collective name for twelve states with a combined population of more than 60 million people, it is actually a nickname for a ten square mile piece of land with only twenty occupants. Actually, it’s probably more like sixteen people because four of us decided to leave on a whim.
“Is your family okay?” or “Are your friends alright?”
Clearly, since I’ve already explained that the Midwest is exceptionally tiny with the smallest population of any place on the planet (well, second smallest because Antarctica is a total bitch in that contest), all Midwesterners know each other. We all went to school together, and we’re all somehow related. Pretty much, we’re the lower- and middle-class version of the damned Royal Family.
“How are you coping with what happened?”
Well, I’m not. I have no reason to be coping because I wasn’t directly affected. I’m not from there, and I am not aware of knowing anyone who lives there (if I do, please let me know). If I did know someone there, I would be worried sick about them; I would be trying my best to get in touch with them if I hadn’t heard from them. Also, I don’t want to talk to a complete stranger or someone I don’t know about something that, well, could potentially be a topic that would make me cry a river when I’m just trying to go about my day. It just seems impolite to intrude, no matter how curious you are. You wouldn’t walk up to the woman who was looking for her husband with Alzheimer’s and ask her this, so why would you think it’s okay to bother me? (Note: If you would, I’d probably think you’re a bit of a knobhead.)
On that note, how come no one was bothering me when a tornado hit the area around the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport? That is actually really close to where I’m from, and I would’ve been dramatically more worried and coping with something had anyone I knew been caught in it. Seriously, it would’ve made more sense.
I know that people want to show they care during times like this, many who actually care and others who are pretending only to look good (and will promptly forget about it as soon as Joplin is no longer in the headlines). I appreciate their curiosity to a degree, but I wish they would take more time to consider that Midwesterners are not the same people. I beg of you, please do not ask us these questions and those like them. If you’re curious, ask about what the proximity of the tornadoes to our previous home is before you ask us how we’re doing because of it. I grew up almost six hours away from these recent disasters; I cannot speak for anyone from Joplin or the surrounding areas, and I do not wish to. I would rather they speak for themselves and tell their own stories.
My heart goes out to those affected and to those who lost their loved ones. I am sympathetic to those who lost their homes and have nowhere to return to. I hope that everything gets sorted out as much as it ever possibly could be and that you all are able to continue your lives but keep the memories of those no longer around with you always. Words cannot possibly console anyone who went through this event, but I do hope that everyone is able to find comfort.