The Storm

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If you see and hear the warning signs, maybe there's still time to save yourself.
If you see and hear the warning signs, maybe there’s still time to save yourself.

My phone made a sound I’d never heard before.

I picked it up and looked at the screen. Tornado warning.

I lived through three hurricanes in Florida. Frances. Ivan. Jeanne. I respect severe weather, but don’t fear it.

It was my five-year-old son’s bedtime. But he wasn’t with me. I texted my ex-wife to make sure she was aware of the storm warning. She was.

On television, the weather lady encouraged us to seek shelter and the safety of basements if we had them—my son’s mother does not. Massive red blotches of rain and lightning strikes painted the screen. Areas of cloud rotation were forming as cold air mashed into warm air at high altitudes.

The sky grew darker and darker over our suburban Ohio rooftops.

The thunder rolled.

The civil defense sirens howled of impending danger.

A wife I know is going to leave her husband Friday.

He doesn’t know it. Their two young kids don’t know it. But I know it. Because the totally defeated wife and mother is calling the game for rain. She’s been one of my dearest friends since grade school.

I wonder how many people knew my wife was going to leave before she actually did last year.

My friend married a guy not so different than me. A really nice guy. A really nice guy who ended up being really shitty at marriage. He never figured out that being nice isn’t enough. He’s about to learn though.

She already left him once. On January 4. It was the premise for An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5.

He came home from work to discover his wife and kids were gone.

He freaked.

Begged her to come home. Promised to change.

And seven weeks later, she and their two children moved home. A family, reunited.

You’ve heard the phrase: Old habits die hard?

The old habits didn’t die.

It just didn’t sink in, I guess. Maybe he thought she wasn’t serious. Maybe he lacks the discipline to make the transition. And now she’s leaving. He got the second chance I once prayed for every night for months and months and months. And he fucked it up.

For video games.

For afternoon naps.

When you take your wife for granted, one of two things can happen: 1. She can grow to resent you and lose all respect for you. Or, 2. She can do that AND leave you.

Hit the road, Jack.

I know what it feels like when your wife leaves. I know what it feels like to sit in an empty house without the familiar pitter-pattering of little feet running around. I know just how loud silence can be.

He’ll be eating shit sandwiches for a very long time. Near as I can tell, you never get used to the taste.


He got a legitimate second chance.

And blew it.

What a waste.


There’s no better word to describe how you feel when the people you care about most are in danger and somewhere else.

About a year before my wife moved out, I was traveling for work and got a text message from her telling me she’d been in a car accident. A snow plow hit her, and she and my little son were stuck in a ditch. And I might as well have been on another planet being in a faraway city.

The two people I care about most were in as vulnerable a spot as they’d ever been, and I was nowhere to be found.

My ex probably thinks that’s a metaphor for our marriage.

It was excruciating—my inability to be there for them in that moment. They were fine, of course. But the “What ifs?” are enough to make you nauseous.

And last night was the exact same feeling.

My God. What if?

The black sky rained lightning and hail on our little slice of the world. The lady on TV was telling us not to leave our basements.

And my son and his mother were hunkered down in a first-floor bathroom in their house with no basement.

Totally helpless.

And maybe even unwanted and unneeded.

These are not the things husbands and fathers want to feel, regardless of marital status. But that’s what I felt.

My friend’s husband, if past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior, is going to scream and point fingers: “Look what you’ve done!!! Look what you’re doing to the children!!! How could you be so selfish!?!?”

That’s what he will say. That’s what he will think.

I don’t think this world has taught him how to look in the mirror and ask the really hard questions. The ones that make our skin crawl. The ones that make us look away from the stare of our own reflection from pure shame. The ones that require us to take off the self-righteous masks we all occasionally wear.

But maybe this will finally teach him. Maybe he can learn how to hold his own gaze in the mirror. Maybe he can begin a journey of self-discovery. Maybe he can grow.

How can a man teach children how to accept responsibility for their choices if he never learns himself?

He’s as nice a guy as I’ve ever met.

I didn’t need to learn the lesson because I’ve already learned it. But no situation has quite driven home the point for me like watching this oncoming train wreck has.

Being a nice guy or a good guy DOES NOT mean you can’t also be an extraordinarily shitty husband. I foolishly believed the opposite for years. And learned the hard way.

Good guys lose their families all the time. And sometimes, they deserve it.

Because they chose themselves over their marriages even if they weren’t always conscious choices.

You have to know the signs. And you have to take action when you see them. If you’re married. If you have a family. They must come first.

“But Matt! It’s just a stupid video game! Who cares if the bathroom sink’s a mess!? It’s just going to get messy again after we clean it!”

It’s important BECAUSE it’s important to her. (Write that down.)

This is true of your romantic relationships, of your relationships with your children, with your friends, with your extended family, with your professional network: Give more than you take.

It’s the only choice. Do that, and your relationships will thrive. All of them. Don’t? Everything breaks.

The Dark Horizon

The storm is coming for so many husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and children.

The storm is coming for my friend. For her husband. And for their kids.

I think maybe some people get married and it’s bullshit and it never really mattered and they get divorced, go their separate ways and everyone is better off for it.

But then I think there are people who really meant what they said when they made their vows.

‘Til death do us part.

And then their souls fuse together, making a clean break impossible. There’s no dotted line to cut. Because the two are mixed. So, you end up just ripping them apart and hoping for survival.

Those people end up on spiritual and emotional life support right up until they’re not anymore. And the timetable is different for everyone.

I’d never been so afraid.

I’d never been so angry.

I’d never been so sad.

So you learn how to be courageous.

You learn how to forgive.

And you commit to choosing hope.

Because it’s the only way to survive.

It’s the only way to thrive.

But you never quite shake the feeling: What if I’d listened to the warning signs? What if I’d acted sooner?

Then the thunder rolls. And the wind and rain pick up. And the sirens scream.

And you turn to protect that which matters most.

But it’s just a bunch of empty space.

And then the sirens scream again.

69 thoughts on “The Storm”

    1. Thank you very much. I appreciate you thinking so.

      Hope all’s well in the Gopher State, good sir.

    1. I sort of laughed at that, then felt bad about it.

      It’s not funny, really.

      I’m sorry.

      And yes. So many of us have the exact same story. The more I realize how commonplace this story is, the more wasteful it all feels.

      Thank you for the note.

  1. Good post.
    There are some storms that give no warning. You do not know the full scale of the damage until after they have passed…if you ever do. We weather more than we think we are capable of for reasons we cannot always explain.

    1. You’re so right.

      No warning for many of life’s most-difficult moments.

      In the context of a discussion about marriage, though, I’d argue it makes fortifying your relationship EVEN MORE important.

      Because that’s what we lean on when things break elsewhere. We need that nest. That safety zone.

      Even if we don’t “need” it, it sure makes life a better, more-satisfying experience.

      At least it did for me.

      1. I agree.

        That relationship becomes increasingly important and, yet, often more fragile.

        Check and balance.

  2. Your most compelling words yet. My skin crawled with the truth that was itching from under my skin the entire read. As someone who has been your wife, and been your friend, my heart aches for you. For your friend’s husband, for my ex-husband. For me. It aches for every single person who was married once to the love of their life, only to realize at some point in the storm, that they had been consumed by it, and there was just nothing left to repair, because everything had been washed away, total destruction. No survivors. It would require a complete rebuild, and rebuilds can’t ever be exactly as the original. And very often, the chance to rebuild gives time to reflect and decide how to make things stronger, better, than they were before. And sometimes rebuilding just means moving to another town and starting over. Well done Matt. So proud to call you a friend.

    1. Thank you.

      I know exactly what you mean. The ache you feel for all the people who are just about there, but not all the way. All the people who maybe still have a chance to save it, but one or both squander it.

      Then everybody hurts and it’s unfair and nobody wins.

      And all it took was for some little choices to have been different here and there. Ones that seemed inconsequential at the time.

      But they ended up changing the entire world for everyone connected to the marriage or family.

      Sometimes, the little things are the big things.

      Thank you very much for the kind, thoughtful note.

      1. I have learned over time, that its the small things that are everything. Absolutely everything. They ARE the big things. This has been my greatest take-away from my divorce, and my most important guideline in my current, second marriage. Small things, small efforts. Make them-even when its easier, spiteful, hurtful, deserved, not to. Make them, and watch everything, all that really matters, the big things, the understanding, come into focus.

    1. Thank you, Gretchen. I was thinking about you today because the new Black Keys album is out.

      Only heard the first four or five tracks so far. (It’s the Black Keys doing their thing–which is never bad.)

      Appreciate you saying hi.

      1. The Black Keys! I’m so tempted to buy their album RIGHT NOW (I just woke up for the day)…..and then tickets to their show in September (with Cage the Elephant) but this nagging sense of responsibility is reminding me of bills & limited finances & crap.
        Oh, adulthood, why must you suck so much sometimes? *sigh*
        Sorry, this had nothing to do with your actual post.

          1. I know! I’ve heard both are rrreally great live. They’re coming to Joe Louis Arena. I’m so tempted to try & get tickets. I probably shouldn’t spend the money right now though…. I am however at least going to look into it.

          2. True and I’ve resisted the temptation to buy tickets to other big shows this summer.
            I might convince myself, I still have a few days to think about it.

      2. Yes, I started listening to it last night while writing and listening to it on repeat today. I think it’s their best in years. You MUST see them live. I will pressure you and taunt you until you do! 🙂

        1. The sickest part is they used to play all of the small, local venues around here which I periodically visit. And now they’re huge and mostly play arenas everywhere but here.


      3. Oooohhh… That’s gotta sting. Imagine if you’d seen them back then. I hear they pop into small venues in Nashville now. Sigh… And I’m not happy at all about all the arenas on the new tour. I’m hoping they’ll play an outdoor concert or music festival within a reasonable distance from me. But after listening to the new album, I WILL see them this year, regardless!

  3. Great post. I’m glad you didn’t get rolled over by a tornado.

    That’s crazy that you know that lady is going to leave her husband before he knows it. I guess I didn’t realize people did that or wrote about it.

    I was just thinking today if I’d ever get remarried, were my current gig to end. I think my evaluation of a partner would be more involved, and certainly more informed now than it was back in the day. I’m a horrific husband, so it’s likely a moot point. All things considered, I think I’d be done with the institution.

    Regardless we’ve got the best kids in the world. So maybe we do what we gotta do for the kids.

    Philosophically I think mankind comes up with a lot of self imposed bullshit, but that’s the topic for another day.

    I like all the thinking and reflection your posts bring. You’re well on your way with your book(s) and on the right track. Best of luck to your friend during this difficult time.

    1. I’m going to look forward to that conversation about the self-imposed bullshit Chris.

      I don’t encourage marriage nearly as much as I recognize that the vast majority of us are going to do it, and doing it wrong wreaks havoc on our lives.

      So, I really want people to try to do it right. This is my little way of trying to help.

      I have no idea whether it does. Some people say it does.

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read.

      Let’s have that talk, sir. Maybe there’s some good writing material there for both of us. Maybe Twitter DMs will actually come in handy for the first time ever.

  4. I agree. one of your strongest posts ever .Very well written. You’ll on your way …. and you’re going in the right direction.

    1. Thank you. I’m so glad people liked this. A very thought-provoking moment, last night’s storm.

  5. As the sirens have been screaming at my house for days, this chilled me. I walked around the house starting day one and remembered the first time my soon to be ex was here with me, I missed him this time.

    Today I got a note it read, ‘is the divorce final? Would you tell your attorney to send me the final decree when you have it’.

    I could only answer, ‘no it isn’t final and his office is closed today due to the tornadoes and flash flooding of the past 4 days. When we have it one of us will send you a copy.”

    “Oh, okay. Hope you and the boys are okay.”

    He was once a nice guy too. He left twice, the second time I filed for divorce tired of his pouting. Still, when the lightening flashed overhead and the wind rushed down the street, I missed him.

    This was good Matt.

    1. I don’t know what to write. I’m just nodding. Trying to remember a time when you didn’t sound like a tequila-drinking, pool-shooting, Cohiba-smoking badass.

      This is the first time I can remember you sounding sort of… I don’t know. Whatever that sounded like.

      It’s interesting that you get it on so many levels. I really appreciate that. Thank you very much.

      1. People can be both, I can be both. I suspect it is why he could walk out in a pout for not getting what he wanted when he wanted. He could think, ‘she will be fine, she makes lots of money and she is alone all week on the road, she knows how to take care of herself…this will teach her.’

        He didn’t realize, I did that because he didn’t. I cleaned the house on the weekends or paid for a housekeeper, because he didn’t. I wore a medical alert in the later years, because he resented my seizures and having to spend nights in emergencies rooms (TMI sorry). He pouted when he couldn’t have new golf clubs or new drums, now right now.

        Yeah, I get it. Because I was there in the middle of it and still his power play wasn’t everything. There was more and I miss the other part.

        1. Maybe some day we will figure out why people often fail those closest to them. It seems paradoxical. But it really does happen.

          1. Yes, it really does. It is not that big of a mystery. We are human. We fail sometimes at being good humans. We fail at forgiveness, including at forgiving ourselves. We fail at learning from even our worst mistakes. We fail at communication. We fail to ask for what we need. We fail at active listening. We fail to think beyond ourselves.

            Simple Matt, we are human and we are by nature the most selfish creatures on earth.

  6. A storm is coming… What’s sad, is that half the time, people stick their fingers in their ears and ignore it. Then the tornado comes and strips everything away, and they’re left scratching their heads, wondering what just happened.

    1. You just described the majority of men who have been left by their wives.

      No one said we were brilliant.

      You’re absolutely right.

      1. Women aren’t brilliant either. We often let good men slip right by us, or don’t respect the man we already have. Women are often very guilty of forgetting what they have and seeking greener grass. So, the lack of brilliance goes both ways.

        1. I don’t disagree.

          But I don’t see it as my place to criticize women, who I clearly don’t understand.

          I do–to some extent–understand men.

          And even if what you’re saying is true (and I think it is), I submit that a guy doing the right things preemptively, would in most instances prevent his female companion from looking for the greener grass.

          It doesn’t excuse the woman’s role in the breakdown.

          I don’t excuse young men who grow up in poverty without fathers for committing crimes. But that doesn’t mean that combating poverty and investing (not just money, but effort) in education wouldn’t really help minimize crime.

          I feel like this is my one little itty-bitty way I can contribute to humanity besides trying to help raise a good man.

          So, I have to try.

          1. You got me on that. Although the fault lies on both parties, you’re right that if a man properly appreciated his wife, then she would be much more apt to stay.

            Also, I highly respect and understand you not wanting to get into the woman’s side of the discussion.

            I like what you’re doing here and it’s so important. You may not change everyone, since some people won’t admit that they need to be changed. But, even if you save one marriage, then you have accomplished something great

          2. I will NOT be saving any marriages. My ego isn’t that big. I promise.

            But it’s possible that someone could read something, and start asking themselves the hard questions, and grow, and put in the work on their own to change how they behave.

            To choose love.

            They will have done all of the work. And all I’ll be is a blowhard on the internet. But maybe a paragraph was part of his growing process.

            That’s my greatest wish.

            That, in the end, it can matter.

    1. Thank you. It was wild weather last night. It wasn’t hard for me to connect those dots. Right now, the sun is shining. Birds chirping. Very green. Very beautiful.

      I can connect those dots too.

      Hope you’re well. Wonderful to hear from you.

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      The house came through fine. I know of someone whose basement wall collapsed inward. I’m not even sure a house can survive that. City hall is full of water. Lots of houses in the area lost a bunch of valuables to flooding. I’m very fortunate.

      Everyone is safe. Appreciate the note very much.

  7. Oh wow… this is a great one! I got Goosebumps, probably more so because I am terrified of thunderstorms and I hate to be alone during them. Living in a long distance relationship doesn’t help with that… Lucky me that we don’t have them that often here. Most of the time we just have storms, without the thunder and that’s fine with me 😉

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      I’m embarrassed that I don’t know this, but where on earth do we get storms with no thunder? Arid climates?

      Matt <— not a climatologist or meteorologist.

      1. We also don’t have Lightning 😉 It’s just wind… but a lot of wind (last winter we had two storms with windforce 11 which translates to 64-73 mph). BTW I am living on the Dutch North Sea coastline and the average windspeed here is Bft 4 (between 13-17 mph).

  8. I really really liked this post. Many of the reasons you talk about are why I left my first husband. Strangely, he’s on wife no 4, now, while I’ve been married for 24 years to a guy who’s happy to make bangers and mash if I have to be out. It’s not the big things. You can forgive a big fuck up. It’s the unending grind of the little stuff that really saps a marriage.

  9. I am conflicted about this. It’s good, and you know I get it. And I know “every situation is different” (not really.)

    My concern is your role in the situation. What is your responsibility? Not as an instigator, but as a teacher.

    What better circumstance could there be to share your knowledge with him. Not of the split, but how he got there.

    Isn’t that your goal with this? At least one of them? To help?

    Marriage is friendship. Your strongest friendship.

    1. That’s a fair question, sir.

      What is my responsibility?

      Here’s the only way I know how to word this, and for you to accept it as a valid answer, you’re simply going to have to accept on faith that I’m telling the truth:

      I have tried to help. I have given my friend every bit of insight I possess as to WHY he responds (from a male point of view) to some of the things she might say or do in a conflict.

      On my recommendation, they both read “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.” She read it, loved it, and it brought some clarity and validation.

      He read it, referenced it in marriage counseling sessions, indicating he was trying, but never seemed to put its wisdom into practice.

      This family lives 1,000 miles away from me. It’s not like I can drive to his house and have a talk with him. He and I don’t have that type of relationship.

      I told my friend, his wife, that I believed–in my heart and soul–that the fear of losing his family would have the same effect on him as it had on me. That when he felt the agony of the loss last January, he would become the husband and father I still want to believe he can be. Scare him straight, so to speak.

      But he just doesn’t get it, man. He’s like Josh Gordon.

      NFL: “Hey Josh! If you don’t smoke weed, you can make $80 million in the NFL and be a star! If you do smoke weed, we will kick you out of the league.”

      Josh: *smokes weed*

      Same level of negligence, minus the public spotlight.

      I know this family. And I know her parents very well. They’ve been married 49 years. They couldn’t disapprove of divorce MORE, if they tried. They are very kind, very loving, very decent people.

      And they’re begging her to leave after 12 years, half of which have been miserable.

      Assuming you believe I tell the truth here, and in our private conversations, you know I despise divorce and love the idea of fighting for marriage and a good redemption story.

      The amount of laziness, negligence and selfishness on display by the husband in this instance can’t be ignored.

      At some point, the damage of a horrible marriage–for me–outweighs my fervent desire to see families stay together. And as an outside observer, it feels as if we’ve crossed that threshold. Where you HATE to see a family break up. But have no choice but to admit it looks like the move that will benefit the most people.

      I don’t like it. It doesn’t make me feel good. I wanted the happy ending for all of them, and I’m going to continue to maintain hope that there could be one down the road.

      But at this point? What’s my responsibility? Love and pray for them all. And doing my little part to try to help men like him rethink their roles as husbands and fathers.

      To be honest? I feel pretty defeated. This guy read the book that I feel changed my life… and crickets… nothing.

      And now two kids have to be sad. And two adults need to go through the agony of divorce.

      It’s a sad story.

  10. I used to say about my husband that if I needed something and a friend (or coworker/employer/client/acquaintance/total stranger) needed something, I could count on him to let me down every time. I always thought that he would come through for me for the big stuff though. Until I got cancer and he got himself a girlfriend.

    So I left him. I had to. I got so sick and I couldn’t take care of myself and he wasn’t doing anything to take care of me so I had to go home to my mom and dad. They knew nothing about any of this until I showed up at their doorstep one morning with a suitcase in one hand and snot running down my face because I was crying so hysterically.

    It was a horrific time. And that’s understating it.


    We still made it, Matt.

    We reconciled after an 8 month separation. We struggled to heal from the trauma of the infidelity. It took almost 3 years (and honestly, there are still occasions that I still struggle, but it’s a process…) and there were plenty of times when one or the other of us thought of throwing in the towel.

    The point is (you were beginning to wonder, weren’t you?) Coming back from marital disaster CAN be done. Not one single word you write here is wasted. There can never be too much support for those who are struggling to make their marriage work. It’s too dawn important. I hope you can trust me on that.

    1. I really appreciate (understatement) you taking the time to write this note.

      Made me smile. You going through so much and working so hard and fighting for what you felt and believed in.

      That’s very inspiring.

      I always have been, and always will be, a sucker for a great redemption story.

      I pray you’re in a good place, physically and emotionally.

      Again, I can’t thank you enough for sharing. And encouraging me. That means a lot, too.

    2. Oh my goodness. Thank you for sharing that incredible story!! (and so succinctly, I might add). I often wonder how many families choose the ‘easier’ road and divorce instead of working tirelessly to reconcile. Redemption. What is greater than that?! I hope you get lots of opportunities to communicate this message to the world. Glorious. Simply Glorious.

  11. This made my heart sad. But it’s very true, very spot on. Weird how something like video games v. a dirty bathroom sink can really escalate into a full scale storm. But its just an indicator of the bigger problem.
    Good thing you are writing a book.
    And also glad to hear (I assume, by omission) that the tornado didn’t do any damage for you guys.

    1. Please don’t have a sad heart! You should have seen just how gorgeous the weather was the very next day.

      Anything can happen today. You, oh adventurous one, probably understand that better than most.

      Speaking of… I’m a little behind on your latest adventures. I need to remedy that…

      Please have a great day, Aussa. Appreciate you saying hi.

  12. Reblogged this on Sorting Through The Debris and commented:
    I found this to be quite insightful, as obvious as most of it seems after reading. And it goes to show that a joyous and fulfilled life is one of service to others and not to yourself…unless you intend to be alone forever.

  13. I just got home when the sirens started, followed by a man over a loud speaker telling everyone to seek cover. I’ve never been one to worry about a storm so I opened my laptop and started working on a report. As I sat down I thought about my kids and my stbx. I was tempted to send a text but I didn’t. I know she was aware of the situation being only two miles away and the kids were just as safe with her as they would be with me. At least that’s what I told myself.

    In a way I wish I did reach out if only to express concern for my kids safety but there was something stopping me. I try not to text her because I want her to believe that I am doing great without her. I want her to know that her leaving has not shaken me so much that I can’t stop thinking about her when I lay down at night and wake up in the morning. Or that I dream about her all the damn time which messes up my sleep. I want to believe that I am not only doing fine but I am thriving.

    In truth I thought about her a lot during that storm and wanted to protect her and my kids but I can’t. This is just the way it is and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

    1. *nods*

      I pretended for a long time. Trying to online date. Acting cool when I saw her.

      It’s never been cool. Dating blows. And dishonesty never got anyone anywhere.

      I don’t care if it makes me look pathetic. I don’t care what she thinks of me. I don’t care that there may be things I could be doing to expedite “moving on.”

      I miss my family. I’m sad things are as they are. And I’m going to simply be honest about it.

      Someday, things won’t be like this. But someday isn’t today.

      The dreams and the anxiety and the wondering. I get it so much. Can’t last forever. While it does, I choose to own it. It’s what’s real.

      1. You’re right, Matt. That’s not the way it is for me either. I keep pretending it is though because I’m not sure how else to deal with all of this. The missing her, missing my kids, being in love with someone who will never be a part of my life in the husband/wife capacity. This sucks and I can’t think of any way other than to “fake it till I make it” to make myself feel like I will in fact be alright.

        1. You WILL be alright again. I think you’ll be amazed how different things are nine months from now.

          I get it so much. It’s excruciating every day until it’s not. Then it’s shitty every day until it’s not. Then it’s kinda sucky every day until it’s not. Then it’s just mehhhhhhh. Then I think it gets kind of good here and there (I’m still waiting for confirmation, but there are signs.) And then I think it gets really good. And then I think amazing things happen after that.

          *fingers crossed*

  14. This was very well written, Matt. going back and forth. secretly, I hoped your ex and son came back seeking safety and security in the storm but alas, I assume the metaphor played out all the way to the end. I really am a sucker for a redemption story. We had some pretty big earthquakes here in SoCal several weeks ago and I hated being the only parent with the kids. J wasn’t the first to call and check in with us…he wasn’t even the 2nd. I guess he is a crummy husband … and I just still wanted him to be there when the ‘storm’ raged. When will that end, I wonder?

    Sorry about your friend. Having to leave again must come with a slew of other mind games…ugh…I can’t even stop to think about it.

    1. It’s a tough time for that family.

      And yes. It’s hard when things are difficult or scary and the safety net you used to have is gone.

  15. Pingback: Florida Summer Storm - William Tillis

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