This blog entry might seem dramatic. It is. My life is dramatic. This day was dramatic. My condo is dramatic, which I guess makes it perfect for me. The irony is I couldn’t wait for life to be simple. I thought 2016 was my year of calm. Of being settled. A year of shorter to-do lists and boring weekends. You’d think I would have learned this by now, but just when you get too confident about the forecast for your life, God sends a reminder that you, in fact have zero control.
Wednesday, 20 January started out to be an exceptionally great day. It was a normal day at work, but I was excited to eat the egg sandwich I had bought from Harris Teeter (so good) the night before, when I went to stock up my pantry for the pending blizzard. Before lunch I received an unexpected call, informing me that I had just received a pay raise/promotion. My most significant raise since starting my job 6 years ago. I was over the moon. The kind of happy that makes your hands shake a little bit. I thought, 2016 definitely is my year. Off to a great start. Everything finally coming together.
It wasn’t 30 minutes later that I received another call. This time, from a number I didn’t recognize. “Kim? Are you the owner of unit ***?” Yes? “You need to come home immediately and get your dog out. Your entire condo has flooded.” I don’t remember if the person on the other end hung up on me, or if I hung up on them, but in that moment I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. Was this a prank? Am I dreaming? I had just bought this home four months prior, and had just finished making it the way I wanted. Paint, decorations, new floors, window treatments. I had a million thoughts rushing through my head. The fact that I had just been promoted no longer was one of them.
That 30 minute drive home felt like an absolute nightmare, mostly because I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know who had called me. I imagined my condo literally floating away. I was scared for Brooklyn. I was worried about my things. My furniture, my electronics, my clothes. The hand painted crafts I had just hung up on the wall three days ago. Was everything ruined?
When I got home, there were a bunch of strangers in my living room but I went directly to Brooklyn, who was perched on top of my love seat, soaked and shaking. He was safe, so there was that. Had he escaped, I would not have been able to cope. Things are things, but pets are family. I then looked around and saw puddles everywhere. The fire marshall had busted down my front door, and there were people already starting to clean up. It wasn’t the scene that my pessimistic imagination had been envisioning during my drive home, so that immediately prompted me to be positive. “Oh, this isn’t that bad!” I said as I noticed all of my trashcans had already been dumped out and were being used as buckets to catch the water from above. I would later eat my words, because the scene that wasn’t “that bad”, would get very bad in a few hours. I began trying to soak up some water with bath towels, having the delusional belief that I might be able to save my floors. I had the genius idea that my best friend Kelsey who lived down the street could bring her wet vac over to get up the remaining water, and then my condo would be saved and I would live happily ever after. When she arrived with the wet vac (and her 11 month old son) in hand, it dawned on me that they turned my electricity off, making the wet vac useless. Oops- silly me to think that logic would be working.
The mitigation crew arrived a few hours later, after the electrician had come to dump out the light fixtures that had been filled with water, and safely turn the power back on. I sat on my couch observing everything. The flood crew was starting with the units above and below me first, because somehow they were worse off than I was (which I couldn’t believe was possible until I looked in and saw that my neighbor’s unit could have passed as Sea World). I noticed that my beautiful new floors had started to buckle from the water, so it started setting in that there was going to be quite a bit of damage. I will never forget the moment when I looked up at my ceiling, from my couch that had been pushed into the dining room along with my other furniture, and saw a seam of water start rapidly forming. Logically, I should have anticipated this. The water was coming from the attic, from a frozen pipe in the sprinkler system that had burst. The water came rushing down through the attic and destroyed the unit above me. It didn’t occur to me that all of this water would eventually soak through those floors, and come through my ceiling. All at once it seemed, pockets of water started bursting through, quicker than I could attend to them. I got out every pot that I had, and every makeshift item I could think of to start catching the water. It was happening everywhere. The living room, my bedroom, the guest room, the closets. I couldn’t keep up with all of it. I couldn’t shift furniture and belongings around quick enough to protect them from the water. I didn’t know where the next pocket would form.
I developed a deep sense of sympathy for those who have lost their home in a fire, or a natural flood, or any kind of disaster. Although this happened to me on a smaller scale, I believe that the psychological impacts are the same. You are losing more and more of what was once your home with every passing minute, and there is virtually nothing you can do to stop it. I felt helpless. I eventually ran outside and saw some crew members from the mitigation team arriving and begged for their help as I dealt with “the worst of it”. They had to immediately start cutting holes in my ceiling because the weight of the water would soon be so heavy that my ceilings were at risk of caving in. I knew I had lost my floors. I am now losing my ceilings, and more than likely my walls too.
After the entire crew of probably 15 people arrived, a sense of paralysis set in. There was absolutely nothing I could do but sit and watch. I have seen rooms get flooded. But I hadn’t seen anything like this first hand. I was about to lose everything as the crew started quickly tearing up my entire home. They told me best case scenario, my kitchen would stay in tact. Everything else would be gutted. There were so many questions I wanted to ask that I’m sure no one had the answers to, or the time for. As the anxiety was building, I decided I needed to go out for a drive just to get away from all of it. By this point it was after 8:00pm and I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. My egg sandwich was still in the refrigerator at work. When I drove back into my neighborhood 15 minutes later, after a quick run to McDonalds, firetrucks followed behind me. My building had been evacuated, flood crew and all. Why? My neighbor burned a baked potato in the microwave and set the fire alarms off. We would be evacuated for the amount of time it took me to sit in my car, eat my oatmeal and Diet Coke and watch as the first snowflakes of the blizzard started falling down. A day that had started out with amazing news and the highest high, ended in the ultimate chaos. A complete and utter uprooting of my newly achieved life. This wasn’t calm or simple. This was a nightmare.
I called my boss from my car to tell him I would be in late tomorrow. My only reaction was to laugh, to keep from having a mental breakdown. I even thought to myself, I hope one day I look back and genuinely laugh at this moment. I am. As I write this.
I would start to receive bits of discouraging news over the next few days…We need to move out all of your things immediately, pack enough clothes to get you through the Spring. Insurance won’t be covering the upgrades you made to your condo. The upcoming blizzard will delay work. Your front door won’t shut or lock. Meanwhile, my property manager was in Las Vegas, and I was about to put everything that I own in the hands (literally) of a group of people I had just met, who by the way, ended up being fantastic.
Over the next few weeks, I would have a new experience for the books. I knew how to rent a place, how to house hunt, how to buy a home with another person, how to buy a home alone, how to build a new home from the ground up, how to lose a home in a divorce, how to find the perfect storage unit, how to move (x1000). What I didn’t know how to do was navigate through the process of rebuilding. But in the same way that we rebuild anything, with patience, faith in God and in others, the path was eventually paved and I started back on my quest for “calm”. I also don’t think it would hurt for high schools to get rid of Algebra and add a class called “How to Handle Unexpected #GrownUpProblems in your 20s”
I share this story for one, because it is ridiculous. I also share it as proof that life can throw some really tough things our way, over and over again, despite the high hopes we have for tomorrow. Being dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean you are exempt from being dealt another one. In fact, you are likely to get one because you have proved that you can deal with them.
Also, water is crazy. It stops for no one. It just goes wherever.
Lastly, I wrote this because I like to reflect on lessons, big or small, that I learn from major events. I understand that you have to be in the mood to read things like this, otherwise I will probably seem disgustingly optimistic, preachy and annoying. But for those of you in the mood, here we go. I was mad at the universe for destroying my calm life. My settled life. I had a lot of self pity, and a lot of anger. I asked a lot of whys, and I complained. A lot. But over the past six weeks I think I have been learning quite a bit about simplicity, and how ruin CAN in fact create that. I have learned to live with less. I have recycled the same five outfits and two pairs of shoes over and over. I have realized what I truly NEED, and how many things I don’t need, packed in storage that I will be donating. I have been appreciating the simple things… a wall, a door, a ceiling. The kinds of things we take for granted that many wish they had. Had this not happened, I don’t think I would sit on my couch at night, look around and think “I am so thankful for these walls.” I will be doing that soon, and for a long time. You also realize in these moments how temporary “things” are. They can be gone in an instant. Completely. You can replace them. You can buy new ones. You can’t replace loved ones, I can’t replace my precious Brooklyn. To lose the things you can’t replace, now THAT is a tragedy.
But even so, this was still tough. There were many nights I had to force myself not to think ‘how much can one person take?’, but rather ‘look how much I have endured. Look how much I have learned.’ I can tell you that when I move back home, there are a lot of things I will no longer take for granted. And if/when I do, I hope I remember the night it was taken away, minute by minute as I prayed to God to make it stop. The hardest thing to do is identify the positives in a situation that feels so dismal and unfair. One of my weaknesses is continuing to believe that life owes me something, despite all of the mistakes I’ve made and people I’ve hurt. That for some reason, the universe will choose to spare me and will put training wheels on for me when I’m exhausted. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. Sometimes life must teach us, challenge us, not in the ways we want, but in the ways we need. Opening up my heart to that concept has been a great place to start. Home will no longer just be a place I signed my name for. It will be a place I restored. A place I cried in, prayed in, a place that was brought back to life. A place that held so many emotions in such a short time. A place that had its walls destroyed, only to build stronger ones. Like I said above, this home has already proved to be dramatic. Just like me. We were meant for each other. We are a mess. But I can guarantee we will both be better for it.