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.


Mary Witzl said...

Oh my GOD, Merry -- I want to give you a great big hug, a cup of hot cocoa, and all of your stuff back! I've got my sad puppy dog eyes on right now -- I can't help it. I can imagine this, but only in the most surreal, nightmarish sort of way. The part that got to me the most was what you wrote about your father's humidor -- I have a small box of the last things I found on my father's dresser the week after he died: a collection of seed pods, his handkerchief, a memo to himself to buy potting soil -- and they all smell like him. I open that box to remember him, but over time I can smell all those things without opening the box -- I could do this even when we were living overseas.

What your neighbor said is incredible. Only someone who has been through an experience like that can know how it feels. We might all like to imagine having a clean break with the past, but it's a tremendous thing to actually live through that and come out with such spirit.

Lillie Ammann said...


My heart goes out to you for all you've been through. My parents' home burned to the ground when I was a freshman in college, so I understand losing all the "things." You have a great attitude, and I'm so glad you have such wonderful people in your life.

Erica Orloff said...

Amazing neighbor. Really.

And I cried about your dad's stuff. I have a bathrobe that belonged to my grandfather, and I have never washed it either. I don't wear it (once in a while, when I feel desperate) . . . but I like knowing it's hanging in my closet.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

Yeah, my dad's stuff is what got me the most, too... it was like a little safety net down there, and I can remember him without it, but sometimes it was just a balm, you know, to have something to hold.

moonrat said...

Thanks for posting, Merry. I've been thinking about you but had disconnected with the blogosphere so much I'd forgotten to follow up. Good for you for taking the time to write it all down here, for yourself as well as your readers who care about you.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Lillie,

I'm so sorry about your parents' house. I don't know how great the attitude is... frankly I've been swearing a lot, even for me... but it is what it is, I guess, best to just push forward.

jjdebenedictis said...


I'm glad you're doing well, that you've got your fight back and your family can live in its own home again.

Keep us all updated, okay? I may never have met you, but I do care about you.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi E,

I'm sorry I made you cry... though it kind of makes us even, since your little rampage across the interwebs to get me books made me cry, too. Thank you, my friend, I appreciate it more than you know.

I still have a few things of my dads, his hats are in my front hall closet, sitting on the top shelf, as if he was there visiting... just his favorite ones, and people have laughed at me, for keeping them there when he's been gone so long. I'm kind of glad I was so stubborn about it now.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Moonie!!!!

I noticed you've been on a bit of a blog hiatus - yours is one I check when I'm not blogging at all, if there's time, anyway.

I'm doing okay, better every day. Maybe someday it'll come in handy for a character (the beauty of writing, no emotion's ever wasted)

How was your summer of weddings?

Merry Monteleone said...


I am sending you massive hugs and thank you's for the booksies, and thank Sarah for me, too... or send me her addy so I can send her a real thank you card.

Oddly enough, I've come to care about a great many of my cyber/writing friends at least as much as my real world ones... you of course, are way up high on that list :-) Someday, it would be great if all of us went to the same conference or something, God, that would be too fun for words...

Travis Erwin said...

Merry There are so many things I want to say but I'm ashamed as a writer to say words fail me. I still have a box for you but I'm waiting to add one thing I just haven't managed to go pick up yet. I'll get it in the mail soon.


And rather than try to convey the emotions your post stirred within me I'll just say keep plugging away like the fighter I know you are and anytime you need to chat with a friend that's been there, you know where and how to find me.

Ellie (Phoenix-Lily) said...

Oh Merry, your post brought tears to my eyes. I can understand the loss of things so dear like those of your father's. I have lost such things myself, not a thing such as what happened to you but I can relate.

I am glad that you and your children got out safely, and that you are going to be able to repair the damages to your home.

Big hugs and bright blessings to you and yours.

Demon Hunter said...

I had no idea. :-/ I haven't really been online a lot lately. And here I was complaining about my computer dying.

Your neighbor is awesome. And so are all the people who've helped you. :-D

Many, many hugs to you. And e-mail me if you need me to do anything. :-D

Sarah Laurenson said...

You are allowed to wallow for about as long as you did. It's good to deal with the feeling's first!

So glad to hear you are able to put it back together, that you still have some things from your Dad. Funny, but I don't and maybe I should think about asking Mom for something. I'm such a minimalist sometimes.

I'm excited for the new that will be and has been coming into your life. Your neighbor is very wise.

And you're quite welcome. I haven't had a chance to gather more to send yet, but we always have extras here.

WordVixen said...

Aw, sweetie. At least your neighbor really IS cool as hell! You know, after Travis' house fire, I intended to go through and save digital copies of my fave pictures and anything else that I thought would be important, and store 1 copy in our fire safe, and one copy at my parents' house. I never did, but I really think I should now. You really just never know.

Gary Corby said...

Oh no! Oh Merry, I'm so sorry for you and your neighbours.

I'm glad you still have your excellent sense of balance after such a mess.

Merry Monteleone said...


I don't know what to say, except I am sending uber cyber hugs your way, my friend... I can't wait to actually see you in November so I can buy you a beer or twelve.

Merry Monteleone said...

Bright blessings back to you, Ellie. Thank you so much. I just bookmarked you so I can go explore a bit at your place... Wicca and Writing, two of my favorite subjects :-)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Demon Hunter,

Hugs back, my friend. Don't worry about not knowing... I hadn't been blogging much before this happened... I didn't even post on it until now, I've been touching base with people via facebook because it was just easier.

And yeah, my friends and neighbors fucking rock.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Sarah,

Thank you again! I just don't feel right without lots of booksies about... I know, I'm a little weird that way.

And I'm kind of excited too. It'll be good, and everything will be brand new. Onward and upward.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Wordvixen,

Go save them, definitely! I have a firesafe, too, but it was full of water!!! you wouldn't think that could happen, but I guess it could.

You might never need it (hopefully) but man, it would be nice to have those pictures on another format so they weren't gone forever.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Gary,

So funny you stopped by - I just finally got a chance to stop by your blog a few days ago... I always love your blog, it's like getting to take an ancient history class without the tuition bill.

I guess I've got my sense of balance back, but it was an easier stretch for me than most people, since I'm kind of imbalanced to begin with :-)