Did you ever play that game in your head? The “What If My House Caught On Fire Game”? You know the one. When you’re trying to fall asleep at night, and your mind goes to those places. Where, God forbid, disaster struck. You have a minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes. What would you try to save?
I played this in my head as a kid, and thought it was an easy game. The television. The computer. The electronics. Grab those. Easy. Just keep gathering them up and running.
I’m not a kid anymore.
Yesterday I played that game in real life, except it wasn’t a fire I was escaping. It was water.
The night before, Rusty and I watched the water creep up our cul-de-sac. We played in it at knee depth. “Wow, it’s high,” we said. But our house is 4 feet higher. We had to be okay. Certainly.
As the night grew darker, we watched the water ease up our sidewalk.
We kept mental notes on where the water was and when. We took a measuring tape out and tried to gauge how the water level compared to our front door. About 13 more inches and 15 feet of distance. Surely, the water wouldn’t raise a FOOT. Surely.
We decided if the water circled the tree, we said, we would be cautious and start taking a few things up to the second floor. Just to be cautious, you know. That level was still a good 6-7 inches lower than our door. But better safe than sorry, and it wasn’t like we had much else to do besides watching it rain.
Once the tree was surrounded, we started. We didn’t want to. We even debated as to whether the tree was really surrounded. An actual conversation to try to convince ourselves that the water was unavoidable.
I cleared off the bottom (floor level) shelf of our things in the study. Photo albums. Decorative things. I piled them on the desk. I rolled up the foyer and study rugs. Just in case the front room might get damp.
We took our shoes from the bottom of the closet and moved them a foot or two higher. I hung my clothes on the bottom rack on the upper rack instead. Just little things. Just in case.
Two hours later, the water was an inch from the door.
All those shelves in the study, full of our travel souveniers, we moved to the highest shelves or took upstairs. All of the rugs, even the one under the bed that was nearly impossible to get, we rolled up and took upstairs. The chairs went onto the counters. The loveseat got turned upside down onto the sofa. The paintings came off the walls and carried higher. What food we could make sense of I took upstairs.
I didn’t think we would really need it.
I really didn’t think the water would get in.
Two hours later, after we napped briefly upstairs in the guest room, the power went out. Thinking about it now, I don’t know why or how it ended up so bright in the house – bright enough for us to get around to investigate. Our cell phone lights I think?
As I stepped off the bottom stair, I expected to get wet.
HUGE sigh of relief. So I padded into the kitchen and that’s when I knew.
Water was in the house.
It was pouring in the back door, which meant our entire house was surrounded. As I watched it, yelling to Rust, it filled the house fast. By the time I made it back to the stairwell, where seconds before had been dry, it was soaked. I tried barricading our bedroom. I don’t know why. I guess I just wanted to save SOMETHING. But the water got in despite my efforts.
All the closet stuff we moved earlier went into black plastic bags and got carted upstairs as we sloshed back and forth through the water. All of our clothes out of every drawer, off every closet rod, it went upstairs. I left all of my fancy boots and purses at chest height…there were other things to worry about.
The power came back on, and we went back upstairs to try to sleep. I don’t know if we did.
By morning light, the house was several inches deep. We had said all along, as long as we are safe upstairs, let’s just stay. Other people need the help of a shelter, we are okay.
But then the news came that they were letting the dam go, and more water, possibly several feet, would be upon us after noon.
Rusty, God love him, took a breath and told me through wet eyes that he thought we needed to go. After a few calls, we reconfirmed it. We had to get out. I didn’t want to go. I never wanted to go. But I knew he was right.
From the moment we decided, the race was on. Five minutes? I don’t even think it was that long. I had 2 backpacks. I rushed about to throw in a few things to wear – not really paying attention to what they were. A tee shirt. A favorite sweatshirt. Some jeans.
I didn’t want to waste space on clothes.
It was like the Fire Game. Except with 2 backpacks.
I found the Ziploc bags and raced back to my bedroom. I filled them with the “good jewelry.” Our marriage certificate. My grandmothers class ring. The passports. What money I had. I stood there in the mess, feet covered in water, and cried because I couldn’t take the one thing I had from my grandfather – a stuffed St. Bernard that I have a picture of me sitting on top of as an infant. I cried because I wanted to take the two ceramic bears that Seven bought for Rusty and I with his own money. I cried because I couldn’t find the little shelf Rusty loved from his grandmother. I walked right past the electronics. It’s a damned television. Alexa. Sonos. PS4. Trash.
Keep them, I don’t care.
I wanted the bears. They cost him a dollar. To me, they are invaluable. I was afraid if I took them , they would break. So I tucked them away upstairs as high as I could, in a drawer.
Instead of the bears I saved my work camera and a few photos, plus those Ziploc things.
In my mind, I’m still standing there, slow motion, feet soaking, staring.
How do you choose?
Jesus, how do you choose.
I can still hear Rusty calling for the rescue boats through the front door. I hope one day I forget how that sounded. He kept calling, and calling. But the rain was pouring, the water sloshing through the house and outside was so loud.
But they heard.
Within a few seconds, truly seconds, we were out.
The water was hip deep just 4 feet from my door. I was helped in to the boat, with my backpacks. Our cat, Luca, was already loaded and crying terribly from her cage. Rusty jumped in with his backpack and a trashbag of his things.
The water was hip deep just 4 feet from my door.
There was a BOAT at my front door.
My car was under water. Everything is so surreal now.
We sat on the boat while our next door neighbor and his dog were loaded into a separate boat. The neighbors beside him were loaded into a third. The rest of our cul-de-sac and across the street neighbors had already been rescued. We were the only ones left.
The boat took us to the nearby interstate.
Our subdivision is surrounded by a tall brick wall. I don’t know how tall…10 feet? 8? As we made our way out towards the highway, the very top of the wall was all that you could see. The ride was rough. We wore life vests. The cat cried and cried.
So did I.
Rusty’s parents picked us up a couple of miles from our house, after we were unloaded from our rescue boat and put into another boat that was being hauled by a truck. My whole cul-de-sac, in this towed boat, riding though a flooded interstate to higher ground. I feel like I should remember the rain more, but I don’t. I only know I was wet. Everything was so wet. And no one spoke. No one had to.
Today I am safely at my in-laws. Dry (except for my eyes) and warm. Rusty has filed with insurance (not that it matters, they aren’t paying, they have told us, as flood damage isn’t insured), and FEMA. Will they pay? Stories we hear waiver. Some say a little. Some say no. But we have to try.
We just heard from a friend that our neighborhood is still too flooded to get to our house. He tried. The rain is still falling, and is supposed to continue. So it’s hard to say when we can get back and what we will be facing once we do. But when we do, we are prepared to start the work.
I can’t say we will stay. I can’t say we will sell. I can’t say anything right now because it’s all very raw.
What I hope?
I’m hoping the bears are still safe, where I tucked them away.
Right now, that’s what I am thinking about.