What Our Flood Did

On New Year’s Day 2015, our whole family got totally sloshed. We arrived home late at night after a daylong drive at the end of a week away on holiday when Claire, our daughter, the first to enter the house, stepped into water. Waded into water. Lots of it.

“Dad?! Mom!? Uh . . . guys?!”

And that’s what I mean by sloshed.

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For hours, we bucketed and mopped, ShopVac’ed and mopped again. We hauled waterlogged area rugs into the garage, tried to heft saturated sofas and cupboards, and found mulchy rot-slime climbing the walls. We found all the doors and their frames bent and splintered, bloated with brine. We cracked off frayed floorboards already separating from the walls. We tipped over furniture and found the undersides upholstered with a limey flounce of mildew fur.

A major chunk of our living space was decomposing. Where was the internal source for the flood? There were no bath or laundry lines gone haywire. So we slopped, flashlights in hand, into the dark front yard. Er, swamp. There, we saw on the side of the house a distinct dark shadow – a water line – at the height of our knees. The house was soaked through from the outside like a sponge.

As the story goes, a garden water distributor (part of a defunct sprinkler system we weren’t even aware of in this house we’d been renting for just four months) had gone amok, and in our absence, liters of water had gushed, unabated, for days. Although neighbors had seen rivulets streaming into the street, and had hopped the wall to shut off the water source, no one had tried to contact us in our absence and alert us to any problem. So our sponge-house marinated nicely, awaiting our return.

“In a couple of weeks, once we’ve taken care of all this,” I recall yawning, forcing soggy optimism that night, “I’ll write a piece about baptisms. New starts. New Years.” Today, over 8 months since that moment and after two additional and significant leaks, I haven’t written about baptisms. In fact, I’ve scarcely written about anything.

Why? Because all I’ve been doing since The Flood is fixing it.

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Fixing it, and thinking about it. I’ve thought and growled and thought (as one does in postdiluvian mode) while overseeing 70+ different workmen — you think I haven’t tallied their names?– who have traipsed in and out of this house. They’ve been schlepping off the furniture, jackhammering apart stone floors, crowbarring out wooden ones, setting up industrial fans to run 24/7 for months straight, measuring moisture in rotted walls, tearing out the bathroom, stacking the toilet and shower in the garage, drilling holes through the cement screed, suctioning water out from under the foundation, ripping out the screed and dumping it, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, in a giant dumpster in front of the garage. Re-painting, reflooring, rewiring, redooring, replumbing, retiling, reeverything …

A Gesamtkunstwerk, I tell you. Only with a couple of whiney sympathy dehumidifiers instead of a symphony orchestra.

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On the day our newlyweds* arrived to unpack in the ground level of our home, it was finally — finally! — habitable. Tide was out. Walls were up. Floors were down. They moved in.

So now that it’s all done, what have we learned?

I’ve learned that the flood itself was not the thing. The thing—the swift ground level current and secret underground leaks, the destruction, the mess, damage, headache, loss, cost, labor—the thing, readers, was the metaphor.

It was all a metaphor, custom made for anyone like myself whose primary investment is put into strengthening their family. In today’s morally swampy, flood-prone world, with its potent and even toxic tides streaming nonstop through every digital device you can (and cannot yet) imagine, you need a strategy. The start of strategy is defense, as in thick walls and sound construction. But when even that fails, you need tips from friends fighting the same flood.

So I’ll be back on the following points:

  • Watertight? Think again.
  • Floods hit quickly.
  • Or they don’t.
  • Be there.
  • Block or bail. Or both.
  • It takes a crew.
  • Don’t paint over rot.
  • Rebuild, reinforce, repeat.

Please join the discussion here and invite your friends. I’d love a flood of comments.

*Right. There was a multicultural/multicontinentnal/multilingual wedding, too. More on that later.