Lessons from a flooded living room

I’ve been in deep water before.

I’ve filled my lungs to the point of embolism and swam to 100’ feet beneath the ocean’s surface. I grabbed sand to prove I made it to the bottom and swam for the surface. Swimming to 100’ is the easy part. Swimming back is the hard and essential part. My legs grew heavy with lack of oxygen. My hand oozing with sand broke the surface first.

That felt like deep water.

I turned the water on and plugged the drain. I left to get diapers, diaper rash crème, pajamas, and my daughter Harper. By the time I returned the bath was half full. If she rolled over on her belly to blow bubbles, her head would be submerged.

The water was too deep.

I’ve fished offshore. Where the continental shelf slips beneath the Atlantic the water turns a primordial purple.

This is the deepest water.

I’ve been in deep water before, but never like this. I’m standing in front of my mailbox and water laps at my thighs. I bend over searching for the storm drain with one hand and craning my head out of the water. I remove a single chestnut and the sucking begins. A whirlpool more than 3’ deep slurps away like some underground monster trying to drain my entire street in one huge gulp.

Lightening flashes and reflects off of water standing where there was once driveways, streets, and front yards.

When the tornado sirens go off, I look to the sky in disbelief. If I were in a movie, I would raise my fists into the driving rain and shout, “is this all you got!” But I’m not in a movie. Even if I did have flood insurance, I wouldn’t thumb my nose at any higher power.

What we’ve got is quite enough, thank you very much.

I’m in deep.

Rising water, a sinking ship

My 2-year-old daughter Harper woke-up at 1AM. I was still in my office, putting the final touches on my four-day speaking itinerary in Missouri. I slid into her bed and stroked her hair until she was fast asleep. It was the last I would even consider shutting my eyes for the next 40 hours.

In your house water sounds should come from your bathroom and your kitchen, but never the hallway. I got to the bottom of the steps and saw Annie staring at water seeping under the front door onto our brand new wood laminate flooring and pouring down into the floor vent.

“Towels, T-shirts, anything that soaks up water!” I passed out the orders like a captain on a sinking ship. I opened the garage door to assess the situation. Shoes floated by. A wave of water swept across the floor.

I slammed the door shut and stuffed it with towels and garbage bags.

But the damn water was unstoppable – in it came.

“911 Emergency…”

“Yes,” I say, “my house is flooding.”

“Sir, we are busy. All of our units are out. Just try to stay comfortable.”

I hang up. Stay comfortable?!?! What part of my house is filling up with water don’t you understand? Isn’t there a checklist for something like this? Shutoff your power? Grab your pets? Use your seat cushion as a flotation device?

After clearing the drain, the water began to recede, but the rain came down even faster and the drain clogged once again. I unclog it and run into our backyard to check the creek. It’s on the rise too. If nothing changes, we’re going to have bigger concerns than our new flooring.

I run inside.

Annie always complains about my vast T-shirt collection. “Why does one person need so many T-shirts?” The collection is strewn about the floor. Every university I speak at gives me a T-shirt. Muskingum University is soaked, so is Elmhurst College. Wingate University is well on its way.

“Get Harper and go into the half-bath (our only interior room), the tornado sirens are going off. “

Annie comes down with a sleepy-eyed, stinky-breathed Harper in her Christmas pajamas even though it’s February.

I fight the water alone while Annie and Harper sit in the closet-sized bathroom. I put garbage bags over the vents to stop the water from flowing in. I run back out to the drain. Clogged again!

The rain continues. The creek rises. Water begins to come out of the vents in the living room. First the kitchen was lost, now the living room.

Back inside I make the call. “Where’s Oreo (the cat)? Get her. We’re taking you guys down to the neighbors.”

The captain orders an “abandon ship.”

We shuffle off into the soggy night. Annie hauls Oreo in her tiny tote. I’m holding Harper to my chest, shielding her from the rain with a jacket. Harper squeezes a clueless Monkey in the crook of her elbow, and chatters sweetly to him about water. We slog through front yards and landscaping like prowlers while our higher-ground neighbors sleep in their warm beds to the pitter-patter of the rain on their roofs.

Slosh by slosh we leave our home. It’s a hopeless feeling, abandoning the only place on earth we own to forces beyond our control.

Going down with the ship

With Annie, Harper, and Oreo on dry land, I wade back to monitor the drain and do what I can.

“La, La, La, La…La, La La, La…Elmo’s world.” The plush Elmo floats through the living room face down, singing as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. A bare-bottomed baby doll silently drifts in the current flowing around the entertainment center. I grab them both and toss them in the upstairs hallway, which looks onto the downstairs.

I slog through the living room past thousands of dollars of furniture, saving $5 toys that my daughter likes to hug.

I stop and look around. What now?

In the triage of my life’s clutter, I deem nothing else worth saving. Everything important is high and dry.


A tour of our house post-flood

Good news.  We don’t have flood insurance, but because the water backed up at an off-property storm drain insurance is covering us.  We’ve been living between our home and an apartment now for about three weeks.  Today, the first of the new flooring is being put down.  We’re replacing all of our floors.  I’m sitting in my office, surrounded by furniture from every room in the house, being serenaded by a chorus of banging hammers, painters jamming to classic rock, saws, and the sweet tinkle of tile.

A question for you

If you’re living room was flooding what would you grab first?

Doug Mack says:

Oh, man, I’m really sorry to hear about the flooding. But I’m glad you’re all safe and everything important was high and dry. Best wishes for speedy repairs … and some good, writing-inspiring classic rock from the painters’ stereos.

And to answer your question: I suppose I’d grab family photos. And my laptop (since I don’t back up those files off-site nearly as often as I should). But I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had to make that split-second decision.

Kelli says:

stumbled upon your blog while researching flooding. great writing! thanks for sharing 🙂 btw, other than family members, I would rescue my laptop, and vital records (which we keep in a portable file and take down with us in the basement during tornadoes).

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