When last we left our heroine, she was standing sans pants as rising floodwaters inched toward her front door…
“Don’t worry about where my pants are, that’s not important right now. Please get up! Just…please, please, pleeeeeaaaase. Come. Look.” I gently yanked the covers off Jeremy, pulled on some shorts, and streaked out to Lily’s room.
Somehow I was able to put on a brave face before bursting through her door. I collected my shit and calmly told her that I’d like her to get up please and throw a few things in a suitcase. No, there was nothing to worry about. Yes, do it as fast as you can. Why? Well, because we might have pull off a water evacuation of sorts in a bit, okay? Okay. Cool.
Lil never ceases to amaze me. She sat up and gave me a weird look, then rubbed her eyes, nodded and obeyed without so much as a question. She is the exact opposite of me in a crisis: All business.
I began pacing by the front door. Jeremy came into the kitchen, hair matted and eyes beady from sleep, wearing his summer weekend uniform of torn basketball shorts and an old Richard Pryor tee shirt. He glanced outside, and then set about making coffee.
“What the fuck are you doing??? We’ve got to get out of here! NOW! NOW! Come ON!”
I started pulling him back into the bedroom, yanking out a suitcase and filling it with random shit.
“Babe. Try and stay calm. I’m not going to be able to do anything about this until I’ve had coffee. Just give me a second to think.”
He popped in a K-cup and we waited in silence for it to brew. Then he simply opened the front door and walked down the driveway, wading out into the waist-deep water that was fast filling the street. Coffee cup in hand, it was as if he were walking out to the patio for some Sunday morning chill time.
“I need to see if the whole subdivision is flooded. If we can even get out.”
I balked. “But…seriously?”
“Just try and stay calm. Pack a few things, because we obviously can’t stay here. Hopefully my house isn’t flooded, too.”
And off he went, disappearing into the vast brown lagoon that had been my pretty little street just 12 hours before. My mind racing, I envisioned various ghastly scenarios involving giant waves pulling the love of my life down into a watery grave. Or perhaps he’d come upon an alligator, hungry and frustrated that our little neighborhood lake was now indistinguishable from the actual street.
I called Jeremy’s name and the surrounding silence was so thick my voice bounced off the empty houses around me. Apparently everyone but us had evacuated in the night (Good job, me, turning off the alerts on my phone because the flash flood warnings were, like, soooo annoying).
Meanwhile, water was steadily creeping up the driveway. Perversely, it kind of reminded me of childhood vacations at the shore. All day we’d go nuts in the water, until the sun was starting to give way to evening clouds. We’d watch as the tide rolled in, gobbling up the beach while we dragged our chairs and towels higher and higher up the banks of sand to avoid getting our stuff wet. But this was quite different; I couldn’t pick up my fucking house and move it safely away, and this water had people’s furniture floating in it.
After what felt like 3 hours, Jeremy returned safely. “This is nuts! Did you know that when there is a flood, like a million spiders run all across the water? There were SO MANY SPIDERS!” This was an added horror. “Well, the whole subdivision is flooded and the water has definitely risen since I waded out…If we want to try and go for it, we should do it now.”
“Wait. You mean…try and drive out?” I asked. That seemed insane. The water had to be at least 3 feet high in the road. I remembered a time in college, when I ignored a ‘Road Closed’ sign and drove into an enormous puddle where the river regularly washed onto a rural back road. I’d done it plenty of times before, but this time my engine was tired of my hubris and stalled out, leaving me to walk back to town and call a tow truck from a bar that was closing. There was no way. No way in hell.
But I had to trust Jeremy’s instincts. They tend to be pretty good, generally, and I was unable to think of any better ideas. We could all swim, but there was no way we’d get the dogs to do it. Ted didn’t even like to pee outside when it was raining. The alternative, staying in the house as it filled with water, scrambling up to the roof… in August…in South Louisiana…with two pit bulls… No. No, this was really the only option.
So, we grabbed a few things and tossed them into the trunk of my car. My single and lasting regret is that I didn’t move my photo albums. Being a meticulous memory-keeper, I had an album for practically every year of my life since high school. Of course, keeping those massive, overstuffed monsters at the bottom of my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves made sense because of their weight. And planning for your house to get filled with water at some point is really not in the forefront of most homeowners’ minds. Still. I wish I had thought of it.
Next, we wrangled our idiot dogs, with their tongues hanging and tails wagging: Car! Car! Car! And we boarded my Hyundai, slowly and carefully inching down the driveway. It felt like launching a small boat into the harbor. I have no earthly idea how we did it. We glided through the neighborhood, past neighbors sitting on the roofs of their cars, shaking their heads at us as if to say, “Stupid. Why you gotta be a cowboy?”
Miraculously, the engine held on. Lil, who was facetiming with her friend Hailey, also stuck in her house a mile away, finally started losing it as the water began seeping into the car through the floor. She pulled her feet up under her and whispered, “Mom…. MOM….There’s water!”
“I know, honey. Just hang in there. We’re almost to higher ground.”
I don’t know if I believed this or not.
We made it to the edge of our subdivision, where a pickup truck stacked high with furniture and human beings was about to venture down the only road that headed out of the neighborhood. We looked ahead, and most of it was submerged. You couldn’t see where the street ended and the water began.
We cracked the window. A kind man, whose face I cannot remember but for whom I will always be grateful, yelled, “Y’all gonna try it?”
“Think so; we’ve made it this far, hopefully O’Neal isn’t flooded, too,” Jeremy answered.
“Well, we’re about to drive into it…y’all follow us.”
Were it not for that truck, I’m not sure we’d have made it. Having them in front of us pushed the water out of the way so that we basically rode in their wake. They paused frequently and people jumped off, grabbed shit, got back on. But we all made it out. Within an hour, the whole area would be underwater, but we were the last people to make it out by car.
It wasn’t until we reached Jeremy’s neighborhood, and I knew that, for the time being, we were safe, that I finally started to cry.
I cried with gratitude for our survival, mostly. With relief that we’d escaped in one piece. But I also cried for what I knew I had lost. For what everyone around me had lost. It’s just stuff, I told myself. The important things are right here, in this car. And I do know this. I do.
In the almost year and a half since the flood, many communities have rebuilt. Some buildings remain boarded up and closed, but a visitor today would probably never know that, one random summer morning last August, a third of Baton Rouge had been sitting under water.
I still get nervous when heavy rainstorms sit over our city for more than a day, although rain is perfectly normal for southern Louisiana. I make sure most of the important things I’ve recently accumulated are kept on higher shelves. I’m grateful for the what I have, for what survived. I’d like to say that the flood taught me to ‘let go of the small stuff’, or some sitcom-type lesson like that, but mostly it just reminded me that life is unpredictable. You can’t be ready for most of the crazy stuff that gets thrown your way. But if you’re lucky, you’ll get through it and hopefully be even stronger for when it comes along again.