Sometimes you wake up and really do find everything has changed.
In case you missed part 1 or 2:
Writers are told to avoid clichés. Clichés like: When she awoke that morning everything had changed and nothing would ever be the same again.
In general, that’s good advice. Except when that’s exactly what happens.
Monday morning was a little different. The rain had let up just a mite—it was more drizzly than anything else. Maybe, just maybe, we were clear of the storm finally. On that note, I grabbed my favorite fuzzy robe and wandered to the front of the house. Maybe a nice cup of coffee and I’d sit down with the news.
Only the cable tv wasn’t working. Nor was the internet. And I could see through the front windows that neighbors were gathering on the corner in front of the house. Those were not the faces of people annoyed by lack of internet.
I rushed back to the bedroom and threw on some clothes, mentioning in passing to hubby that something was going on. No sooner than I opened the front door, it was obvious why folks were gathering.
I remember my face went cold and a numbness trickled down from there in sort of that surreal movie-watching sort of feeling when the plot turns and the beginning of the darkest moment is revealed. It’s great when you’re watching a movie, not so much when you’re watching water rising from three separate directions.
We’ve lived in this house twenty years, through 2-500 year floods, Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricanes Rita and Ike. Never, absolutely never had there been water in the street like this. On one side, water was creeping up from the end of the cul-de-sac. The street that leads to our street had rising water to the right and left several blocks down. The neighbors told me it was already impassable.
There was no way out. We were trapped. And it was starting to rain again.
A switched inside me flipped, that one that sets you to crisis mode, that shuts down most of the feelings and turns on that eerie calm that propels you through whatever comes next. Our family gets very, very efficient when that happens. Efficiency and stubbornness are the family’s two most defining traits—and boy did we need them now.
A young neighbor, from the house at the end of the street, the lowest point and in imminent danger of flooding, trudged past with a large bag of dog food and bottles of water that she loaded into her van parked at the top of the street. The rest of her family was in Seattle to view the eclipse. She’d stayed behind to start her university program at the same school my youngest attends. The poor girl was shell shocked already. Ok, she isn’t a girl, she’s a young adult, but at that age, not many of us are adult enough for what was creeping up on us. Being mom to a bunch of young adults, I told her she was welcome to stay with us and just let us know what she needed and we’d help. She kind of murmured and shrugged in that battlefield sort of way, loaded her van and trudged back down the street. I’d check on her again in a little while.
I returned to the house, sent hubby and youngest son to observe what I had and send out updates to family and friends, including eldest and middle sons. Middle son who had been accusing me of overreacting to the storm suddenly took on a totally different tone. He was now worried and that unsettled me. Worse though, eldest son got back to me some time later to tell me he, his wife and one year old were under mandatory evacuation and heading to her uncle in the Dallas area.
That broke my heart. I had always expected they would be able to come to us to shelter from the storm. I’d prepared for that, and now I couldn’t take care of them. No time to dwell on that—I could cry about that later (and I would), hubby was back inside and we had to plan.
What did one do in this situation? Decide what was important and move it upstairs.
At that point, hubby found our axe and a sledge hammer and put them in the attic. Suddenly this was all very real.
Lesson 5: Cats can be ungrateful furballs.
A frantic knock pounded at the door. Our young neighbor in sodden hiking boots stood in the doorway. She’d just talked to her dad. He told her if anyone offered help to take it. Bless that man!
Youngest son went to help hubby move furniture and I gathered extra cat carriers and went to her house to help her corral animals. Four cats and two dogs.
In general, dogs are easy. You put a leash on them, and they’re thrilled. Oh, boy! Oh, boy! Walkies, let’s GO!
Cats, not so much.
She had one cat crated, but the other three had done what cats do best, disappeared under beds. Of course. What ensued next had to have looked like a scene from a Three Stooges movie. I was crawling around a total stranger’s bedroom, trying to convince a cat to get out from under a bed. Bless her heart, my neighbor was trying to sweet talk the cat.
I’ve had cats for thirty years and they don’t sweet talk at times like this–nor much of any other time either. They just don’t. I found a baseball bat in the corner of the room and slithered under the bed. The bat was just long enough that I could poke the cat toward his mistress. After three slapstick sort of attempts, she caught said cat and I showed her how to pour said cat into the carrier, using gravity to assist the process. One cat caught.
We had to repeat the process twice more, with bigger and longer sticks needed to nudge kitties into the waiting arms of the woman who was trying to save their fuzzy little lives. (Seriously I love cats—I’ve got 5 of my own—but at times—I can’t believe I’m saying this—dogs really are easier.)
Just as we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to get all six animals back to my house (not to mention what to do with them once they are there given I have six myself!) a team of three big guys from the local Mormon church knock at the door. They were at the neighbor’s house, getting stuff upstairs since that family was on vacation elsewhere. They’d finished there and wanted to know if they could help.
A few minutes later the animals were safely stowed in our guest room and she and I were back at the house with the team offering to move furniture. Water was coming up into the house now, bubbling and gurgling though gaps in the molding and seeping through the carpet like some 1960’s science fiction monster that couldn’t be stopped.
Weirdest thing was that it wasn’t cold the way I expected it to be. It wasn’t warm like bath water, but it wasn’t achingly cold either. It was softly warm, almost as if to apologize for what was about to happen.
What followed were easily the most surreal moments of my life to date. I was standing in a stranger’s house, with a team of strangers asking me what should be done as my poor neighbor was stunned into indecisiveness. I started pointing out furniture and electronics to save while I scoured rooms, shelves, closets, drawers, under beds for baby albums (which I managed to find!), pictures, and important papers. Trying to find another person’s life and figure out what to save—it had their weird dream-like quality I’ll never forget.
At last, the water was approaching our knees and we’d run out of room upstairs. I made the call: It was time to go. I sent out neighbor upstairs to pack with a list of what she needed. A few minutes later, we slogged out through knee deep water, locked the doors, and made our way up the hill to my house.
Lesson 6:Tetris is a life skill
We dragged ourselves inside and I sent her upstairs to shower and put on dry things. It was a good idea, but I also needed some time to absorb the transformation that our house had undergone in my absence. Our cats (all five of them) were locked away upstairs, their carrier bags stacked near the front door. The dog was in her crate. The place was already eerie quiet.
The entire living room and half the study was empty of upholstered furniture and our king-size mattress and box springs were gone as well. Hubby and son sauntered down the stairs with looks of proud—but tired—accomplishment. Somehow they had managed to tetris nearly all the afore mentioned furniture into middle son’s bedroom, in and around the furniture that was already there. Plus two boxes of throw pillows and afghans. It boggles the mind. Truly that is one of hubby’s superpowers—making things fit into spaces.
Trouble was, he was now at a loss—what to move next?
Gulp. Deep breath. I could do this. I had just done this down the street. Another deep breath—and some dry shoes, heavens above, I could not do this in wet shoes! I started through the house, starting at the floor and moving up, a foot at a time.
What could not be replaced? What would be difficult or very expensive to replace. Focus on that, just that. Thinking about anything else was just too much. I could do this. There was no choice.