13 May 2010

We were underwater.

As I looked for a picture online to convey the significance of the flooding in Nashville last week, I kept coming across the line, "We are underwater. We are Nashville." Upon seeing the words, it still brings tears to my eyes. Because we were and although the water has receded, we still are.

Some of us have returned home. Many of us still are unable. Some of us were able to salvage many of our treasured belongings. Many of us lost everything. Our streets are still dirty with what the flood has left behind. Mattresses, clothing, washers and dryers, televisions, photographs and sofas still line many of our streets. Homes and businesses are still ripping out walls and flooring, attempting with the last vestiges of hope to salvage what might be left...what might be left to return to.

I've thought about writing this blog several times in the past week or so. I wasn't sure what I wanted to convey. I'm still not sure what I hope to gain out of it. I'm all full on sympathy and empathy. I'm still waiting for validation at times. But mostly, I need to find a way to rebuild and move on. I need a way to expunge. Expunge the water. Expunge the bitterness. Expunge the unpredictability.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 2nd, I'd wake to a phone call from my neighbor, Ashley. She informed me that our apartments were flooded. She had suspected a water main broke. Hanging up the phone, I realized both of my cats were on the bed, crying. I got out of bed and put my feet down into water. Water drifting into my bedroom. I looked out the back window of my apartment to discover the water had almost reached my back window. I ran through the apartment in 3 to 4 inches of water to discover water coming underneath my front door. Looking out the front window, I discovered the water had also reached the window. The cars out front were almost fully covered in water. I ran back to the bedroom to find water (read: sewage water) filled the tub and toilet and sink. It seemed as if water was coming in from every possible place. The cats kept crying and I tried to think clearly. What can I do?

I'm at times a paranoid person, often imagining what I would do. You know, imagining, if someone broke in while I was asleep- what would I do? If I had to leave the house with little notice, what would I take with me? You think this might prepare you- carefully imagining how to follow the proper protocol. Grab the insurance papers, grab your passport, grab your most treasured possessions. But you know what happens? Nothing. Paralysis. You grab a toothbrush. You grab a change of clothes. You grab your pets. You don't grab the important papers. You don't grab your life in photographs and journals. No, you leave those to float away.

After calling my mother and 911, my neighbors informed me they were leaving and asked if I had someone to call to pick me up. Without hesitation, I phoned my friend, Art, asking him almost coyly if he could pick me up. As I ran from room to room trying to make decisions about what to salvage by placing it in high places, my mother called me and suggested I put the cats in their carrier, in case rescue arrived too quickly and wouldn't let me go back for the cats. The water kept coming in and I was unsure at the moment of how much might fill my apartment. The carpet tiles in the living room were floating. The cats' food bowl floated in the kitchen. Catching some of the news while I was running through the water, I began to worry about Art driving to pick me up. Apparently this wasn't a water main break, this was flooding. Nashville was flooding. In my fear that I had put a friend in danger, I phoned Art back and told him not to come. I would stay. I would defend my apartment. And in that defining moment, Art told me he was coming for me. He would make it to my apartment. He would pick us up.

While I packed a bag that would last me for some unknowable time period, the police arrived. Unable to reach my front door, I spoke on the phone to them. They told me to stay calm and within 15 minutes of waiting for the firetruck to arrive, the water started to recede. It started to drain. When the police officer and fireman came to my door, the water was only around 2 to 3 inches out of the front door. The water had reached every edge of my apartment. I asked in desperation as to whether I should leave. They told me to leave as soon as possible. It was predicted this would only get worse- and I should take this one opportunity to leave as soon as possible.

A few short moments later, Art arrived. We grabbed the cats, my packed bag, backpack with my computer, and one soaked laundry hamper of clothing and threw them in the car. Drenched with rain and sewage water, we drove to the safety of Art's house. Sitting at the light at Jefferson and Rosa Parks- we discovered that Rosa Parks was completely underwater at the Farmers Market. The water covered everything. We drove over the Jefferson/Spring Street bridge, the streets below were also covered. People were driving up one way exit ramps to escape the rising waters of the Cumberland. As the rain kept pouring down, Art and I unpacked the car and tried to comfort the cats. And the day would continue like this-- trying to make phone calls with my neighbors, the landlord, my family and friends, and finishing up my final paper of the semester.

Around the early afternoon (and after a few drinks to calm my nerves), I tried to take a nap. Laying on Art's couch with his dog, Maggie, I laid there wide awake. I couldn't shake the feeling of water on my legs. I could feel the water. I could see the water coming in the front door. I could hear the cats crying. And I couldn't shake the feeling that I might lose everything I had left behind. I'm still trying to shake the feeling of the water on my feet. I still feel it sometimes when I put my feet down on the floor in the morning.

Later that evening, Art and I would receive a phone call from our friend Ashley, who lives a mile away from me. She was being evacuated. She didn't know where to go- or more accurately, we weren't sure what streets were still open. While on the phone with her, Art and I used a map to plot various paths she could use to get across the river. With numerous failed attempts, I began to fear that Ashley would be secluded in her car stuck between Rosa Parks and the river. And finally, finally, she found one open bridge. A bridge that hadn't yet been taken over by the rising river and flood waters. She arrived safely. And the week would begin.

That first evening, I would have no clue what happened during the day and night at my apartment. I spent the evening imagining that I had lost everything. I spent the evening wondering how I would rebuild. I wondered if I would ever be able to return home.

Without access to the news or my computer (due to a flooded computer cord), I wouldn't know the impact of this flood on Nashville. It wasn't until the next day, as Ashley and I walked to a nearby restaurant for food that we would see the full impact. We sat in that restaurant, staring at the television, terrified. They showed images of Bellevue...then Antioch...then the Cumberland...then North Nashville and Germantown. It was all flooded. Less than a mile from my house, the water reached over the top of businesses. Sitting in that restaurant was painful, I suddenly realized how the flooding reached beyond my apartment, while still wondering silently what we would find as we drove to my apartment. Even getting to the apartment was difficult. The streets were closed with flood waters. There was essentially one road that was clear to drive to my apartment.

Luckily upon arrival, I discovered that the water hadn't reached higher than the previous morning. The next few days passed in a haze. And then the rebuilding would begin. I spent the next five days of my life in a state of flux. The second day, I would have to move all my belongings out of the two carpeted bedrooms into the living room, while making careful decisions about what to place out of the existing water on the floor. The landlord had sent over a crew to help in the process. With the help of three men, I emptied my closets, my bedroom, and my office. We made stacks of the most damaged, somewhat damaged, and salvageable items. Within an hour, all of my belongings had been moved. Then the carpet was ripped up. I then began documenting all the items that I could reach that needed to be thrown out. With my three neighbors- Ashley, Michelle, and Michael- and the help of Ashley and Art and the three young men- Shane, Brad, and Gator- we cleared out what was clearly damaged from three apartments. The trash cans overflowed. Our hands were dirty. But we laughed. Because what else can you do?

On day three, we dried. We waited. And I tried to salvage my clothing that had been soaked.

On day four, I would get carpet in two rooms, which required the disinfecting of all the salvageable items before moving them yet again into the new "clean" rooms. This meant making decisions about which items would be thrown out, particularly big furniture items- like the couch, chairs, bookshelves...most of which I lost. I would continue to document what was lost, naively thinking I might have insurance that would cover the loss. Becky, Ashley, and Art would help me wipe down the furniture and items I planned to keep.

On day five, a cleaning crew came to clean the living room. I would then proceed to unpack from the two rooms, trying to arrange some sense of normalcy in my home. Hanging clothes, setting up my bed, arranging the few items left of my living room furniture-- with the plans to spend my first night back in the apartment.

That first night was harrowing. It was quiet, except the roar of the fans still trying to dry out the walls and floors. I sat on the tile floor in the living room on the computer, reading stories and watching videos and pictures of the flooding that far exceeded my own experience. I was again reminded of how my tragedy was fortunate in comparison to others. I cried most of that evening. I couldn't imagine what others were experiencing. I would have nightmares that night. I kept seeing and feeling the water and the panic of that morning. I wasn't alone. The cats felt it too. We barely slept. We weren't alone.

And the next few days would progress much in the same. There was sadness around every corner, particularly as I drove through the city. The despair coupled with the tenacity for recovery overwhelmed me. And although I recognized it at the time, only after the dust settled did I realize what still makes the tears well up-- that I am surrounded by the most generous and kind friends.

The night before all of this happened, I wrote a status update that read something like, "Katherine Everhart...has the greatest friends in all of the world." I had no idea how much I would learn this in the following week. I realized during that week of chaos and tragedy just how much I am surrounded by people who care about me and are willing to jeopardize their own lives to protect, provide, and comfort me. In addition to my Nashville family, family and friends from all distances (from Charlotte to South Carolina to Puerto Rico to California) offered up support daily by emailing, calling and texting me daily- to let me know they were thinking of me. And although, I couldn't always respond, their sentiments helped me make it through that week...and continue to help me navigate my way through the recovery.

A couple of days ago, as I drove through Nashville, I realized how much admiration I have the city, how much admiration I have for those folks who have been unshowered in the past week, how much admiration I have for the way the city has come together and spent their time helping those of us that were impacted by the flooding. I was fortunate, others were not so fortunate. Watching my friends take to the streets has made me so proud. And in those moments, I realized just how much in the past two years, I have built a family here in Nashville. Nashville, despite the still fragmented nature of my apartment, has become home.

These wonderfully generous friends were willing to offer up their homes, furniture, car, physical strength, groceries, dinners, laughter, money, support...just anything and everything to me. With their help, I've been able to rebuild my home and my life. It is with the deepest of respect that I thank them for what they've done for me. While I could never repay them, I hope they know that I've got their back, no matter what.

I'm including some pictures below that I was able to document of the flooding near my house and my own experiences. It is just one of many experiences of both the loss and community that came out of the past week.

Nashville Flood 2010

There is still much to do in Nashville. We still need help. We still need volunteers. I hope we don't forget that as things start to settle. There are many that have been left behind in the process. I heart you, Nashville.

Thank you, friends and family. I would have never made it without you. You are one of a kind. I heart you more than you'll ever know.

"You are the roots that sleep beneath my feet and hold the earth in place, each time a faucet opens, words are spoken, the water runs away, and I hear your name...All else is sure to pass, We clutch and grasp, And debate what's truly permanent, But when the wind starts to shift, Well, there's no argument, Now, I sing and drink and sleep on floors...Oh, you are the roots that sleep beneath my feet and hold the earth in place..." -Bright Eyes