As many of you know, I lost my house a couple of years ago in what later became known in Baton Rouge as ‘The Great Flood of 2016’. ‘Great’, as in ‘Totally Not Great; More Big-Budget-Hollywood-Will-Smith-Apocalypse-Movie’, and ‘Flood’, as in, ‘Yeah, Seriously, Hope Ya Can Swim Because You Could Literally Die Today’. We didn’t die, but I will say there were moments when, as we drove/floated out of my subdivision through 4 feet of floodwater with only handful of belongings, our two doofy pitbulls, and my daughter in the back seat pray-whispering, “Um…Mom…the water is…coming up through the… floor…that can’t be good…Mom?” I wasn’t completely sure.
The flood was the scariest experience of my life (well, of the I-Could-Actually-Die variety), second only to being in lower Manhattan on 9/11. I had spent most of that particular morning curled up in a bathroom stall, smoking cigarettes (Fuck you, Office Smoke Detector! It’s all going to hell!) and taking shots of Jagermeister (I know; it’s got to be a real crisis if you’re drinking Jager) from a clandestine bottle my boss had hidden in his desk for ’emergencies’. I stayed like that for hours, unable to uncoil my body from the tightly wound fearball I had become. I couldn’t go up to the roof with my coworkers and watch the towers burn and crumple in real time; I was simply too scared. I think that actually bearing witness to the tragedy would have made it too real, and I had to hang on to the small amount of self-preservation I could scrabble together on that bathroom floor. When I tell people I was in New York for 9/11, I usually leave that whole part out. I’m kind of ashamed that, at a time when the fight-or-flight instinct really should have been kicking in for me, I opted for hiding-and-fetal instead.
Still. It’s easier be self-protective when you’re in your mid-twenties and responsible only for yourself. Going to pieces is a luxury you don’t have when you need to figure out how to get your family out of a life-threatening situation, and stat. When you’re a mom, it’s a whole different kind of horror movie.
On the morning of the flood, the first thing I noticed was the quiet. A heavy storm system had been sitting over the city for at least two weeks, bringing with it steady peals of rain, wind and thunder. A relentless gray dampness had moved in, threatening to stay longer than is requisite for your average Louisiana August.
That morning though, it seemed the rain had finally stopped, and the silence surrounding the house was almost eerie. Bright morning light was streaming in through the windows and I opened the door to let some of the sunshine in.
I couldn’t believe what was before me.
My happy little street, where Lil and I had enjoyed endless dog walks, bike rides, and neighborhood playdates, had been completely swallowed up by water. Overnight, a dark, thick, fast-moving river had streamed into the neighborhood, curling around the garden homes across the street, sucking up front lawns, and reaching for the tops of windows. And it was creeping up my driveway. Fast.
Like any brave, fully adulted mother, I opened my mouth to let out a silent scream of horror, then promptly peed my pants.
When staring down a truly unimaginable and overwhelming situation, sometimes my bladder just says ‘Here, let me handle it’. There was absolutely nothing I could do. My entire body went into ice cold shock. My heart blasted up into my throat and clobbered my ear drums. And a warm, humiliating liquid fear cascaded down my legs.
As I remember it, adrenaline finally did it’s fucking job and I went into auto mode for the next twenty minutes. I calmly stepped out of my yoga pants, kicked them out of the way and set about the business of informing my family of our situation.
First I woke up Jeremy, who was peacefully comatose, folded around two 60 lb dogs.
I hoarsely whispered, “Um. Babe? So. Yeah. Looks like the street is flooded. I’m…I’m not sure what to do. Please, please get up.”
He stirred, half-cocked an eye. Drew back, confused.
“Where the hell are your pants?”
To Be Continued…