This is a nonfiction account of one endless night during Hurricane Harvey.
I ask my husband on Wednesday to turn on the sprinklers because the lawn looks a little dry.
“There’s a tropical storm coming,” he says with good humor. “I’m sure we’ll get plenty of water.”
I think for a moment that we may have to cancel Sunday brunch with the in-laws. By Thursday, as the grocery shops run out of bottled water, I realize what a truly ridiculous thought this is.
By Friday night the Little Tropical Storm That Could has become a category 4 hurricane and the news spouts words like historic, catastrophic, evacuation, and fifty inches of rain.
The acceptance of it takes some time to set in. We do, after all, live in Houston. “Tropical storm” is synonymous with “barbeque weather.” Our fair city just wouldn’t be the same without its annual flash flood, and Houstonians as a principle do not believe in flood insurance. But as the reality of the situation bears down on us, I think frantically as I gather supplies and prepare to brace for the worst, can I save her home?
You see, when you have children, your home is no longer the priority. In fact, your home no longer exists. What comes into being is a nest for these tiny humans. One that, instead of staying constant and static for your eventless adult life, changes and stretches constantly to accommodate their growing wings. And when disaster looms, that nest never seems so fragile.
As wind and rain pound the coastline, I look at my smiling daughter, blissfully unaware as she watches her favorite movie. She will be three in less than two months. Her world is simple and warm. She tells me gleefully that it’s raining outside.
I look at her and wonder about her home — the room that once held her crib, now with a full-size bed and the shaggy green rug she loves to run her toes through, the piles of books she loves to read over and over, her favorite stuffed sheep that goes to bed with her every night. . . . If the storm comes, how many of these things can I save, just so she won’t have to watch them float away in a sea of cloudy water?
Tornados circle our neighborhood Saturday night. We sit holding our daughter and her baby brother in the windowless guest bathroom. The baby clambers to play with the cabinet doors. He is one. He will not remember this. She sings and plays with the faucets while I struggle to listen to the screaming winds outside, strung tight as a harp waiting for that frightening moment when things change. If the windows burst and shred her Doctor Seuss curtains tonight, she will remember.
The winds thankfully pass, but on Monday the flood rises. Our pretty neighborhood that has never seen the hint of a flood in the eight years we’ve lived here begins to fill with frightful amounts of water. We find bricks, plastic bags, anything to stop the water in a pinch as it climbs our driveway one painful inch at a time. The neighbors come and tell us that houses just around the corner are about to be under water. We pack bags in case we must call for rescue. We wait.
My husband and I discuss the fact that, much like the rest of the city, we don’t have flood insurance. We say, a little too calmly, that if we must empty our bank accounts to restore our home, we will.
Our children sleep. My daughter demands her usual bedtime story and giggles through her bath. I stay up, an eye on the water and a shot glass repeatedly refilled in my hand. The news rolls in. Levees are broken. Reservoirs are full. Thousands are waiting for rescue. A family of six drowns in their car trying to escape. The city is struggling under a dreary gray sky.
But at the top of my mind, I am wondering, will I be bathing her tomorrow like I always do? Will she sleep through tonight or will I be wading through three inches of water to wake her up? Will she remember tonight as the night her childhood home became a soggy mess and life was forever changed?
I cannot sleep, so I wait.
I look at her toys and imagine them sunk in water. I look at her books and imagine them tattered and torn. I look at the home she’s always known and wonder if she will cry when she sees it destroyed. She is not yet three and her life is just beginning. Will I fail as a mother if I can’t stand between the water and her collapsing world?
I pray, though I am not a religious person.
I drink, just enough to calm my shaking hands, even though I detest the taste of undiluted whiskey.
Time ticks by, painfully slow. I watch the clock. I watch trashy TV shows on my iPad. I watch my phone. I try to watch everything that keeps me from running to the front door to check on the water every five minutes.
I watch the rocking chair in the living room, where we took turns rocking her that first sleepless night home.
I watch the couch, where she gripped to pull herself to her feet for the first time.
I watch the stuffed pig that came home from the hospital with her, next to the monkey that came home with her brother eighteen months later. For several days, she was more interested in the monkey than the baby.
I watch my
I draw a blank.
I cannot think of a single thing in this house of any value to me at this moment, so I go back to watching her things.
I watch and wait on this endless night.
The water rises. Then, as slowly as it came, it goes away. By 2:00 am the driveway is clear. By morning the streets reappear.
She runs outside in sandals and her favorite Minnie Mouse hoodie, laughing in delight as she splashes in the puddles that less than twelve hours ago were a river threatening to drown her entire world. Cautiously we drive out, and find that neighbors two streets down have suffered significant water damage.
We are home a total of ten days. We venture out on the last day to neighborhoods without power, their lawns piled with waterlogged carpet, furniture, and mattresses. I see a mother holding a child no more than two standing outside as their darkened house is cleared out. I explain to my daughter that these are the people less fortunate. She does not understand, but one day she will. Some day in the future she will come to realize how lucky she’d been that her world had not changed.
On the way home, she points out happily to me that the sun is out.
Our story through this historic event is a boring one. It is not one that will make papers or history books or even a Facebook post. But for that I am thankful, and endlessly grateful not to be part of a more exciting story. Because this is the story of how my daughter’s home weathered a flood, and stayed dry.
It is a story she will have the privilege to forget.