He wondered about Charlie Thompson, who held a piece of their life in his hands. Charlie, as they called him, knew their address. Charlie could surmise that Corey Plunkett worked at a carpet factory. And, of course, that he made $360 gross a week.
This stranger, who knew nothing of them only a few days before, now knew some of their most intimate details.
In turn, the couple from Alabama tried to conjure the man in Tennessee.
“I thought maybe he’s young, because he knows how to use the Internet,” Corey Plunkett said.
“I wondered, ‘Does he have kids?’ ” said his wife, Lindsay, who is 28. “He’s probably in his late 40s. He must be mature.”
Who knew? They were now intertwined. They began exchanging e-mails. Corey sent short ones: Thank you so much for finding me and God bless. Charlie sent long ones. In his third, he offered an explanation for the tornado and a kind of confession.
“It’s just the way things go in this imperfect world,” he wrote. “It’s hard, I know. But it’s only a test. I fail these tests every day.”
Finding another’s life
About 75 miles north of Rainsville in Hixson, Tenn., on the day of the tornadoes, Charlie Thompson had stood on his front porch, the chimes making music in the wind.
The storms had been coming in waves, bending tall oaks and old pines, then giving way to a lull, then whipping up again. During a lull, Thompson called his wife, Melissa, who is 43 and had a stroke last year, and who rolled her wheelchair to the small wooden porch. A thick fog was blowing toward Hixson, pouring over ridges and finally across their neighborhood.
“Then we looked up,” said Thompson, a tall, heavyset man in his 40s with thinning blond hair he pulls into a ponytail. “And there was all this debris. It was all just fluttering down like confetti.”
It drifted down without prejudice across green, just-mowed lawns and their yard, a sprawl of tall, unkept grass, weedy with yellow dandelions, a long gravel driveway leading to their small brown cottage.
On the second day, a bright and cool day, Thompson walked the property, picking pieces of pink insulation and roof shingles from wet grass.
“It looked like a trailer had been blown to pieces,” he said.
A bit eagerly, he began looking for clues, perhaps something with an address on it to see how far it had all traveled. He spotted the pale-green paper, face up in a flowerless flower bed covered with leaves.
First he thought: “My God, this has come all the way from Alabama.”
Then, slightly sickening: “Gosh, I wonder if this person is okay.”
Then, picking it up, something more uncomfortable. “I wonder if I’m holding a dead man’s property,” he recalled thinking.