Grey Water

It was the last Thursday of August, and my husband was working late. I took a moment between bedtimes to flip through the latest fold-out map from National Geographic. It was an illustration of how our continents' coasts would change if all the world's ice were to melt into the sea. I browsed with morbid fascination at the sheer amount of human habitation engulfed by such a swollen ocean: Venice, Stockholm, Beijing, Tokyo, most of the major centres along America's eastern seaboard, huge swaths of eastern Mexico and Brazil, most of the Netherlands and Bangladesh, and so much more, lost under the blue.

I thought back to that map a few hours later when I found myself standing in water where there's long been dry land, or, more specifically, dry linoleum tile and carpet. As I rushed around my finished basement, unplugging appliances and draping cables over table-top stereo equipment, I was struck by the deception of that still and serenely painted blue. That melt-water wouldn't creep forward in lovely shades of aquamarine, I thought, now helping my husband keep up with the murky tide flowing steadily from the laundry room, they would come like this, grey-brown with the residue of all the terrain they submerged before they came to swirl about your ankles. The beaches and grasslands of river banks, the asphalt and concrete of city-scapes, whatever pestilence adheres to the inner walls of sewer pipes overwhelmed by rain and flowing backwards into basements - ugh. Don't think, just bail.

It's amazing the calm industry that can come across a soul submerged in a small-scale catastrophe. My husband and I, two people who usually stand paralyzed in the face of the endless mundane list of home-owner to-dos, remained mobile and productive throughout the night of our little crisis. The pictures don't get hung and the baseboards aren't reglued, but it only took one trip to assess that my husband could most efficiently haul water up the stairs and out to the alley if our rubbermaid garbage bin was one-third full.  As the waters receded and clean-up began, our priorities remained clear: keep dry what's still dry, get rid of what's wet. The laundry got sorted with incredible ease when dampness was the only divider. Boxes we hadn't gotten around to unpacking in our two-and-half-years residence were finally emptied and sorted. Books and papers we should have parted with long ago finally left our possession. There's nothing like seeing old things soaked in contaminated water to make you decide whether you really still needed them anyways. Transcripts, yes. Illegible class notes, no.

I had to laugh a couple days later when a friend asked over Facebook "when's the last time you took a deep breath and did something you never thought you could do?" My answer, Thursday. I never thought I'd spend an hour scooping up sewer water with a honey pail while wearing white pajamas. I never thought I'd be watching a small rubbish bin swirl gracefully in the current over our carpet like a scene out of American Beauty and wishing for the leisure to film it. I suppose it was technically Friday by the time I was ripping up my wedding album - the pictures were salvageable, the proof book was not - but by then I'd learned not to inhale too deeply.

I kept telling myself this is no High River. The water came in inches, not feet, and receded within hours rather than standing stagnant for days. Help was a phone call and a 15 minute drive away, in the form of my father-in-law and his shop vac, and insurance called back before the sun rose on our midnight misadventure. The deconstruction crew was hard at work the next morning and done the bulk of the clean-up before we'd gone to bed. And throughout the noise of extraction, the humidity of the power wash, and the smell of the decontaminate that had me wondering if I'd be giving birth to a three-headed baby with a compromised metabolism, our house remained a relatively safe and livable place. Our main floor swelled with belongings and dirt tracked from downstairs, but it only took three friends and one Saturday to absorb the things we'd need, box up the things we didn't, and clean up the slew of germs on our floors and counters. Vexing, very. Disastrous, not quite.

While our storage reorganization is hardly ideal, we were surprised how much space we weren't efficiently using. The pantry is now conveniently located steps from the kitchen instead of down the stairs, a fair trade-off for towels on a different floor than the bathroom. Our overly large playroom/guestroom works comfortably enough as an office/tv room, allowing both a tidy quite place for post-child-bedtime relaxing and a room with a door to prevent the theme songs of juvenile audio-visual entertainment from implanting themselves in parental brains.  The new toyroom is a little cramped, but that just keeps it from getting hopelessly messy. After all, necessity is the father of invention, and a wondrous motivator to boot. 

We're now bobbing in the windless sea of waiting on insurance. Deconstruction is first priority, restoration work is not. Our ruined furniture is finally gone, but the list documenting it is somewhere in transit. We've replaced a couple things, but won't do more until we know how much we'll be reimbursed. The kids don't seem to mind that we took the school year at a stumble. This new normal is settling out okay. So we'll wait, and try to be thankful that we're not stuck treading water. For while we're down one lovely basement, there's no mold setting in.


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