Down the elevator. Bleary-eyed and wanting coffee. Walking through the dewy grass and waiting for the dog to go to the bathroom, please both at once so we don’t have to come down again. Back up the elevator, but with coffee, thank god. Down the elevator, lunch. Up the elevator, exhausted. Driving home, driving to the hotel. And again, and again.
I feel like I can’t really call it a flood. We didn’t actually see any water. It was our neighbors who dealt the the immediate fallout and turned off the water to the house and walked through the soaked carpeted hallways. By the time we came home from Texas it was hot and dry and loud in our house, fans everywhere. And we know people who have experienced floods; this was no flood. We didn’t lose many things. But we didn’t know when we left to visit family that we would never really return to our house the way it was before. Luckily for us, it was more like a forest fire in that way– the end result was growth and change and new life (not to mention new floors and new furniture). But it was uncomfortable as hell getting there.
Nobody wants a character building summer, but that’s what we got. We wanted a relaxing summer, a coasting summer, our usual minimally structured 1980s summer. Instead we dragged suitcases and boxes full of food from hotel to hotel to hotel. Being able to open a door and let your dog do her business without any human assistance was top of the list of luxurious practices I had formerly taken for granted. Going up and down elevators with poor tween-puppy Winnie, (she eventually learned to lie down low on the floor of the elevator for a less uneasy ride), then sleeping with her in our bed and awakening multiple times to her low growl as she heard yet another hotel noise, grew tiresome to say the least. Not to mention the kids. Back and forth we went; my husband dragged a couch onto the back patio and set up the TV so they could lounge in the backyard as our house was uninhabitable but yet we had to be there to meet with various work crews.
That first day, driving from home to hotel, Bob Marley’s “3 Little Birds” played on the radio. You know, “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right.” Then it played the next day. And the next. We literally heard it five days in a row while driving back and forth. Ok Universe, I thought, message received. We also heard The Grateful Dead’s Touch of Grey, a completely underplayed radio song, twice that first week. “It’s all right . . . I will get by; I will survive.” I took it all as signs and stayed strangely positive.
However after 12 days of takeout food and shared bathrooms and dog poop bags, I was done with hotel life. The girls and Winnie and I drove to South Dakota to stay with my parents for 3-4 weeks. I cancelled all of my summer classes. Despite the hassles and annoyances, I did beautifully during the gypsy stage of our summer. I put out emotional distress fires daily with one or both of my children. I fell into a routine away from home and went to the gym daily, sat on the porch with my parents in the evenings, retreated to a comfortable bedroom downstairs, away from everyone (except the dog, my new shadow) at night.
It happened as soon as I found out about the flood: this eerie calm fell over me. It was that feeling like when something so big happens you’re given permission to take all the other things off your list. I didn’t have to care about our lessons or activities or my class enrollment. I barely even had to meal plan. The flood eclipsed it all; my jobs became taking pictures of receipts for food reimbursement, uploading documents into the insurance portal, keeping track of timelines that were constantly changing, making phone calls, keeping the kids calm, keeping the kids happy, keeping the kids stable.
I felt this crazy sense of freedom, like someone had swept everything off the table in a movie scene where people were either about to have sex on the furniture or someone was having a ragey midlife crisis. I felt liberated and untethered in an uncharacteristic and yet appealing way. We could do this! We were free spirits, taking every day as it came! Who was this delightful new me? (See also: the blog post where I tell you guys I serendipitously got on medication for anxiety right before this flood happened.) We played cornhole in the backyard. We went to museums and walked through old cemeteries. We went out for ice cream. “We can do hard things,” became our summer motto; I repeated it to the kids daily, when they were missing Daddy or lamenting that we still couldn’t swim (Because, broken arm, too, remember? Of course.), or when they were angry that I couldn’t tell them how much longer until we could live at home again. I was rocking it, mostly.
Then we went back home. When I walked into the house, I realized I hadn’t prepared myself for the fact that there would be nothing in it. My husband told me; he did. I knew he had put many (most?) of our belongings in bins in the garage or back porch or shed. I knew he had ripped out all the carpet in preparation for the flooring people to PUT IN THE DAMN FLOORS AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. But when I walked in, (always wearing shoes on the plywood floors) and realized I had no idea where anything was and much of the furniture wasn’t even in the house, I kind of lost it.
I wanted to sit in my bed and read a book with my pillows and heating pad. I wanted to turn off the overhead lights and turn on my night table light so I could feel that cozy sense of “I’m home.” But I didn’t know where my lamp was and there was a pile of my husband’s T-shirt on my night table and I told him to please not be offended by my emotions, as I knew he worked so hard while we were gone, but I just needed to cry. And I did.
And I cried the next day, and the next. Every day I went into the backyard and called my mom and cried. Maybe because the contractor had us wait 5 hours before telling us, never mind, they were coming tomorrow and who cares that my husband took the day off work to meet with them? Maybe someone woke me up out of a dead sleep at 7 am, leaving me to hold up my dog as an “outer bra” when answering the door in my pajamas because nobody had told me they were coming. Maybe it was the timeline of the flooring getting moved back, and then again, and again, causing me to move the furniture delivery back again, then again. Or when they fired the subcontractor and nobody entered our house for an entire week, while we continued to pad around the work zone in our flip-flops.
These were whiny problems. I had seen people complain about contractors and home repairs on Facebook for years. Oh, what a bummer, I would think snidely. How awful to have your kitchen remodeled! Then I lived it and realized how much it sucks to have your space invaded and your time disrespected and your comfort eliminated. And also: to all my friends who experienced true disasters, I am so sorry for not just dropping food off at your doorstep or popping a gift card in the mail. I’m sorry for every time I said, “What can I do to help?” Because when you go through a disaster you become instantly isolated. Nobody else can go through it with you. You now live in a bubble that is your ravaged home, your traumatized family and pets, your contractors and your insurance company. Enjoy! Welcome home!
Every time I told someone about my unexpected emotional breakdown upon returning home they would say knowingly, “Ohhh, of course. You’re a Cancer.” OK, not *every* time. Only my super-awesome intuitive woo-woo friends that I adore said that. “It’s your home!” they would explain. “Cancers are home people.” I guess because I navigated the gypsy stage so well I figured coming home would be a breeze. I had no idea how reliant I was on my home–not simply being in my house– but the creature comforts and rituals and dammit, the STUFF, that made it feel like home. I didn’t know where my aloe socks or essential oils or favorite pajama pants were, not to mention my lamp.
I was embarrassed for two reasons: I needed all these things so badly to function, and I didn’t KNOW this about myself already. How did I not see this coming?
Let’s skip to the happy ending. We have new floors and new furniture in the whole house. We did tons of painting, even the rooms that weren’t affected by the flood, just because. We got house plants. We’ve decluttered, mostly because a bunch of our crap is still in those bins. We’ve settled back in and have separated out what we still truly need and want and what it’s time to let go of. The flood coincided with a pivotal change in our stage of life: We no longer need bins and shelves of toys in every room, nor do we need to tape elementary school artwork to the walls with scotch tape. I’m not sure when it happened, but… shhhh…we can have nice things again!
The flood felt like a forest fire that wiped out all this old shit, shit that it was time to let go of. It ushered in a new time of more faith and flow as well as brutal self-awareness. For weeks after, I was (still am, sort of?) wrecked and exhausted, struggling to find my old routine and pick up my nutrition and meditation and self-care habits. I’m working on it. I started writing again, like a LOT, and that feels amazing. This flood was messy and frustrating and sort of ruined our summer. But we needed it. And I’m grateful for it. You will NOT hear me say it was a blessing or that we are blessed, but yes, I am grateful for the flood.