Saturday, September 2, 2017

Harvey: My Day 3

I can't keep track of the days anymore. Do I start with the day the hurricane hit? The day the flooding started? When my parents evacuated? Is day 1 now my brother's Day Fucking One? I have no idea. I've been here for 3 days and a small lifetime. It's September 2nd, let's start here.

Today was better. I don't want to overstate- it's still hard and dirty and overwhelming and awful. But it was better.

Yesterday was terrible. I suppose we should actually start there. I got to town at sunset on Thursday and the images that greeted me will be burned in my mind forever. The trash, the mud and slime, the furniture and belongings strewn all about the yard. My mom standing in front of the house covered in drywall and looking so fragile. They were running on adrenaline, and after having 6 extra workers in the house all day, had made some good progress and were feeling like they had a good handle on the demo. We left the house late, got to Eric's later, and went to bed after midnight, me tucked into a daybed in Eric's 3rd floor loft with my baby bro a few feet away on a camp cot. It was like we were children again camping in my parents' trailer. Even though the situation was pretty sad and overwhelming, I slept the best I'd slept since the storm hit a week prior. Hard and instant, I didn't even know my brother had left the room in the morning until I shined my iPhone flashlight on his bed to discover a crumpled blanket without an Eric.

And so the day dawned, with many to-do lists and the realization that we needed to divide and conquer. The house didn't have power and cell service was terrible. We needed to talk to insurance agents, adjusters, and appraisers. Mom and dad needed an apartment. They needed a furnished apartment- no wait, they had furniture they could move - maybe just a 1 bedroom apartment. And a storage unit. There aren't any storage units available anywhere? Okay maybe a 2 bedroom apartment with a second bedroom for storage. Mom needs a car because hers flooded out. Have you talked to the insurance appraiser yet? Where is our adjuster? Are FEMA and National Flood the same thing?

Despite getting up at 6, lots of phone calls and lists and attempts at organization later, the boys didn't leave for the lake until 9 and my mom and I decided to head to Target to buy a laughingly insufficient 8 storage bins, intending to clean out their closet, and then stop at apartment complexes near their house to rent them a place to stay for a while.

We stopped at one complex. It took forever but we were finally able to see a unit. It seemed okay. We talked lease terms. Mom couldn't talk about lease terms. I wrote a lot down, we promised to get back to them. We drove to another complex. Mom liked it a little better. We talked lease length. Mom started crying. We decided to rent a one-bedroom here because it would be available 15 days sooner. We needed 3 separate money orders for the application fee and various deposits. We had to drive to a bank 2 miles away on a road so clogged with cars it took 25 minutes. Turns out, you can only buy money orders with cash. The bank only had an ATM in the drive-through lane around back. We got back in the car, waited in line, got the ATM. The ATM rejected mom's card.

My mom is a strong, smart, competent incredibly put-together woman. That moment about broke her. It didn't of course, but I was so glad I was with her, could hand her my card, could get the cash, could move the fuck forward through this ridiculous process to get a 600-square-foot one-bedroom apartment they didn't want for a length of time they couldn't determine so we could finally get back to the house she could barely stand to see to work all day to tear it apart.

We did finally get the apartment application secured, promising to tackle the "copies of bank statements and pay stubs" later that day (I ended up sending screen shots from their banking app; it worked, I feel like the leasing agent just felt bad for us by then). Mom and Dad had felt so lucky and productive the day before with all their help, they told people to move on to other houses, not quite realizing the extent of work still to be done in their own. Eric had a friend over who worked like crazy, but it was mostly just us. Mom and I got all the decorator items from the upper shelves of the living room to the upstairs for safekeeping and started to clear out the master closet. We realized there's a lot of sopping wet drywall behind all the built-ins and shelves, so we needed to get EVERYTHING out of everywhere downstairs so they could rip it all out to get to the water-logged stuff hiding behind.

Tons of work, so little visible progress, so much more water discovered. Our 8 bins were filled immediately with almost no difference in closet content, so I moved on to other things until we could find more. I was cleaning out their built-in desk and couldn't get the top drawer open. After yanking it out I realized it was FULL to the brim with water. It sloshed out onto the floor and I saw a calculator and several birthday cards we'd given them over the years floating around inside. It was just one more little blow.

We kept going, and we really did get a lot done, it was just a day of realizing how very much more there was to do. Their insurance adjuster hadn't called; neighbors had FEMA on site and we still hadn't heard anything from ours; we were getting conflicting information on what to tear out and what to save; the power was out... it was just a hard day.

We drive home, stopping to get Eric a tetanus shot (a shot located thanks to the fast googling of a far away friend), ate pizza, vegged out in front of the TV and went to bed. I have struggled with insomnia my entire life and I fell asleep so fast last night I was still holding my phone in my hand. It fell out and clunked on the floor around 2 a.m. and scared both Eric and I (and his dog, nestled between us) to death.

Today we knew better. We left earlier. We knew what we needed to do and we accepted the help to do it. My brother-in-law had arrived from Colorado with a burning need to help and a truck filled with the supplies to do it. His family friend Pete was with him from Colorado and his dad Bill (who lives in Kingwood but was blessedly unaffected) (well, in Kingwood, they have a house in Rockport that definitely was affected and which they're going to go fix up tomorrow) joined too. Billy's sister had her baby two days before and was coming home to their Kingwood house that day, but they were all at our house, working nonstop until we made them take water and food breaks and then back at it again. My uncle from Houston (temporarily stranded in Dallas after being in Minneapolis) had made it back to town and showed up and just hauled wheelbarrows of drywall trash out to the curb again and again and again x 100.

My mom's teacher friends showed up in a pack of 6 and worked like crazy helping us pack up every single salvageable item from the downstairs. All my parents' upper cabinets and shelves survived- in all of the kitchen, study, bathrooms, closets, etc., so, happily, many things were available to be packed. Unhappily, you couldn't get a plastic bin in all of the greater Humble area. Friends had secured some the night before and we took 8. My uncle had found 4. Another aunt and uncle hit jackpot in the Woodlands at the Container Store and bought 25 and hauled them over. We filled them immediately. They headed all the way back to the Woodlands and bought 40 more. We'll use every one.

Like apparently everyone else in the area, we forgot that flood clean-up would also involve a move. A teacher friend offered to store the bins in her home until my parents can go through them and pick what to put in the apartment. Another teacher friend pulled up with her truck to haul them away. So much of the work is managing the help being offered and knowing what you need to ask for- it can be overwhelming and I think it really helped to have me, a somewhat-neutral third-party to do that. My mom couldn't pack, it was too much, so she moved bins and filled the upstairs with as much as we could cram up there.

We got so. much. done. It was an upbeat day. A beehive of activity with people who were there to WORK. Friends brought lunch. Strangers stopped by with a wagon to ask if we needed water. The insurance adjuster finally called and though he can't make it to the house to mid-next-week, was at least able to give us some guidance on how to prove up our claim and manage the trash building up in the yard. The professional demo crew showed up and told us we'd done an incredible job and saved $30,000 on the demo bid for doing so much ourselves. It was a day of highs in what was still a sea of low.

There's a dead catfish in the pool, along with an inflatable pool and duck decoy that are not theirs. They still have a jet ski that isn't theirs in the yard. The giant tree and 30 feet section of 6-foot-tall wooden fence (not theirs!) are gone thanks to Billy and his chainsaw. There is still so much, but man, is that endless list shorter today and my parents' hearts are the lighter for it. Leaving the house tonight felt different. Even if it took 15 minutes to lock up because the doors are so swollen with moisture we have to keep sawing them to get them to close.

I tried to take a few happy pictures today. I had hundreds of the destruction for the insurance claims, but none of the family and friends helping us through.

My sister sent Billy with a note to my parents; it was beautiful and I lurked around while they read it to capture the moment. We have so much. Much of it is wet and out by the curb right now, but so much more than that is intangible and runs deep. The fact that my brother has worked non-stop since they got to the house- I learned today he ran ahead of them when they waded onto their street and was already tearing drywall out by the time they walked up. Me finding out about the flooding and being unable to sit still until I was in a car driving from Fort Worth loaded down and ready to help. My sister, going crazy up in Colorado and sending her husband and all his equipment and know-how down to help while she stays with Sky even though all she wants is to be here. My aunts, uncles, cousins; our friends; my parents' co-workers; the whole damn town. Our roots are deep, our hearts are full.

There's still so much to do. The garage hasn't been touched and is full of salvageable items and thousands of dollars of water-logged tools, many of which were passed down to my dad from his grandfather. The backyard is still a mess. The pool needs to be dealt with. My parents still need to make an inventory of every item that was lost. My mom still needs a car. They need additional experts and professionals at the house to give quotes and opinions on the stuff left behind. They need to move into an apartment, unpack, and re-allocate their possessions between a garage spot, friends' house, their own 2nd story, and their new rented place. We have some organizing to do upstairs. They have months in an apartment and a massive home renovation to oversee.

But right now, exhausted and dirty, it feels doable. It may not tomorrow; it for sure won't on some of the days ahead. But I truly feel they're going to bed tonight feeling like it's all a little bit more okay, and right now, that's the mark of a damn good day.


  1. Longtime reader / occasional commenter here sending lots of love and light to your family from west coast LA! Thanks so much for sharing these stories during such a difficult time.

  2. The photo of you and your beautiful mother made me choke up. So much love and light to all of you.

  3. Thanks for keeping us updated. We're pulling/praying for you.

  4. After Katrina, my husband and I (kidless), were sitting in church when the preacher said everyone who could, needed to go help. A UMC church gave us a place to sleep, some masks and gloves, and directed us to a house to rip out drywall. We did demo work. And seeing homeowners so grateful to have saved them that cost was so worth it. Prayers and love coming your way.

  5. It's all just so overwhelming! Your family is amazing and I'm sure your parents are so proud of the children they raised. I know how hard it is to lose so much in a flood but what shines through is how much love exists between you all. That is priceless!

  6. I'm so so sorry. You and your family are amazing. I know thoughts and well wishes are pretty much meaningless (we are sending $$ to local organizations that will hopefully be meaningful) but I feel like I need to send some love from an anonymous blog reader.

  7. We lived in Kingwood for 18 yrs. It is heartbreaking to see all of the damage. It IS wonderful to see the way friends and strangers are helping each other. Praying for your family! I know it will be hard to have KHS closed for the entire school year. Thank you for posting the donation list. You've all been such a blessing to your parents! xoxo Lori

  8. Oh, your poor Mom! I am glad the next day went better, and hope it continues improving day by day, as things progress.

  9. Sorry the know that your family is among those impacted.

    Below is mostly C&P from Facebook, but there are a couple crucial items for self-demo in here.

    Mold can start growing within days after water intrusion. Some people are not taking out lower cabinets, toilets, tubs, etc.. All of these things have areas underneath them where mold can grow. Water will wick up through Sheetrock and insulation. Where possible, don't tear out above 4 feet of Sheetrock. That's the standard size, so it's easier to install new Sheetrock.
    Lower cabinets HAVE TO be removed to get to the Sheetrock behind. Cabinet makers will be overwhelmed, so try to get on someone's list as soon as you're ready. (There are custom online companies that you could consider, or contact the builder of their home. As it was recently built they may be able to tell you manufacturer and/or color so lowers can be matched to existing uppers. They may also have a finish out plan or order/inventory worksheet they they can place an order on.)

    DON'T PUT ANY INSULATION OR SHEETROCK BACK UP UNTIL YOUR WALL STUDS AND BASE PLATES ARE DRY. They won't be dry for a good while. Weeks. They may look and feel dry but you need to get a moisture meter (any home improvement store for less than $50) I think 15 percent moisture is the baseline. Double-check this; I was in kitchen & bath remodel a few years ago and I'm not positive.
    After your home dries out, the pest control companies can spray mold treatment (concrobium, Bora Care, Shockwave and others) This will be critical for resale. Keep your papers to show potential buyers that you treated your home. Would you buy a flooded home without assurance that mold wasn't growing in the walls?

    And remember, getting the wet stuff out of your home is a sprint, but everything else is a marathon.

    Good luck!

  10. I am thinking of you and pulling for you and your family LL!! Sending love, Alli

  11. I have been following your blog off and on since I was in high school, your mom was my AP Biology 2 teacher, and all those terrible things were happening with Landon when he was a baby (it has been a decade now I suppose). I love reading your blog and I absolutely never comment. I should. You are a few years ahead of me with the kids (I have none), but I always worry what my life will look like as a working engineer when my husband and I finally decide to have kids. Your joy for life with your family is inspiring and I love following along! Also, you love Colorado, barre, and margaritas. I get this.

    Although I have not talked to your mom in years, she still remains as one of my favorite teachers -- someone who inspired me to pursue a career in engineering and taught me what I was capable of achieving if I set my mind to something. It breaks my heart to see what your family is going through -- my thoughts are with you guys right now <3