Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In the Wake....

This post is a long time in coming, partially because I had limited online access, but more because I didn’t know what the hell to say. Most of you already know I flooded. But when we say “flooded” we generally mean, “I got a little water that was a flipping inconvenience and now I’m going to whine about it while I squeegee and bleach my floors”… that’s not what happened this time… it’ll likely never happen again, I’ve got neighbors who have been here more than forty years, and they’ve never seen anything like it in this area… I’d give you a nice, sarcastic, “aren’t I so lucky?” line, except, I’m thinking I am – lucky, or blessed, or both.

My youngest woke me at seven in the morning to tell me there was water downstairs. It’s summertime, so I was half asleep stumbling down to the kitchen to see what the problem was. It rained heavy the night before, and I thought maybe we had a little water coming in from somewhere… nope, not a little… the entire lower level of my house had nearly a foot of water and it was rising fast. The current was so ridiculous it slammed all the doors shut and just kept coming, and I looked out my kitchen window to see that there was a three foot deep river of water just flowing over the fence and surrounding my house. The current was so strong it actually broke through my downstairs laundry room door.

We evacuated the kids first, sending them out the front door with backpacks over their heads to walk, in littlest guy’s case – chest deep, down the block and away from the water… in the half hour that took, my entire lower level was lost and things were blowing up and crackling downstairs as the electric was still on. By the time I finally abandoned the house (because shock and stupidity told me it was savable at that point) the water had crested the stairs into my main level and come through all of the doors from the street.

We sent the kids off with their grandparents. And then I sat, at the edge of the river that was my street, for the majority of the day, watching as everything I had floated away. I sat with neighbors whose houses were also in the melee, and joked about how well getting the basement sealed worked once the water came in the windows… I sat with neighbors who lived two or three houses farther up the street, but were blessedly spared from the path of the water.

I went back a few times, to try to salvage things that were higher up and could be saved, wading through muck and nasty. I joked, I zoned out, and I moved on rote… but mostly I just wanted to fucking quit. Never in my life have I felt more like looking up to heaven and cursing a blue streak and to be perfectly honest, this wasn’t even the worst thing I’ve been through, just the last straw kind of thing… and a pretty big straw it was.

We spent the night at my in-laws, and I woke the next day with a screaming migraine. I spent the morning and a large part of the afternoon either in bed or vomiting, and I fucking wallowed. I did, weak and spineless as it is. And then I got up and caught a ride back to the house (as the flood also engulfed my little mini-van) and got on with it – admittedly, badly at first. By the time I got there, the water was pumped out and only the destruction remained.

I don’t even know what there is to say about the destruction. Most of you can imagine what it would feel like to lose two thirds of your house and its contents, some of you have. Furniture, clothes and appliances, all of my writing prior to the bit on my last computer… every journal from eighth grade to today… my leather bounds, holy hell, four wheel barrows full went out to the dumpster, and another three or four hundred books besides. Ack. Art supplies, books and papers, which is pretty much the sum total of my life. The friend who did most of the clean up for me is an artist, and I think he might have been sicker about the art supplies than I was. Then there were things, just things… the kids first walking shoes and christening gowns. All of the holiday stuff, and photos… pictures from when we were young, people I took the journey with, that I’ll never see again or who aren’t today who they were back then… the colors running to rainbow patterns that overshadowed brilliant smiles and mischievous eyes.

Three boxes of my dad’s things. He’s been gone nine years, but I had them, packed away. Shirts and slippers, his old humidor that held papers and cards rather than cigars. His wallet and things, packed away, just the same way he kept them, like a little time capsule. I used to go into the crawlspace once in a while and open them up and smell them, because they still smelled like him. Which is weird as hell, I know. See, that was harder than this. If there was ever a time I felt like I wanted to lie down and never get up, it was when he did.

Okay, so you’re probably waiting for the blessed part at this point, because most of this is just fucking depressing.

What I found at my house besides destruction were friends. Friends I see all the time, friends I haven’t seen in, literally, twenty years. Friends I grew up with, ones I went to high school with, and neighbors who were battling the same destruction at their own homes. I could say that the best friends are the ones you grow up with – I thought that more than a few times over the first few weeks because there are a few (you know who you are) who I couldn’t possibly thank enough or adore more.

But then there were my writing friends, like Erica and Travis and JJ and Ello, who did what we tend to do when one of our circle needs – they got the word out, and suddenly my inbox was flooded with messages and gift cards, and lovely booksies started to arrive in the mail. I haven’t gotten to the thank you cards yet, guys, but they’re coming…

At this point, my upstairs bedrooms are put back together… we painted and removed all of the floor vents to get the smell out… the lower level is gutted as is the main floor… oh, but I have internet and a kitchen floor now, so yay, progress! We’ll all be back in the house this week, just in time for school… as it is, one of us has stayed here working on things every night anyway, just not the kids yet. They’re dying to come home, too. The next few weeks will be like roughing it… no kitchen so we’ll have to use the grill and do cold food… picnic table instead of dinner table… but it’s home.

Over the past month, my best friend lost her father and another friend lost a brother. And I thought to myself, “Snap out of it, for fuck’s sake. Their road right now is way steeper than yours.” This was just stuff. Important stuff, stuff I never wanted to lose, and stuff I didn’t even remember was there. It was scraps and pieces of who I used to be, but none of that ever really goes away. I’ll never hold a card or letter in my dad’s perfect handwriting again… but it’s still in my head, every loop and curve of his signature and every word he ever uttered in my earshot. I’ll never see sketches and portraits I pained over in the past… but hell, they were just sitting in sketchpads in a dark crawlspace anyway… and the books, well, isn’t the most brilliant thing about story the fact that it stays with you? I’ve read most of them; I’ll replace the important ones over time…

A neighbor across the street lost more than I did. The water was far higher in his main floor and all of the possessions, well, most of them were picked out by his wife – she’s been gone ten years this month. He set up his dining room table and lamps in his garage. We sat out there the other day, having wine and talking (my neighbors are just cool as hell, I tell ya). I was worried about him, maybe more than anyone else. After ten years, he still mourns his wife constantly, and I know losing those things that were hers, cut him deeply.

So we sat there, at his beautiful dining room table, surrounded by remnants of his house shoved inside a dirty garage, and he said, “Maybe it was time I moved on. This thing could be a fresh start, you know, sometimes life works that way. When you won’t let go and live, it pries your hands lose so you have to. Maybe there are beautiful things waiting, when you make room for them.”

How much do you love him? Resilience is a far prettier trait than poets give it credit for. And me, I’m not used to people worrying over me. I’d much rather help someone else than take help – I don’t know why, and as someone pointed out to me recently, that’s kind of a selfish thing, too, not letting other people feel good by taking care of you. So I’m trying not to lose patience when I get the sad worried puppy dog eyes of well meaning and fantastic friends who are worried about how I’m handling things. And I’m looking at it as a massive, if expensive, spring cleaning. A fresh start to new things and if I’m really lucky the next leg of the journey will be blessed with as many amazing people as the last one was.