Her voice broke into my dream state like a prophetic warning. My eyes opened to an empty bed and a racing mind. Did I sleep through the alarm? Was there something worse awaiting me? As tempting as it was to languish in drowsiness, I pulled myself awake. She called my name again.
“Do you need me?” I managed.
“Can you come down stairs? Come down right now? The cellar is flooded.”
Flooded? We have been here only a few weeks. We are only half unpacked. The basement holds stacks of boxes. Boxes that hold her mother’s good china. My mother’s too. Her great-grandmother’s trunk made heavy with collectibles her mother spent the last decade of her life collecting. Baby books for my babies. Writing. My writing. Santas. A lifetime of Christmases of those. Guitars. Electric and acoustic, vintage and new, plus a violin and an ukulele. About eight lamps slated for Goodwill. Oil paintings and framed prints, family photographs too large to box and smaller ones in albums. Boxes. My mind raced with all that’s down there. Stuff we still need to preserve or pass on.
I swung my legs off the bed, grabbed some pants and ran down two flights. The water was cold as I splashed toward her. Both of us bare foot grabbing at what we cherished most. There wasn’t time to explain how this happened, we just moved what we could off the ground. I went for art. She electronics.
My better half and I have been in deep water before. Both literally and metaphorically. We’ve had a boat load of troubles to navigate over the decades together, and sometimes, during smooth sailing, I think we are either so used to crisis, or just so crisis ready, that we’ve learned to function well under impending doom.
About 4 minutes into our wild salvage I asked if she called our landlord. Not being home owners is still new to us, so she hadn’t yet, but she found her cell and within a few short rings was telling the whole story. She was awake. She heard a noise. At first, as we are still getting used to all the new sounds in this new home, she thought, here is another to get used to. But then, somehow, I’ll say miraculously, since it was 2:00 am, she identified rushing water. She flew down and found the shutoff. The water was already ankle deep and hitting all four walls, and this is where I was called to the scene. I also heard how the water filter was the culprit. Untested apparently.
Within 15 minutes our landlords where there. All of us pulling essentials off the floor, sloshing through the water, focused on the task at hand. I must admit I am not the best in catastrophe. I freeze momentarily. I get overwhelmed. But these three were lifting, making safe piles, getting stuff upstairs or onto a solid support. They were as devastated as us but that emotion was not useful at that moment and would wait a few hours, after all was assessed. As they worked they discussed the plan. Professionals were already called, and would arrive in 2 hours, meanwhile they rigged up a small pump. I looked at my frozen and wet feet and thought to find boots. It’s not that I can’t think on the fly, or pull together extraordinary feats, but I was set apart in this scenario by their ability to take self-directed action. Isn’t this exactly how the world is made better? Isn’t this exactly what makes community so essential? Relying on everyday but amazing heroes?
Once the water started to drain, and the most fragile of objects were, although still in wet boxes, up out of the water, the three looked at me and someone suggested,”Oh jeez, you’ve got to go to school in a few hours. Go try to sleep for a bit.” I wanted to protest but remembered the 22 students I was taking on an all-day field-trip to visit two local museums, and also admitted what kind of energy that excursion entails. I thanked them.
I crawled back into bed, my feet still damp and cold, but all I could feel was a warm joy in my heart knowing that these folks, those I left behind in the basement, were doing everything to save our treasures. I could hear as they continued the work, as the professionals finally arrived with their industrial pump and dehumidifier and fans. I could hear their calm voices as the plan extended to next steps. 15 minutes after the door opened and shut for the last time my alarm went off. As I made my way once again down the stairs I surveyed the sea of piles and stacks, now mostly un-boxed possessions strewn about. She was still at it. I looked outside as she was running boxes to the recycle bin and saw the pinkest sunrise imaginable. If I could show you a photo you would not believe that color possible. We have all caught those moments. When the whole of our world is illuminated with truth and goodness and love. It was indeed that kind of dawn.
On the school bus, I recalled the night’s events to my colleague, she noted, how calm I seemed, knowing that secondary to a sleepless night, was the loss. We have been through far worse I thought. We have buried those we love. We have lost a business and a home. We have spent sleepless nights arguing over sticky topics. We have watched our children suffer. We have suffered. And yet, we remain. There’s a strength in a history like ours, for rough waters call for excellent navigation. But I knew, as our school bus jostled down the highway, that I would have a home in her, always.