A few weeks ago on my last trip to Oklahoma, I met up with
my beautiful forever friend Starla who happened to be visiting at the same time
from California. We’ve been friends since second grade, and when you’re 49 like
us, that’s forever, right? Even with the distance, we make an effort to see each
other every year or two, our phone visits in between are always good for the
soul, and there’s nothing like those special friendships that encourage and uplift
you, make you laugh and let you to have a good cry, and always pick back up
right where you left off.
“Your skin looks fabulous,” I said, mesmerized by her radiant face.
“I’ll tell you my secret as long as you don’t blog about it,” she responded. I’m just kidding, you guys—she didn’t say that, and I did later ask if I could share her BIG secret. Truthfully Starla said, “I’ve been eating collagen protein since April, every morning in an açai bowl with frozen cherries and coconut. You can buy the açai as a puree in the frozen section of the grocery store.”
When I arrived at my local HEB, the details of our conversation escaped me, so I bought smoothie ingredients—bananas and strawberries and unsweetened vanilla almond milk and a one-pound cannister of the anti-aging factor. At home I threw that all (not the whole pound, just one scoop) into my blender with some ice and frozen blueberries, and voila! Health in a glass. Today is Day 7, and I kid you no more, I can see a difference in my sun-damaged hands and my nails, too.
One scoop of collagen peptides includes 18g of clean protein, 18 amino acids, and a B-vitamin complex to support metabolic energy. It’s gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, non GMO, and both KETO and PALEO certified, not to mention my extra servings of fruit each day.
Benefits of Collagen Peptides (according to supplementpolice.com)
Collagen improves the health of skin and hair.
Collagen reduces joint pains and degeneration.
Collagen helps in weight loss.
Collagen improves the health of nails and teeth.
Collagen detoxifies the liver.
Benefits of Forever Friends (according to Mrs. Ward, my 9th grade English teacher and me)
Forever friends encourage and uplift you.
They make you laugh.
They don’t mind when you cry.
You can always pick back up right where you left off because you’ve known each other forever.
They are the fountain of youth, literally.
Starla has one more secret. She’s a Plexus distributor and swears by the Joyōme Illuminating Day Serum and Intensive Overnight Repair. For more information go to https://plexusworldwide.com/home. Starla’s sponsor number is 2876670, which should give her credit if you place an order. Sending good vibes your way! Thanks for reading today!
It was July 14, 1975. Up the street, a vacant lot and three houses away lived my friend Jennifer. I was five in 1975, and Jennifer turned five that day, so I walked to her house with a gift in hand to celebrate her birthday. Jennifer’s social calendar was packed for a five-year-old. After her party, she would head across town to another birthday party for a girl I didn’t know. Although the details are fuzzy, I remember crashing that party with Jennifer and meeting the tiny, precious, blonde-haired, hazel-eyed Denise. We would grow up together, sharing classrooms and friends and happenings of the Oklahoma panhandle. Little did I know that one day in the distant future, Denise would forever change my life.
Flash forward to Memorial Day weekend 2008 and our twenty-year high school reunion. When I caught up with Denise for the first time in at least nineteen years, we discovered that we lived within twenty minutes of each other. And guess what? We both needed a friend. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. We shared our imperfections and struggles, our wins and celebrations, and that’s how the girl I’ve known since age five became my bestie. And OMG, everyone needs a Denise.
Speaking of wins, her 20-year-old son Ryan, a junior on the Baylor Men’s Golf team, won the Texas Amateur golf tournament back in June with Denise caddying and coaching him toward the victory. She coaches kids’ golf, by the way, and teaches private lessons, too. In case you don’t have an extra two minutes to watch this news clip and see AWESOME in motion, my favorite part is when Ryan says, “If I got down on myself, no matter what happened, she would be the one to say, ‘All right, we got this. Let’s just keep on moving forward.'” So many times, Denise has kept me moving forward with a little positivity and a little “we got this.”
In that same news clip, Denise says, “You don’t see very many mothers [caddying], but if anything, I hope I’m encouraging more mothers to get out there.” That’s my Denise, the ultimate encourager. Life’s too short for anyone who brings you down, and I’m so very grateful for my forever friends who lift me up.
It is July 14, 2019, and I’m hopping in the car, driving the four plus hours from Houston to Dallas to crash her party again today. Forty-four years later. I wish Jennifer could crash it, too.
( Blog if I want to, blog if I want to. You might blog, too, if it happened to you ).
December 30th came and went. Celebrations commenced with family and friends. And my heart is full. This year proves that good things come to those who wait.
My 2018 began in approximately 400 square feet at the La Quinta where we (a trio of Byers plus our Rainy dog) would rest and breathe for six more months. Reconstruction continued on our Harvey-wrecked home, and the year whizzed by in a blur. The first half of the year now seems like a fuzzy dream that left me with an eye-opening perspective and an ever-expanding heart, I carry 2018’s lessons forward. I carry them in my heart. While trudging through flood water with a water-proof overnight bag on my shoulder and my chihuahua in my arms, I stumbled upon life’s deepest secret.
Are you ready?
Here it is.
Life’s Deepest Secret.
You can’t take it all with you, and you can’t save it all, but in the end, things don’t matter.
But people do.
My dear friend Pamela introduced me to e e cummings. I carry his words, and he shares my deepest secret. Thank you Poetry Foundation.
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I’m not an interior designer, but I play one on my phone. The game—Design Home. The object—to decorate a room with required elements to win prizes like money and diamonds, both of which can be used to purchase furniture and accessories for your room. Each day brings multiple, changing challenges: an industrial-style living room for an engineer in Krakow, Poland; a modern dining room for this new, critically-acclaimed chef in Moscow, Russia; a luxe bedroom for a tennis athlete relaxing in style after a match in Wimbledon, London. It’s a guilty pleasure. If only designing real homes could be that clean and easy, you know, with prizes involved and all.
Two weeks ago after ten months of flood displacement, we were given the okay to move back into the still incomplete but livable house. We had then and still have one completed bathroom, just missing a vanity mirror, which we have—outside—in the POD—in our driveway.
The POD has been a sore spot for the past ten months. Our contractor had some of his guys load it, and my husband had specifically asked to be there to supervise. Instead they moved everything without a heads up. Kody had specifically asked that our wardrobe boxes be loaded last, so we could access our winter clothes. Instead the wardrobe boxes went in first, and last, barricading what I could unload myself and what I need now, is an extra refrigerator and a large garage shelving unit. Back in October, our contractor offered to have everything moved out and back in for us, but moving everything two more times than necessary screamed trouble to me, so I just shook my head and played Design Home.
At the moment, silverware and pots and pans—inaccessible in the POD—would be useful. And our newly installed lower kitchen cabinets wait for cabinet pulls—the ones we saved from the moldy cabinets that we dumped on the curb—the ones that must be in the POD. And speaking of kitchen problems, some of the white subway backsplash tiles had to be replaced, and just when I thought the kitchen was practically complete, I discovered that the newly installed wavy tiles did not match the original flat tiles. So now we have more demolition and more tiling and more construction dust everywhere, in the garage, on the street, not to mention in the unfinished kitchen, in the incomplete master bathroom, and on the souls of our shoes. First world problems, right?
So I could go on complaining, but what good does that do? I could also move forward in gratitude. I realize I have a choice, and so I will try. After the thumbs-up on the move-in, I drove to Dallas on a Tuesday and helped our daughter Lauren pack. Turns out she has missed us since our move south two summers ago, a mutual feeling. Even at age 26 1/2 , she will always be our baby girl, and we want her near. Kody joined us in Dallas that Thursday, we picked up a U-Haul on Friday, and the three of us loaded the truck bound for Houston. In return Lauren has been my super helpful sidekick, assisting me with the minutiae of moving and decision making, not to mention the building of some IKEA furniture as we refurnish our house from scratch. Lauren will live with us temporarily while adjusting to her new life in a new city, and having her here makes our house seem like home. For my family, I am MOST thankful.
After the final furniture delivery last Monday, we packed my Mazda once more and drove far, far away to the Oklahoma Panhandle for the fourth of July with family…
and then on to the mountains and the cool, clean air of New Mexico with my sister and brother and other brothers.
My nostalgia for these places and my people runs deep, the peaceful skies unforgettable. Where I grew up in Oklahoma, the waving fields of wheat and corn kiss the endless cornflower blue. Where I snow skied all my life in New Mexico, a gazillion stars sprinkle the midnight navy. Especially in these places, I realize the world is larger than one life, and I know there is a God who designed this home for us all.
For nearly a year I’ve consumed a plant-based diet. Yes, I cheat from time to time, usually with fish. Kody and I did split a Sweet and Spicy Bacon Burger from Whataburger not long ago. I have no regrets. We used to eat that way all the time. Without the split.
Last week I indulged with a Frito pie at Local Foods here in Houston. Topped with cashew queso, a soy protein, the most beautiful tomatoes, fresh red onion and jalapeño and cilantro and a little hot sauce, it was soooo good. I’m confident I can make a similar pie myself when we move back home soon.
And this Hopdoddy Impossible burger is in the weekly rotation. Hold the cheese, please. The meat-free patty, developed by former Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown and a team of researchers at Impossible Foods, is made entirely of plant-based ingredients. Potato protein allows the exterior to sear, and coconut oil melts like beef fat. However, heme is the magic. This legume-derived, iron-containing molecule also found in blood, gives the “meat” its texture, smell, and a pinkish interior.
I used to have a cholesterol problem, but plants don’t have cholesterol. Problem solved, medication and cardiologist no longer needed. Anyway speaking of doctors, I’m reminded of my fungus. Seriously, it’s on my right foot—uncomfortable and ugly, itchy and flaky. I thought maybe it was eczema and tried to treat it myself like I did the cholesterol. I’m embarrassed to say how long I self-medicated, just hoping it would go away (for years) before realizing that I needed professional help, and then even knowing I needed to see a doctor, how much longer it took me to make an appointment (another year or so).
I searched my insurance company’s website for a dermatologist for the first time ever, and within a day I had an appointment and saw the doctor who diagnosed the fungus and prescribed me some cream. In my head I had exaggerated the difficulty of seeking treatment. From beginning to end, the process was painless, which is more than I can say for my foot. The doctor, who specializes in skin conditions, was compassionate and kind.
A long-time good friend of mine recently reached out via text to tell me about a silent health struggle: “I am seeing a [insert type of doctor here] for more tests…All I know is that the pain has been almost intolerable and I need an answer and some relief. I didn’t want to say anything because it sounds like I’m complaining, but it’s time I let you know that something isn’t right and I’m trying to get answers.”
With my mind on my fungus and my fungus on my mind, I continue to think about health in general and suffering people and reasons why a person might choose to delay the help they need and challenges for those pursuing relief. Like other illnesses, fungus does not discriminate, and our medical problems, like a fungus when ignored or denied, grow and fester. I’m thankful to live in an age of medical access, and I’m thankful for friends and family who have listened to me when I needed to talk about my fungus. And that’s really what life is all about, right? Friends and family and being there.
Beyond our day jobs, Kody and I moonlight as managing partners and co-owners of Three Keys Properties, where we invest in and re-design residential fixer uppers, improving neighborhoods one house at a time. We’re not quite Chip and Jo. Less charming. No shiplap experimentation. No aspirations for our own show. However, Kody finds the deals, I have an eye for aesthetics, and together we grow in our experience.
Why Three Keys? One might ask. Bear with me.
Once upon a time, after nineteen years of marriage, I called movers, packed my bags, and left Kody behind. The details no longer matter. Neither one of us could afford to stay in our home without the other, so sadly we lost our most-favorite house…a spacious kitchen, ample storage, oversized master, en suite garden tub, best shower so far, his and her walk-in closets, a sparkling pool, a relaxing spa…so many things to love including my good friend, neighbor, and walking buddy Martha.
Within a year of the divorce, I missed “the family,” Kody hung in there as my “friend,” and together we vacationed as “friends” with our kids in the Big Apple. I ❤️ NY, and I returned to my rented Plano townhome realizing that I ❤️ Kody, too. Sometimes time and space and amazing food and art museums and Broadway and romantic cities reveal the importance of people and things once taken for granted. Somewhere in that timeframe, Kody purchased a house in foreclosure, a dilapidated structure with beautiful bones and a sordid history. There may or may not have been a prostitution ring living and working in that house, abundantly wired, for surveillance purposes I presume. I swear. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Somehow we both related to taking on a neighborhood‘s dirty secret, giving it new life and a renewed sense of hope.
I remember sitting on the back patio of my townhome on a clear fall day, the sun shining, and Kody asking for my advice on his new renovation. I flipped through the Sherwin Williams paint color fan deck, searching for the perfect exterior trim color, matching the chip to the metal trim of MY patio furniture—Enduring Bronze. Eventually I assisted in decisions on flooring, granite, and interior paint as well. Somewhere along the way, Kody’s house felt like MY house, so I called movers, packed my bags once more, and moved back in with Kody. Together we lived in sin. (I joke—I’m pretty sure that God approved of my decision to live with my former husband of nineteen years).
During our live-in-lover stage-of-life, my parents looked forward to their 50th wedding anniversary, and my dad planned a family celebration on a Mediterranean cruise for my mother. The family included my sister and brother, their spouses, and me and my boyfriend Kody. I cannot condense this story with justice, but all of my blabbity-blah leads up to the formation of Three Keys Properties. If an extended, kind-of-cute love story interests you, click the link of The Deep Sapphire Blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Anyway, while on that cruise, outside of Kuşadası, Turkey, near the ruins of Ephesus, Kody and I drank from three sacred water fountains, which, according to our tour guide, symbolized health, wealth, and love. (As an English teacher, I loves me some good symbolism). After quenching my thirst that day, I kissed Kody before writing a little prayer of gratitude to God for my family’s health, wealth, and love. I stuck the little piece of paper into a prayer wall with a million other prayers. And before the end of the day, June 23, 2011, Kody asked me to re-marry him on the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean, ring and all. Ironic, right? I say, “Name it and claim it.”
Side story: Kody had this thing (and still does) about spotting 11:11, mostly on digital clocks, but anywhere really…addresses…telephone numbers…consecutive 11s continued appearing. “It’s 11:11,” he would say, and with or without him, I began noticing the number coincidence, too. Apparently, many people see it, and theories abound on the 11:11 meaning. Google it. Angels are communicating…make a wish…oneness. Once engaged, we chose November 11, 2011, which seemed the obvious date for wedding #2.
A few years after incorporating as one in holy matrimony, we decided to incorporate for residential redevelopment purposes in an official limited liability company. While brainstorming business names, Kody came across the symbolic meaning of three keys. When worn together, they unlock the doors of health, wealth, and love, which we continue to name and claim, not only for us, but for anyone we work with along the way.
Upon arriving in Houston, we moved into another fixer upper, a mid-century modern home, built in 1960. We consulted with interior designer Jessica Brown, who drew a new blueprint, and then started from scratch to build a network of home specialists–contractors and painters, flooring and brick and foundation guys, window installers and plumbers–in a new city. We stumbled through finding the right contractor to accomplish the goal, tearing down walls and redesigning an open-concept kitchen, living, and dining space while expanding the existing laundry room. After months of construction, two contractors, and phase one completion, we planned to update the bathrooms and create a new outdoor living space when Hurricane Harvey poured trillions of gallons of rain upon the city of Houston, flooding our investment and, just like the board game Trouble, sending us back to start. Slowly but surely, Three Keys Properties makes a comeback. 6″ x 36″ wood look porcelain tile installation close-to complete, an expanded master bath soon-to-be a reality. Photos and home again…in the not-so-distant future.
Returning to school this past week after a rejuvenating holiday, I had an action plan to keep my mind right with a simple formula of God and gratitude. Monday started strong, but by Friday, my positivity was shot to Hell. Ironically, I missed my devotional that day, and I may or may not have been nursing a hangover. I haven’t mastered the art of not allowing people and circumstances to suck the good mojo right out of me.
Thankfully I had pre-packed my bags and loaded my Mazda for an overnight stay in Dallas with a couple of my forever friends, if you call 38-43 years forever, before driving on to Oklahoma to visit family. With ample time to think while disentangling myself from Houston traffic, I reflected on my own best advice for those times when life fails to go my way:
Pre-divorce, I needed a psychologist. Mine came highly recommended by two different teacher friends after having a meltdown or two at school. I’m flashing back about fourteen years, which seems a lifetime ago. Through counseling, I became more self-aware and discovered my role in my own life. Each session, Dr. Stevenson probed, I verbally processed, and my eyes malfunctioned with a non-stop leak. Through her questions and my answers, I became conscious of my guarded nature, my inability to speak of heavy things, and my inclination to stuff my feelings. The doctor listened more than she spoke, but I’ll never forget her saying, “Crystal, don’t you have any friends?”
And me sobbing, “No!”
And her saying, “You’ve got to open up to people.”
In the first fourteen years of my marriage, we had lived in three states and moved five times. I had attended one junior college, two universities, and worked at eight different jobs. My friendships and relationships in general were surface level, in part due to continual change. Dr. Stevenson’s advice was pivotal. Slowly and over time, I made meaningful bonds by sharing my truth.
Denise and I met at age five when I crashed her birthday party. K-12, we shared many teachers, birthday parties, and childhood memories. After high school, our lives diverged, but at our twenty-year high school reunion, we discovered we lived within twenty minutes of each other in the Dallas area. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. Neither one of us judged. I was her vault, and she was mine.
Pamela entered the montage of my life in the fifth grade. From humble beginnings, she put herself through school at Notre Dame, sending me ND baby booties for Drew and letters from India when she studied abroad. Somehow before cell phones, we always maintained our connection even as her life led her from one adventure to the next. We reconnected on Facebook when she lived in NYC, and she flew from her home in Miami to mine in Dallas when I remarried Kody. Now living in the wild west near Waco, Pamela, Denise, and I have formed a trio of Mutual Admiration.
After my extra-long drive from Houston to Dallas, I beat myself up in front of my friends through the rehashing of my day, and by the end of the night, I felt renewed strength. On Saturday morning, before I departed for OKC, I asked Denise and Pamela, “So what are your take-aways from our time together?”
Pamela responded, “Flowers don’t blossom every day. They have their season. I learned that from Glennon Doyle Melton. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ll be right back.” She returned with gifts, wrapped in gold tissue paper, for both Denise and me.
I look back on this weekend and laugh out loud. Pamela observes with a keen eye and knows me well. Apparently, our journeys are similar, and by ‘our’ I mean, all of us. I don’t know about you, but I seem to need some reminders, so I pass them along, just in case.
Pamela continued, “I’m also reminded of something that Tony Robbins said…” Whatever Tony Robbins said was good, something about being self-consumed, but I didn’t write it down, so I quickly forgot. The three of us said our goodbyes with hugs and vows to see each other again soon.
I trekked on to Oklahoma City to visit my precious mother in memory care, my super hero dad, who makes the ten-hour round trip each weekend, my sort-of cool brother Scott and his awesome wife Gerri, who have quite possibly worn their very own ruts on the road between Stillwater and OKC, and my closest cousin Angie, who would have a guest room, a bottle of wine, and a hot tub waiting for me at the end of the day. Of course, I kid about my bro. From my standpoint, he plays the role of son, husband, father, and brother like a pro. And Angie and I, well, we solved all the world’s problems in our swimsuits in her backyard, oblivious to the 29 ̊of a January night.
On Sunday morning, I joined my parents for church, at my mom’s assisted living community. We sang “God Will Take Care of You” and listened to a sermon about three Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego from the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had the men bound and thrown into his furnace for refusing to worship an oversized gold statue. The three men told the king that God would deliver them. Sure enough, the king looked into the furnace and saw four men, not three, and then commanded Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego to come out of the furnace. The men were no longer bound, and they were untouched by fire. In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar does a 180 ̊ turn around and praises the God of the Jews for sending an angel to rescue the men. God took care of Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego, just as I know he will take care of me.
My visits with Mom are always too short and too sweet. Especially as her memories fade, I cherish those moments until our time ends abruptly, and I find myself once more behind the wheel. Time and time again, I feel most bolstered by my family and friends only to set myself up for a fall, right back into my pity party. ☹ Wah! From the road, I shot Pam and Denise a text: “Remind me what Tony Robbins said, Pamela. Something about thinking about yourself.” She responded, “The fastest way to misery is making everything about you.” The End
This Christmas morning, I have Pamela on my mind. It’s her birthday.
Travel back with me to the year 1980, a beautiful creature and soon-to-be forever friend graced the entrance of Mr. Hale’s fifth-grade, home-room class. I’m sure there are more photos somewhere.
1985. Pamela stuck with me at our 9th grade graduation celebration and during really bad hair days.
1998. Even though our lives led us thousands of miles away from each other, BC (Beautiful Creature) stuck with me and always found a way to visit.
2017. Pamela in Houston post-Harvey. Distance-wise, we’re now closer and friendship-wise, too. I suppose that’s what happens over the course of 37 years.
She’s a sage and a wisdom seeker, and I often find myself writing down what she says and quoting her, even if she is quoting someone else.
A few years ago Pamela attended an Oprah-sponsored Life You Want Weekend in Miami. She texted me a selfie, and I texted her back, “Awesome! Take notes and forward!” I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want to live the life they want?
She texted me back, “There were so many takeaways but what rings in my ears right now is something Rob Bell said, ‘The life you want starts with being grateful for the life you have.’”
Happy Birthday, Beautiful Creature #1! You have taught me much, but the lesson on gratitude continues to serve me, and I am so thankful to have you in my life!
Wishing you ALL blessings of joy, peace, health and love today and in the new year!
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, so many people have asked, “What can we do to help?”
I rarely ask anyone for anything. I suck at asking, even when someone asks what they can do.
I find myself responding along the lines of, “Just pray that the people who show up will help us make everything happen.” Somehow that request doesn’t seem too much. And guess what? People have shown up. In unexpected ways.
It’s a humbling lesson to learn—this acceptance of help when people intend to give. Amid my inner conflict between pride and loss, I stumble across some common-sense advice of the good book. In Acts 20, Paul says to the Ephesians: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” I’m humbled by this time of weakness, loss, and uncertainty. But even more, I’M HUMBLED BY THE GENEROUS GIVING OF HUMANKIND. I can only hope to pay it forward one day.
Sunday, August 27—Flood, Evacuation (previous post), Unsolicited Gifts. After HFD rescue, we received a cash donation from an awesome family member, whom I wish to keep anonymous, and donation of water and snacks from our next-door neighbors Megan and Boaz, who followed us to the pet-friendly La Quinta. By the way, I met Megan for the first time earlier that day (on a dump truck).
Monday, August 28—First Cry for Help. The water outside of our hotel had drained, and after texting with Susan, my across-the-street, non-evacuating, two-story home-owner neighbor, I knew the water had subsided in my neighborhood. Not knowing road conditions between the LQ and home, I asked a few local, non-flooded friends for what seemed to me a huge favor, a ride from the hotel to home. Erica showed up. Our beautiful, young, stand-in-daughter, bartender-friend arrived for the challenge in her new, Hyundai Veloster. At times, we navigated U-turns and alternate routes to avoid high water. Other times, Erica braved the water, still-too-high, risking her car, but delivering Kody and me to our front door and our still drivable cars. At home, Kody and I assessed the mess. Water remained in the drainage ditch outside and glistened on the wood floors inside. The house smelled of wet walls, sodden furnishings, and contaminated floodwater. Kody flipped the power on. I opened the refrigerator and rescued our blueberries. I grabbed some wine and more clothes. We didn’t linger. We took a deep breath before locking the door and driving away in separate cars.
Tuesday, August 29—First attempt at post-flood self-sufficiency. Kody, Drew, Rain, and I first drove to two Home Depots to discover them closed, then on to the house. We measured the evidence of water damage to walls, doors, and lower cabinets, the discolored water line approximately a foot, high enough to immerse our electrical outlets. We took photo upon photo. Together Kody, Drew, and I moved our couch and coffee table and chairs and beds off waterlogged area rugs, (two new, one cherished, soon to be trash) too heavy to be dragged farther than the back yard. We made the first of many decisions concerning personal belongings—to trash or not to trash? That was the question. I never imagined a hard-back book or a bible as trash. Most of our furniture would be going to the curb, and for about five hours we tortured our backs before returning to the La Quinta.
Late in the day, my neighbor Peggy texted me, “We applied for FEMA assistance and got it…for a month.” Back at the hotel, Kody filed our insurance claim and applied for FEMA and an SBA loan. I contacted our last contractor.
Wednesday, August 30—Second day of Team Byers. Kody and I drove once more to a Home Depot and a Lowe’s, both closed, before finding another Home Depot open. We bought contractor bags and storage bins and bubble wrap and gloves and bleach and a one-gallon, pump sprayer for the bleach, a chalk line to mark the section of walls to be knocked out, and an extra hammer.
Next, we stopped for cigarettes and beer, and we picked up lunch at Subway. I don’t recall ever feeling more thankful for a Subway sandwich or a more appropriate time for a smoke. I remember saying to Kody, “Okay, let’s prioritize. What should we do first?”
I remember him sitting and saying, “I just need to sit down.” I grabbed a tall boy Budweiser for Kody and an Angry Orchard for me. We sat and drank and smoked. Both overwhelmed, we found ourselves staring at ruined things, without words, for extended lengths of time. Boxes of wet, unpacked, relocated things didn’t matter much anymore, but the sight of my book collection gripped my heart and squeezed. I counted 150, boxed and ready for school, before I stopped. Now they sat in soggy boxes, too heavy to move, ready for the curb.
Kody and I chalk-lined interior walls that day. I pulled on my new gloves, picked up a hammer, and beat the shit out of the lower half of the first wall. I did that for my books. I pulled out the insulation and stuffed it in a contractor bag. I carried sheetrock to the curb. I remember saying, “One wall down. Twenty-eight to go.” Maybe I’m obsessive-compulsive, maybe it’s my teacher tendencies, I find myself forever counting. Around that time, an answered prayer called, Kody’s boss Doug, to say he would be at our house the following day with Oxy friends, ready to work. Around that time, we called it a day.
Thursday, August 31—Oxy guys showed up, Doug and Brad and Larry, and Larry brought a furniture dolly. Six extra hands and two extra wheels changed our lives, and I’m forever grateful. The guys focused first on the furniture. I cleared the beds of random items, including two saved cellos, moved to higher ground four days earlier at four a.m. The legs of the beds had cracked and split, from standing in water and supporting extra loads. I emptied dressers and night stands, bottom drawers stuck from swelling, and packed away non-necessities to be stored in the garage during our time at the hotel. One by one, three bedrooms became four walls. Water-damaged memories and furniture stood on the street waiting for a pick-up, which happened overnight. People wanted that furniture, and I’m happy for someone else to have it.
That day I saved some photos and newspaper clippings and some sheet music for Drew. Doug, Larry, and Brad saved us from self-implosion. When our work came to a stopping point, I said to the guys, “Thank you so much for being here.” Choking up, I cut my thank-you short, asked for a photo, and hid behind my cell phone to snap the shot. I left the goodbyes to Kody.
Friday, September 1—More Oxy guys showed up. Kody and I continued chalk-lining the walls, and Bob arrived amid high tension with Team Byers. Frustrations of the past five days had mounted, and patience wore thin. Bob worked quietly for a guy knocking out walls.
Not long later, Jim showed up with his wife and daughters, ready to work. Christy is a relocation wife from Dallas like me, with family in the Oklahoma panhandle. The female conversation was a nice distraction, and she sped along my packing for our upcoming rebuild. Avery, a fourth grader, unscrewed electrical outlet covers, and Kendall, a sixth grader, unscrewed cabinetry hardware. The steady pounding of hammers sounded throughout the house, and the guys carried drywall to the trash heap. I beat the walls some, too, and even the girls enjoyed some good ol’ wall-hammering. Ten extra hands. Fourteen total for the day. Twenty-two for the week. Filled with gratitude at day’s end, I snapped another photo of the people who showed up as the evidence of many prayers.
Saturday, September 2—Bob showed up for an extra day, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed up with approval for thirty days of lodging assistance. Before leaving the hotel for home, I said to Kody, “I really need some music today,” and he grabbed the iPad. Our YouTube playlist lifted the solemnity that had settled upon the house, and Bob returned for more drywall, insulation, and nail removal. The three of us worked in tandem for just a few more hours. It was Saturday, after all, and the end of seven long days. Before Bob left, he said, “Would it be okay if I prayed for you guys?”
“Of course!” I said, and Kody nodded agreement. We stood in the entryway holding hands. I always wish I could remember the exact wording of other people’s prayers. They always seem more eloquent than mine. And so was Bob’s. In short, he asked God for peace for Kody and me as we face the challenges ahead. There was one slight and awkward problem. As Bob began to pray, the iPad had been between songs, and suddenly Portugal, the Man’s “Feel It Still” blasted in the background. Part of me wanted to run to the iPad, turn it down, and slip back to the circle without being obvious. Part of me tried to block the distraction and focus on the prayer, and part of me just wanted to dance. Through it all, I felt God’s presence. I felt gratitude for Kody and all his work and all his friends, I felt gratitude for our flood insurance, and I felt gratitude for the FEMA e-mail that day. Once more this feeling of faith and gratitude filled me with peace and hope.
Sunday, September 3—Kody, Drew, and I continued demolition at the house. I ran to U-Haul, actually I drove, to rent an appliance dolly and a furniture dolly for continued super-heavy trash removal. From Bissonnet Street, I turned left into the U-Haul parking lot as another customer in a U-Haul truck exited the parking lot to turn left onto Bissonnet. I hope you can visualize this. I had the right of way, and the other driver hit me, in my two-week new Mazda CX-5. As far as accidents go, this one was minimal. BUT, I hit a breaking point. I called Kody first. Later I called Denise, Oklahoma friend from age five, Dallas bestie for the past ten years. That call went to voicemail, so I left a message along this line, “Hey, sweet friend. I’m about to start screaming at the top of my lungs or I might kill someone. I’m not sure which. Anyway, I hope to talk to you soon.”
Not long later, she returned my call. “I’m in Waco.” Denise’s son is a freshman at Baylor. “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
Monday, September 4—Denise showed up, and for the day, all problems melted away. I love, LOVE her! Oh, and did she ever help me pack! Together we pretty much finished 98% of that job.
Tuesday, September 5—Kody went back to his day job this morning and took the afternoon off to work at home. His boss’s boss Michael took the afternoon off, too. And guess what? He showed up at our house to work. Michael is the type of guy who takes a vacation and volunteers in third-world countries. As the hurricane hit Houston, Michael rescued people by boat. This day was Post-Harvey Day 10, and ours was the tenth house where Michael had lent a hand. Oh, and our neighbor Sergio lent his wheelbarrow that day.
Once more, I’M HUMBLED BY THE GENEROUS GIVING OF HUMANKIND. Besides all the work, gifts have shown up that have brought me to tears. My neighbors gave us a dehumidifier, and our real estate investing group gave us two more. Kody’s company delivered the gift of insulation and drywall. Oklahoma panhandle friends have offered us furniture. Friends and family have sent cash with notes attached, like, “Treat yourself to a spa day” and “Go buy some wine.” I found a box of make-up on my doorstep one day and a box of books on another. I feel so, SO grateful! And overwhelmed by those who are SO human and SO kind.
SO, I write to remember. I write in gratitude of human generosity. I write to honor #HoustonStrong. Early on I read that Harvey destroyed or damaged over 185,000 homes in the Houston area. I know the numbers have climbed. I know others had MUCH worse damage. Some flooded with chest-height plus of unfathomable water, which stood in homes for days. Some people waited days for rescue, and many did not have flood insurance. Worst of all, lives were lost. My heart hurts for the losses surrounding me while I praise God for what I have left and for those who have prayed and for those who have given. At the end of the day, we will be okay…with a lotta help from our friends, not to mention that gift of peace and hope from the man upstairs.