and now it’s safe to be sad.
I’m glad, though, that the house on the rock stood firm…
and now it’s safe to be sad.
I’m glad, though, that the house on the rock stood firm…
Last night I attended the lecture of a prestigious senior academic with degrees and books galore and found myself passionately, burningly, fundamentally troubled by her premise. It is opposed to the very principle that guides my work in literary criticism and cultural studies–and when I confronted her with it she said, simply, “you must not think that way. You must not.” But she had a reading of Gramsci I did not remember picking up in my training, which included lots of Gramsci over the course of five years, so all I could say was, “I’ll have to look at it again,” which in pre-flood days meant going back to my marked-up text (I never dog-ear, never) and because of those markings, remembering what I had read and how I read and what arguments the professor made and so forth, and returning to Distinguished Professor and saying, “your argument does not stand up to X, Y, and Z.” I could go to the library, but which Gramsci, what section? what passage? I don’t have time to re-read. And then when I was going through the logical steps on the car ride home, twitching, I was trying to remember the steps of social change in Vico–and I know it starts with thunder, then goes to fear, and then the invention of diety–but Vico is gone, too, along with the fingerprints of a younger, less confident, more sponge-like student and her notes. There may be some notes in the bin of files Attic Man saved as the water was rising, but they are all out of order now and not easily gone through with a grabby toddler around.
For someone with a poor memory, marked-up books constitute a history. For someone whose identity in large part draws upon her intellectual history and development, it is a profound loss to have that history, ink bled, slogged into a landfill…
Sster wrote on March 12, 2008:
Can I please just rip the contents of my house out like a tablecloth after a feast? I do not have time to clean it and there is no one else to do it. Most days I can either be a good parent (outings! attention! games! singing! art!) or have a clean kitchen.
If we could just start over maybe I’d have a chance…
So maybe I didn’t envision quite this kind of a do-over, but I have to admit (don’t tell!) that I am enjoying starting over in terms of organization. Our old house was sooooo so messy and all over the place. Part of the problem was that it was weirdly designed–the storage for the things you needed in one room was almost always in another, and usually too high or too deep to get easily. We ended up with stuff in storage (in places like over the shower–who does that??) that we never used, and stuff lying around that we did use until it got lost under a pile.
THIS apartment will be, IS already, different. For one thing it’s laid out sensibly, with wider rather than deeper closets. Even the crawl space designated for storage is easy to get to, and if smartly organized, easy to get things out of (key: pile things on either side so you have a path in the middle). The kitchen is actually big enough to keep everything you need to cook and clean.
For another, I am determined that it will STAY clean and organized. I have a pretty sweet gig right now. I work on my dissertation two days a week and on the weekends and evenings when I can get it, and I stay home with the Snapper the other three weekdays. When he goes to bed I have the evening to myself. Starting from scratch, that is more than enough time to keep things tidy. For the past two weeks they have been, even taking the extra dog care into consideration.
This time around everything goes into a labeled bin or attractive basket. On the laundry room shelves there are bins for tools, hardware, misc. utility, bath toys, emergency supplies (flashlight, etc.), and cleaning supplies. In the linen closet (first real linen closet of our eight-year marriage), I have three baskets: hair stuff, bottled stuff (lotion, sunscreen), and medication. In the bathroom medicine cabinet there is a shelf for me, one for Attic Man, and the top one is reserved for cleaning supplies (no more trying to babyproof lower cabinets. Putting cleaning stuff higher than he can reach even if he were to scale the counters is easier and safer, in my opinion). On the inside of the coat closet door (a coat closet by the door! what a revelation!) are a set of over-the-door hooks I got for a bargain for dog leashes, keys, and slings (we saved my favorite one from the flood )
So if you had to (or got to) start over again, what would you do differently? What would your new rules or systems be? This stuff does NOT come naturally to me so I would love your ideas.
In our little family today, all five of us are doing what we were made to do: I am dissertating, Attic Man is lawyering, the Snapper is at day care playing with other kids (which he loves; we have a tantrum for every leave-taking), and the dogs are sacked out in the living room after having had two good walks this morning. We are all doing so well. I am amazed that we are this OK mere weeks after being suddenly uprooted and losing almost everything we owned.
Then from extended-family land, we have a new niece this morning! She is the first granddaughter on Attic Man’s side, following five grandsons. I’d better set immediately about sending girl clothes. She has three older brothers.
And now, as a testament to the goodness of people, is the incredible (and still-growing) list of things people have done for us in response to the flood. I KNOW that we would not being doing this well were it not for the kindness of lots of people, from long-standing friends and family and strangers alike.
-Everyone who bought something from the registry. Having baking supplies in the cabinet makes it feel like home here, as is being able to take a shower behind a curtain and eat off of real dishes. Our house is coming together so quickly because of the kindness of these friends. We are giving the UPS man a real workout.
-Meg, who bought two of the most important books on the Amazon registry, the Yeats Reader and Modern Irish Drama. Meg is a dramaturgist I met while studying for a semester in Ireland as an undergrad. I carried Modern Irish Drama home with me from that semester, and while I can’t replace that exact copy, it made me cry to receive it.
-The vets at Park Towne Animal Hospital in Cedar Rapids, who conferred at their board meeting and gave us free boarding not only for the extra week the dogs stayed after the flood but the week before when we were just traveling. It was a gift worth several hundred dollars and enabled us to pay for gas to and from Madison, where they stayed for another week and a half, as well as new leashes, collars, crates, and a dog food container, all things lost in the flood. I know that vets do not make a lot of money so this was an especially generous gift.
-Speaking of money, all the family members who sent checks. We keep needing these dumb little things that one seems always just to already have around until one’s entire home gets buried in toxic sludge, like bath mats, baskets, shower curtain rings, etc. It has also helped with our more major refurnishing efforts.
-Our new landlords, who showed me the place on a Thursday, and when I returned with Attic Man on Friday, had the lease and keys on the counter. We moved in the following night. What we now understand about the housing shortage around here and rapidly rising rents (as well as the arrival of FEMA temp housing) makes us wipe our brows in relief. They really helped us dodge a bullet.
-Local friends who gave us their spare mattress and box spring and a dresser. I am not that keen on used mattresses from strangers, as crunchy as I am, and a new one would have broken the bank. It is nice to have something to sleep on. The man of the couple also helped us clean out our stuff and breathed in toxic fumes to do it.
-Our old landlord’s maintenance man, who was sent to the old house when the flood started to put in a back-up sump pump, but who stayed to help Attic Man move stuff to higher ground. When it became clear that the flood waters were going to crest at record levels, this man took the cedar chest that Attic Man’s grandfather made that was full of wedding stuff and other memorabilia, loaded it into his truck, and kept it at his own dry house.
-The Snapper’s teacher, who watched him all day the day we emptied out the upstairs and would not take a check from me for it.
-The cop who pulled me over for not having a license plate on the front (you have to do that in IA, and I was one day past due for putting mine on) and let me go to fix it. I am not proud of using the flood card but in this case it was the actual reason I hadn’t done it. I got it put on that same day.
-My brother and his wife, who let me stay an extra day at their house when the flooding started and offered to house us longer should we have needed it, and who fed, walked, and put up with our dogs for over a week.
-My sister-in-law and husband, who offered the use of their house in Michigan while they traveled elsewhere. We did not end up staying but it bolstered us to get the offer.
-My sister, who asked me what my favorite spices were and sent every single one by mail as well as brown basmati rice, baking powder, and baking soda.
-The amazing Catholic volunteers who, when Attic Man was in Davenport interning away and I just couldn’t step into that house again, cleared out all of our damaged things. It took them five hours. I baked strawberry-banana bread, which seemed like a weak gesture indeed in light of the work they did. I was glad not to have had to pick up muddy items like the Snapper’s crib mobile or that dress I loved or the books I’ve spent a lifetime collecting.
Everyone who sent words of encouragement and support. It helps more than anyone realizes.
The Snapper’s favorite toy. Within two weeks Attic Man had a replacement found on a used toy website sent to the apartment.
The reason I didn’t want to take both dogs AND the Snapper at the same time was because of some vague, imagined something that might “happen” that I wouldn’t be able to handle with all three. But then I realized that that something would be just as unmanageable with just one dog and the Snapper. As I am prepared to let a dog fight go on without my intervention while I dial 911 and keep my child at a safe distance, as painful as it would be to watch one or both of my dogs attacked, I decided that walking both at once is worth this remotest of possibilities to save me some time and hassle. So this morning I tried it and they were champs! We steered clear of other dogs because they are a bit excitable, but even so they mainly did a little interested jumping and were brought quickly into line by the leash coupler which knocks them together when I pull on the leash. They even did OK with the occasional squirrel or rabbit. They both did all their business and so I let them wander around the apartment while I got the Snapper ready for breakfast. He didn’t mind waiting because he was having so much fun watching them have their drink and investigate their new surroundings.
The other reason I’m tired is that yesterday I did SIX GARBAGE BAGS, 30 GALLON, of what we are calling “flood laundry,” which is all the stuff that was in the upstairs of our old house and didn’t get wet but got very stinky. I did it at the laundromat in two and a half hours, which I think is some kind of a record, and when I got home I was beat.
I’m surprised to be dealing so well with what’s happened to us over the past two weeks, but there’ s one thing I can’t seem to shake. The first time we returned to CR as a family to see our house the city was a wreck. After trying in vain to get a glimpse of it only to be turned back by the National Guard, we stopped by a local mall to let the Snapper run around for awhile. I of course needed to go to the bathroom. Due to water restrictions at that time all the restrooms in the mall were closed. It was rumored that JCPenny’s bathrooms were open, but I saw that one could only enter from the outside. So I walked all the way around the mall building and went up the escalator to find that the bathrooms were closed there, too, but that I should see an attendant. I waited in line for a turn to use the bathroom and was instructed to use hand sanitizer and flush only if necessary. Later we went to Target to buy baby wipes and the whole section had been picked clean. The stench of the city was awful. There was flood-soaked garbage everywhere.
Now I understand that in many parts of the world this is par for the course, and even to have some running water is a luxury. I’m certainly not complaining. But to see a city once clean (yes, despite being a rust belt city nicknamed “Crapids”), lively, and warm, all of this was extremely disconcerting. There was a frantic feel to it, and all I wanted to do was go…home, which I couldn’t do because at that point an inflatable bed in Davenport was “home.”
We’ve gone back since then, as you know from the pictures, and every time it’s the same, even though water usage is no longer as severely restricted and people are beginning to get on their feet (just barely, but it’s no longer as much of a siege situation). I just don’t want to be there. I don’t want to be in the city, and I never, ever want to step into that house again. Tomorrow I have to go there to let volunteers into the house so they can remove our damaged property, for which I am extremely grateful. They’re Catholics from out of state who are helping people in our parish. I would have felt badly about not staying to help them but the volunteer on the phone said before I could mention it that nobody minded if I didn’t want to stay.
All this is fine–we have a new place I actually like better in a situation that is in most ways better than our previous one–except that I have taken myself out of the Cedar Rapids loop, and somehow that feels wrong. It would feel right to stay there and be in there with everyone, suffering alongside members of a community. But it would also mean not getting on with our own recovery efforts. We live in IC now and are becoming members of this community. Our roots were not very deep in CR. And it’s not like we’d ever be able to live in that particular neighborhood.
Still, I feel guilty that we got out and made out so well on a place to live.
Attic Man saved the following plus more that I’m not thinking of:
Portable dishwasher with two plates, two pasta dishes, a few pieces of silverware, two of the Snapper’s plates, and a condiment cup; vacuum cleaner; microwave; toaster oven; Benjamin’s The Arcades Project; Said’s The World, the Text, and the Critic; Joyce’s Ulysses; collected poems of Seamus Heaney; all of his law books; computer; printer; bed (mattress is full of flood stench so we left it; generous friends gave us theirs); lots of clothes; our wedding toasters; our wedding quilt; cedar chest with other such items; two dining room chairs; two lamps; all pots and pans; crock pot; bills (ugh).
What I like about our new living situation:
Our upstairs neighbors are really nice–I am currently using their password-protected internet and they helped us unload the truck without being asked.
Our neighborhood is full of families with children.
Our neighborhood is ‘diverse,’ which is white-liberal for ‘black people live here.’ And we didn’t even try this time!
There is a huge (OK, not by Pittsburgh standards, oh you Squirrel-Hillers, you) beautiful park with playground, community gardens, and a soft track running the circumference (for if I EVER get to run again).
It is a bus or bike ride to the law school, a five-minute drive from the Snapper’s daycare, one mile to the grocers, one mile to the laundromat (which we’ll need until we can get machines).
Everything in the apartment is in working order, clean, and up-to-date. We have never had all three at the same time. We have never lived in a place with an updated bathroom before and I still feel like I’m in a hotel.
The landlords are nice and thorough but hands-off.
All the windows are covered by acceptable blinds and neutral curtains that we can live with until we can put up the curtains we want.
People at the playground this evening we so friendly and easygoing. In the past I have found ICers to be standoffish but I may have just been in the wrong part of town.
I don’t think I’ll be lonely here.
And at any rate, it’s better than this:
Hint: I did not leave a dog bowl and light bulb in the sink when I left.
Well, maybe a few rooms so that we don’t have to eat and sleep in the same space. And maybe a bed that’s not inflatable.
I looked at apartments in IC today and we have two possibilities. Apt #1 is a basement duplex, 2 bdrms, small yard but no fence, a block and a half from an enormous park with playground and community gardens. The upstairs neighbors are super-nice grad students with two corgis. They have nice things to say about the landlord. It’s about the same square footage as our old place. Apt #2 is right around the corner and is owned by the same landlord. It is 600 sq. ft. larger and is a half block from the same park. It is in a side-by-side duplex shared with the neighborhood grandmother who has gorgeous flowers. It has a side entrance which would be nice for taking our dogs out, as it also does not have a fenced yard. Apt. #1 is available right now (the latest would be July 1). Apt. #2 is available Aug. 1 but there is a very slim chance that the current tenant will be able to get out sooner if she can get into her new place early. We have to know by tomorrow whether or not she can get out by July 15, which is the longest we’d be willing to wait. This is not likely but I am keeping my hopes up until we know for sure.
It’s hard giving up that fenced-in yard. This neighborhood is also more congested than our old one and will be harder for the dogs to adjust to, especially the one who is kind of skittish. But people are already clamoring for places and in a week’s time we will probably be looking at higher rents and less availability.
On the plus side, both apartments are very close to everything–2.5 miles to the law school, 1 miles to the grocery store, 2.7 miles to Sam’s daycare. It’s on the busline. If we rent either of these places we will pay $100-$150 more in rent, but that’s what we’re paying just for gas to commute now (or what we were paying before our stuff floated away).
We saw new pictures of businesses in our old neighborhood today and we are getting more and more persuaded that it’s going to be a total loss. This A & W is seven blocks higher than our house. The picture was taken before the crest:
(Picture taken by eagletouch on flickr.com)
I’m anxiously awaiting the barricaded area to open so I can see my house–and it will probably be the last area in the city to open (you know that famous picture of the railroad bridge with the houses smashed up against it? That’s yards from our house)–and to hear from our current landlady about other possibilities for residence in CR. I’m also waiting to hear back about another rental in a little town outside of IC. Whatever the case, we need housing now. If we don’t secure it soon we may be looking at a FEMA trailer. There are a lot of people looking for housing right now.
I’ll be working on the registry while I wait, but it may be a few more days until we have a shipping address and an idea of what items to put on the list. We are sure that all the items on the first floor were damaged but are not sure what can be cleaned. The stuff on the second floor is probably damaged as well but we won’t know until we look at the house. There is a possibility that the house will be structurally unsound and unsafe for us to enter at all. We would almost prefer it–we could just walk away. No work cleaning and recovering…I don’t know.
Thank you again for everyone’s words of support and encouragement. We are making it!
On our way to Cedar Rapids tonight I told my dad on the phone that because I never got to come home from my trip, and by that I mean the house I will never live in again, there is this missing piece to my story that I need to complete it. I need to see the house, and I need to see it ruined. He said, “like the equivalent of a funeral.” And I said, “no, more like when you go to identify the body.” I need to physically witness the death of the life I had lived until a few days ago (I’m not counting the time I was away because all that time I’d assumed I’d return to it).
It wasn’t easy transitioning to the life in the little green house. Here we were, mountained and treed Pennsylvanians uprooted to the wide-open Midwest. You may recall that we moved pregnant and with no job prospects. Those first few months were hard. We worked temp jobs with weird hours. We sat on rocking chairs in the living room until we could afford a $60 couch thrift. Things improved when Attic Man landed his job and we got on regular health insurance, got better when he made it into law school, better still when he attended. Somewhere in there we had a healthy, active, incredible baby who grew into a toddler in that house. I got word of my fellowship in that house. The Snapper took his first steps there. I turned 30 there. It was smaller than what we were used to, but eventually we came to love having less space to take care of. We learned to live with less.
We’re doing that again as we all adjust to life in an even smaller place (sans the dogs, who were boarded and will move to my brother’s house for the time being tomorrow).
As it happens various agencies are not communicating well and though we were told we could visit our house we were turned back by the National Guard. We drove home with nothing but images of other people in boots and covered with mud piling their ruined belongings on the curb. The city is a mess.
Thank you all for your words of support and offers of help. We’ve decided to set up a Target registry so that people can help us with the things we’ll need to start a new household. At this point we’re assuming we’ve lost every thing, but there is a chance some of it is recoverable. We won’t know until we are able to get into the house, which at this point is probably the weekend. I’m also considering setting one up on Amazon–the only things I’m really upset about are my books. I’ve been collecting (and using) books for my profession since high school. All the Foucault, Hardy, Said, Milton…it’s all gone, as are my notes in the margins. The books are replaceable but the history those particular books carry is what’s hurting me.
At any rate it will be a week or so before the registry or registries is/are available. If you’d like the information please email me at jlpannell at gmail dot com and I’d be happy to send it to you if I already know you IRL or online.