Last Tuesday night, I ate bad frozen pizza. I rocked my son to sleep. I trimmed my nails and waited for my husband to get home from work. All fairly normal things folks do on Tuesdays. Until I heard a bomb go off over our house, consoled our screaming children, saw my husband rushing inside wearing his suit with a look of terror on his face, and noticed huge billowing flames in our back yard. Then, after three fire trucks, water leaks, and a night spent at Embassy Suites, I can honestly say it wasn’t a normal Tuesday. We normally have tacos on Tuesdays. Life was in all kinds of disarray.
With all the fires in Texas lately, I’ve played the “what would I grab if my house was burning down” game plenty. You map out in your head the route you’d take. Grab the computer. Load up the guns. Great grandma’s clock will probably not make the cut and that’s just life. All your stuff falls like cards into some sort of loose priority order. Eventually, you just sigh with the realization that life’s not easily replaceable no matter how you slice it, but you have a pretty good idea of what you’d grab.
Until it actually happens.
The minute I saw our back yard ablaze – lightning had struck our house and back shed and all I could see through the kitchen window was one huge ball of fire – I did what any normal person would do in this situation. I went to the pantry and started stocking my purse with nutri-grain bars.
Instead of remaining calm, I shrieked at my daughter, who was standing right next to me. “FIRE!,” I wailed. “PUT ON YOUR SHOES!” Balancing on son on my hip, I grabbed a bag and with superhuman strength, loaded it up with crackers and squeezable fruit. I then filled up a sippy cup with water, threw in some diapers, and if I remember correctly, I think I might have actually dug up some underwear.
If the flames reached the house and burned it down, taking with it all our treasures and family heirlooms, don’t you tell me we wouldn’t have plenty of applesauce and underwear to remind us of our past. Because we so totally would.
I then grabbed the photo albums and threw them all into a box and set them by the door. I was set. At least we would have food, water, diapers, photos, and underwear. Then, with tears on my face and nutri-grain bars in my purse, I left everything sitting neatly inside the house in one neat pile and went rushing out to the neighbors in some sort of anxious frenzy, my daughter running behind me wearing sparkly sandals.
“There’s a fire!” I yelled as I banged on my neighbor’s door. “Big! Big fire!” I had resorted to caveman speech, apparently, and pointed in the direction of our back yard. Our neighbors, bless their hearts, are nearing sixty, but they ran out toward our back yard like spry sixteen year-olds, the wife jumping the fence in her housecoat to help my husband fight the flames and her husband (recovering from knee surgery) turning on the water. Only then did I notice that my daughter, who was standing beside me, was sobbing uncontrollably and was holding my son’s diaper bag with white knuckles. “He might need a diaper,” she said amidst the sobs. I so love her.
Finally, three fire trucks came and I directed them to the back, all the while convincing my daughter that her daddy did not, in fact, perish in the flames. Only until she saw him, standing there wearing a sweat-soaked dress shirt, did she believe me and stop hyperventilating.
Eventually the flames were extinguished and we went back inside, allowing firemen to stomp through our home in mud-soaked boots, peering in attics and corners and closets for evidence of secret fire pockets. We eventually calmed down our exhausted kids and thought the drama was over. Until such time as we discovered our carpet was a subtropical wetland and things were sloshing where in fact there should be no sloshing. Hmm. Slab leaks. Six of them, from the size of the puddles. My husband rushed to turn off the water, we navigated the automated maze of the insurance 1-800 number, and at some point a company appeared like Batman with fans and dehumidifiers and water damage information (we just nodded and promised never to turn the fans off). I put the kids to bed on a mat upstairs and was ready to call it a night.
At midnight or so, my husband came in the room and instructed me to find a hotel. “But the kids are finally asleep,” I moan. “Can’t we do that tomorrow?” He looks at me, his face soaked with sweat, still wearing his suit and nice shoes (now ruined). He throws up his hands, and it hits me that perhaps now is not a good time for this discussion. The “we’re a team” mentality is really the way to go in this situation, so I nod in agreement with any single thing that comes out of his mouth. Perhaps he’d like to shower. Perhaps he’d like to go someplace that might not burn up. Perhaps he’d like to talk in a normal tone of voice instead of screaming over large fans that make our living room sound like an airplane hanger. Yes, yes, yes to everything.
At 1 am, we loaded up our kids and headed downtown to a hotel. They were thrilled, and my daughter asked if it’s really true that we got pancakes for breakfast. “It’s really true,” I said. I heard her mutter something about it being wonderful as she nodded off in the car.
So now, a week out, we’ve had six plumbers give us all different ideas of how to completely re-plumb our house. They all do agree on one thing, which is “this is a pretty big deal” and “don’t expect an easy fix.”
We are living in our second rental, soon to be third come Tuesday, and I think about our week. The uncertainty and the contractor decisions and the reality that we are homeless gypsies for a while. But mostly I think about how lucky we are. Many people aren’t in the situation we’re in with a home to come home to. We have each other. We have great insurance. We have a problem that can be fixed. But most of all, we have nutri-grain bars.
Life is, indeed, very good.