By Elaine Kolodziej
Indeed, this past year has been one of tedious recovery mixed with gradual healing. I see the aftermath of any disaster as being in several stages. Initially, you try to prevent further damage. You work frantically day after day until you cant work any more. After a time, you have to slack off, and go back to a regular life. Life goes on. You begin to set priorities. You choose what you must do first and then methodically go through the motions.
It takes all the concentration you can muster just to continue with your job and family life as you struggle to get back into routines and anything that resembles the life you once had. It takes a long time. A week after the flood, people would stop us on the street and ask nonchalantly, Well, are you back in your home yet? They had no clue! This was something that we had to deal with, and I know that everyone who experienced the flood as we did had to go through the same thing.
Were part of an exclusive club. None of us sought membership, yet we are united through this experience. This is possibly a story that only those who were there will appreciate.
Struggling to return to something normal, we went to church that next Sunday after the flood, but it was like an out-of-body experience. We werent really there. We knew that those around us did not understand what we were going through. Our clothes, although not all ruined, just werent quite right. They were wrinkled, nothing matched, and our favorite things were gone. These are things that we were not particularly aware of at the time. Only now, a year later, can I see this clearly.
Still today, there are occasional reminders of the flood. They appear out of nowhere and catch you offguard. Just this past Sunday morning, our daughter was home and remembered a tree house that used to be in the back yard. Of course, the tree and the tree house, have long been gone. She said that she wished we would have had a picture of that tree house.
But we do! I said remembering vividly the old black and white photo we had taken when she was a little girl. I stopped mid-sentence. We both realized, this being the anniversary of the flood, that we used to have a picture of the old tree house.
Were actually not sure whether it is among those photographs that, thanks to the hard work of many friends, may have been salvaged. If so, it would be among the boxes still stacked in our garage amidst assorted items hastily stored in the immediate aftermath. These boxes contain items still covered with the ugly, gray, silt long since dried to a concrete-like finish.
A year after
Why, after a year, would we still have boxes of stuff to sort through? You reach a point initially when you have to get out of the process and continue with life. Also, by waiting you allow yourself the luxury of that one last opportunity before you toss a favorite book, a souvenir, a baby picture. Most of the junk still in boxes actually is probably ruined or not worth saving anyway, but this will allow us that one last opportunity to recall fond memories before we toss it into the garbage heap. Its part of the healing we must experience.
Stage two of recovery
Stage two of recovery is the cleaning. After first going in with shovels, and later with high-pressure water hoses, you finally are ready to begin cleaning. So many brought mops and brooms when they came to help us. Little did they (nor we) realize that what we needed initially were more like shovels and heavy-duty tools. Mud had to be shoveled out before anything else could be done. It was to be a long time before mops and brooms were needed.
And all this initial cleaning had to be finished before the soggy Sheetrock, door frames, and cabinets could be torn out. Nothing was salvaged.
As the house was hastily stripped of everything by whomever stopped by on any given day, what didnt automatically end up on the garbage heap was stacked arbitrarily anywhere a space was available: the patio, the garage, and the driveway even on the lawn.
Immediately after the flood and the initial damage control, it took days of heavy-duty cleaning before the next stage could begin. Then it was time to install floor fans in every room, along with heaters to allow the still-wet surfaces to dry. It was imperative to prevent damage from mildew because, incredibly, it continued to rain.
Once surfaces were dry, massive applications of germicide and mildew retardant were applied. Only then could reconstruction begin. Problems arose with a shortage of contractors and materials with so many people scrambling to recover.
Our house now has been restored. The paint is fresh, the carpets new, and its alive again. But its rebirth was a long time coming. The smell of the mud and silt are like a bad dream. Its a memory buried somewhere in the dark recesses of our mind.
Ive forgotten how my back and my whole body ached for weeks, both from sleeping on a too-thin foam mattress thrown nightly on our office floor and from lifting mud-soaked furniture onto trailers to be hauled off. My legs ached terribly from trudging through the slippery silt and mud wearing heavy rubber boots two sizes too large because stores had sold out of their supply of rubber boots. You had to take what you could get.
Although those first few days and weeks are just a blur to me now, I can recall certain things vividly when I make an effort. I can recall going back into our home that first time as the water began residing. I could hear the air bubbles gurgling up from the concrete floor as we sloshed through the rooms in our rubber boots. It was like the house was alive, but all you saw was death. It was eery. You had to be so careful because, trudging through the silt was like walking on slippery soap.
I was prepared for the damage I saw on that first visit back home, but some things still stand out in my mind.
I remember seeing the once-plush carpets in our bedroom swollen like a giants thick, dirty sponge. The muddy waters had heaped the carpets into big, thick, ugly mounds of gray mass as if a giant had taken his iron claw and torn them from the floors and left them piled into heaps covered with silt.
The only time I came close to crying as I went through the house was when I saw two hidenseek dolls lying face down in the mud. I remember gasping at the sight. These were special dolls. They wore my grandsons outgrown clothing, and the likeness to his image was just too graphic. The scene was chilling.
To this day, I remember other small things such as finding a heavy, cast-iron skillet that had floated into the hallway. It was resting near the front door, so obviously out of place.
And I remember a morbid feeling as I opened the door to the refrigerators freezer section. It was a bottom door and, being that it was closed, I did not expect what I saw when I opened it. It looked like the inside of a decayed, mud-filled coffin. The silt had filtered in through the rubber gaskets, and everything inside it was covered with a ghastly black slime.
Even though our profession is reporting and taking pictures, none of us had any desire to capture these images on film. The only pictures we took other than pictures of our friends helping us were those needed to document losses to the IRS.
But we have pictures in our minds of the mounds of furniture, mattresses, and sofas that we loaded onto trailers and into dumpsters. We still can see our cars being towed mercilessly by some salvage company. I can hear the scraping sound like chalk on a blackboard as they dragged the bumper of my daughters Grand Prix as it went down the road.
Didnt they realize that was a beautiful machine they were hauling off one that our daughter never even allowed to get a scratch? Didnt they know that this was part of our lives they were towing away? The future Things never will be the same, but thats alright. In many ways, they are better.
The flood gave us a new appreciation for what is important. Material goods can be replaced. It helped us get our priorities back in order.
The flood even allowed us to do some remodeling.
The sights, the sounds, and the smells of the flood have long been replaced with green grass, fresh paint, and new carpets.
The flood is part of our past. And, like all memories, we will cherish and appreciate the part it has played in our lives. And we are better for having experienced it.