Wait and Hope

I once read, “All human wisdom is contained in these two words, ‘Wait and hope.’” Okay, ‘once’ is an understatement. I teach English to high school sophomores, and I love The Count of Monte Cristo. These words ring true with each and every read. Human wisdom: wait and hope.

I never thought I would hear myself say, “I’ve spent the last five weeks in a La Quinta.” Not that there’s anything wrong with La Quintas, I would just prefer a house. If anything, I suppose I’m learning more patience. I always thought of myself as an easy-going, patient person, and most who know me would agree. I teach high school sophomores after all. However, my F-bomb tally has increased exponentially in recent times. I suppose that’s my clue, along with me smoking like a chimney and crying like a water fountain, that I still have much to learn about patience.

For three weeks, Team Byers and friends removed all-things-wet except for the wood floors and cabinets, which remained saturated, even with three dehumidifiers in our humble abode. For three weeks, we waited on our last contractor, who finished our kitchen remodel in April and who must be very busy. He scheduled a time to meet with me and then no-showed. I get it—over 185,000 homes were damaged—and I’m sure many people need him. For three weeks, we waited for our insurance adjuster to show up, and now we wait as he submits his paperwork and the insurance company processes our claim.

In Post-Harvey Week Three, we hired a handy man named Arthur. For the past twenty years, Arthur has worked odd jobs for our next-door neighbors CJ and Pat. Arthur started mid-week, showing up after his day job, then working full days on Saturday and Sunday with his friend James. For six days and together Arthur and James ripped up the still sodden hardwood floors, tore out the damaged bathroom fixtures, and peeled the siding off two exterior walls (the remaining walls are brick). They scooped the debris into a wheelbarrow and piled it all on the growing trash heap along the street. After five weeks in the La Quinta, we are almost ready to rebuild.

When it comes to the kitchen, we need professional help. We hate to see our new kitchen go. Maybe the lower kitchen cabinets can be salvaged? Maybe we can replace the doors? Quite possibly mold hides inside walls behind the cabinets. After all, the walls came tumbling down for a reason. Quite possibly we’ll chip the new, quartz countertops when we pull out our new, water-damaged cabinets. We need guidance, and we need to know our budget. We are so close to the answers if we can wait and hope a little longer.

My mother-in-law Dana called me as I stood in what used to be the living room and stared through the open walls of our gutted house into what used to be our bedrooms. My stomach turned. There lay our vintage, refinished oak floors, splintered by crowbars, slanted to peaks in three piles, as if waiting for a torch—a small bonfire for each bedroom. When Arthur and James took crowbars to the new oak floors that matched the old—the ones we had paid for no more than six months before, it was like losing my books (previous post). I don’t know why I loved the floors so much, maybe they reminded me of the hardwood dance studio floors of my youth, and now, no more dancing, at least not on these floors. Now, post-flood, we prepare for the future, a future with another possible flood. No wood. No carpet. Only tile. I’m okay with wood-look tile throughout the house. Really, I am. But I needed a minute to grieve for my beautiful oak, old and new. Dana called me during that moment of grief, together we mourned, and then she started to pray. I suspect when we hung up that day she called some prayer warriors, who interceded on our behalf.

bonfire piles

Call it coincidence or call it God. It seems that every time I flip into ‘Poor me, poor me’ mode, supernatural provisions appear. After my conversation with Dana, I scrolled Facebook and found a post from my neighbor Peggy. “If you or anyone you know needs to start their sheetrock job, please let me know. I know a great contracting company that is very reasonable and honest. They are also very efficient and get the job done right. Contact me for more details & info.” Peggy is a realtor. I trust her opinion.

I texted Peggy for more information, and within a couple of days Tu, the contractor, showed up at my house. Within another couple, Tu e-mailed his bid, detailed and thorough. Tu suggests mold testing and using a public adjuster before starting any work, which is how we plan to proceed.

I say ‘how we plan to proceed’ because I’ve learned in life that plans change. Toward the end of Post Harvey Week Four, a real estate investor taped a coral-colored flier to our front door, “Dear Neighbors, I am sorry for your loss and am certain you will OVERCOME these difficult times that have been forced upon your life. For my neighbors who wish to leave these low lands, I am offering you Cash for your home. I pay more than FEMA and Low Ball Investors that are entering our lands. Please call for a quick over the phone quote…”

With coral-colored flier in hand, Kody said, “I’m going to call this guy.”

“What would it take for us to walk away?” I asked.

“Well, whatever he offers plus the insurance money would have to pay off our loan. I have a hard time believing he could pay us enough as is.”

“So even if we could pay off the loan, we would still need enough money for a down payment to buy another house?” I halfway stated, halfway questioned.

Kody stood there nodding his head up and down.

With my brain filled to overflowing with considerations, decisions, negotiations, phone calls to make and things to do concerning the demolition/rebuild site, formerly known as home, not to mention the grading, lesson plans, parent contacts and Open House that week at my new job, I suddenly realized that I had an upcoming Friday-off from school, a three-day weekend for County Fair Day. I also realized that I needed a Post-Harvey Houston hiatus and that I needed to see my sweet mother, now living with the severe decline of Alzheimer’s in an Oklahoma City memory care facility. My mom can still participate in conversation if the other person carries it, but for the past five weeks, I’m ashamed to say, I have been too emotionally spent to pick up my phone and carry on. I’ve been reminding myself to let go and let God. I remind myself of Glennon Doyle Melton’s words from Love Warrior, one of my favorite books of the year, “Just do the next right thing, one thing at a time, and what we don’t know, we’re not supposed to know yet.” I remind myself to “wait and hope.”

It was Wednesday when I called my dad to fill him in on my last-minute plan for Friday. “Well, hey Crystal,” he said on the other end of the line, “I’ll be there this weekend, too. As a matter of fact, there’s a Walk to End Alzheimer’s fundraiser on Saturday morning downtown. I thought I would go bust mom out early that morning, and we could walk it together.”

“That sounds like a plan. I’m going to stop in Dallas and drop off my dog with my friend Denise. She has offered to foster Rain for me when our construction starts. Right now Kody takes Rain to the house every morning, and I pick her up after school. Even though the La Quinta is dog friendly, we don’t want to leave her there barking all day, so this weekend will be a trial run for Denise and Rain. Anyway, I will call you when I’m headed out of Dallas to firm up our plans.” My sister Liz was there visiting my dad when I called, so I was on speaker phone.

As if fairy dust had been sprinkled on my family across the state of Oklahoma, the next thing I knew a reunion of five fell into place. I’m not sure who called whom, but my brother Scott wanted to walk and would drive to Oklahoma City from Stillwater on Saturday morning. Liz, who had logged at least twenty hours in the car that week already, would make her third trip from the Panhandle to OKC so that we could walk as a family.

My precious mom’s smile stretched from ear to ear when my dad and I picked her up on Saturday morning. I was the first of many surprises that day. Liz and Scott would be meeting us at the walk. As we parked downtown, my mom, who has difficulty completing her thoughts, pointed into the crowd which grew to 10,000ish and said, “That looks like Liz.”

Petty Family 2017

I looked harder in the direction of my mother’s pointed finger and replied, “That is Liz.”

Over the course of the weekend, we hugged, walked, held hands, dined, imbibed (except for Mom), watched college football, and engaged in meaningful conversation. Our time together was good for all souls involved. During a few moments alone with my sister, I remember her saying, “Sometimes you just have to let go and let God and put one foot in front of the other. You know, Mom was our spiritual leader, and those are lessons I’ve learned over time.”

“That’s so funny that you say that. I’m in the middle of a blog that I don’t know how to end, but I just wrote about letting go and letting God, doing the next right thing, one thing at a time and waiting and hoping. I know that everyone faces their own hurricanes, but I keep believing God is on my side, and he keeps showing up for me, like over and over and over.”

That Time When I Met Harvey

I can’t lie. When I heard Dr. Crear’s voice on the overhead speaker after school on Thursday, August 24 saying, “Teachers, if you are still in the building. Please check your e-mail. The district will be closed Friday and Monday due to the approaching storm,” I felt the excitement of an unexpected snow day.

The night before I took a trip to HEB for a few things, and the grocery store was a zoo. People clogged each aisle, food flew into grocery carts, and the shelves stood eerily empty. I joined the madness and grabbed what I could, stocking up with the rest of Houston. My friend Misti texted me that night, “Hey! Don’t you be playing with that hurricane.”

I thumbs-upped her text and responded, “I just made a grocery store run. It’s crazy around here. We are ready for whatever needs to happen.”

The next day I texted Misti again, “School has been canceled for tomorrow and Monday. I have a full tank of gas in case of an evacuation.”

She responded, “K. You can stay with me!! Ya’ll can leave early.”

Again, I texted, “It looks like we’re only getting the edge of the storm. We are here waiting for Harvey.”

I probably should’ve been, but I wasn’t scared. Amidst more concerned texts from more friends and family, the storm lingered in the Gulf and in the back of my mind. On my first hurricane-day-off, I focused on curriculum for the upcoming weeks of school. According to the local news, Harvey’s eye had narrowed on Corpus Christi, and emergency management officials advised Houston residents not to evacuate. Galveston and other coastal areas had mandatory evacuations, so we followed the plan to keep the roads clear for others. At home, Kody and I cooked and ate, watched movies and enjoyed the downtime. Soft rains fell that day, on and off.

Saturday proceeded in much the same way, except for reports of Harvey hitting east, north, and south of us, people losing power, and much more rain in the forecast. By late afternoon, soaking rains drenched our neighborhood, and water pooled in our yard.

I stepped outside around nine o’clock in the evening, hearing voices on the street and realizing for the first time we had a situation. In my flip flops, I waded through water toward the end of my drive way and stepped onto the drier, elevated street. My neighbor Peggy from two doors down said, “Megan and Boaz have water in their house.” Megan and Boaz live next door between Peggy and me. I felt pressure in my chest, sick to my stomach, and an understanding in my brain that we could also flood in a matter of time.

I met another neighbor for the first time that night, an older man whose name I’ve forgotten but not his words. “I’ve lived here since 1960,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” I remember him shaking his head back and forth as he walked away toward his home. I considered his words along with the history of our house, also built in 1960 and never flooded.

I’ve witnessed a few rivers flowing through our neighborhood drainage system. A trench lies near the street, about 3’ to 4’ deep and up to 10’ wide, considering the slope on each side, and a culvert rests beneath each driveway. The water drains into Brays Bayou. I don’t remember saying any prayers that day, but seeing our overflowing trench, flooding our yard and drive with water creeping toward our house, I prayed and prayed and prayed some more for the rain to stop.

Around 11:30 Houston Hobby reported 9.92” of rain over the past hour and a half. The rain relentlessly continued. I remained inside, staring through my front living room window and praying as flood waters rose. Finally, around 1:30, I called it a night, crawled into bed, and changed my prayer. “Please God, watch over my family and keep us safe.”

At approximately four a.m., my son Drew stood next to my bed, saying, “Mom, water is coming through the back door.” I followed him down the hall, through the living room, and into the laundry room at the back of the house, where water had seeped under the door and onto the tile. I peered through the back-door window to see water swirling over our deck and our entire back yard submerged. I opened the garage door to find the floor already under water. Through the front window, I saw water approaching the front-door threshold.

Returning to the bedroom, I relayed the news to Kody and started picking things up off the floor, starting with the shoes in the bottoms of our closets. Kody dragged out of bed, half-asleep, to assess the situation for himself, and about that time water leaked in from the back of the house under the lower kitchen cabinets. He threw down some towels while I rolled my eyes and shook my head. Towels could not stop this flood. At the same time water began to soak up through the wood floors throughout the house, and Kody, Drew, and I rushed around moving everything we could think to save on top of countertops and beds and dressers and higher shelves.

By five o’clock the water inside was ankle deep, and I threw some things into a waterproof shoulder bag in preparation for evacuation. I dried my feet with a towel and flopped back in bed, so did Kody and Drew. Not that I slept. I scrolled Facebook and my Nextdoor app for flood advice. More than once I read something along the lines of, “Turn your breakers off IMMEDIATELY! Do not wade through flood water with live electricity!”

“Kody?” I said to my husband lying beside me in the dark.

“Yeah.”

“I’m reading we need to flip the breakers. It’s not safe to walk through the water.”

Without questions or comments, Kody jumped out of bed and into action, sloshing down the hallway, through the living room, then the laundry room, and out into the garage. He shut off the power without electrocuting himself and through rising water found his way back to bed in the pitch-black darkness.

Once more we attempted sleep as Harvey poured hundreds of billions of gallons of rain upon Houston.* I found myself time and time again standing up on my bed, peering over the headboard and out the front window.

Somewhere around seven o’clock, I heard the beeping of a city dump truck in reverse and voices outside. I splashed through the water, now shin deep, down the hallway, into the entryway, where I opened the front door for the first time in about ten hours. As I stepped outside, the water now covered my knees. My neighbors gathered around the oversized flat-bed truck, manned by Houston firefighters, and I waded toward them. One of the first responders yelled, “If you want to come with us, we need to leave now.” Some of my neighbors already had a bag or two, some had their dogs, and some were climbing the ladder to evacuation.

Rushing back to the house for Kody, Drew, and our dog Rain, I said, “Throw some clothes in a bag and whatever else you need. Drew, what can I help you do?”

“I need my medicine.”

Drew deals with his own hurricanes. I call it a hurricane of the brain. His doctors call it paranoid schizophrenia. “Thanks for helping me remember. My bag is packed. I’ll take it with me and tell the truck you and Dad are on your way.”

With my overloaded bag on one shoulder, I stooped to pull Rain, our wet chihuahua-terrier mix, from the water. She tried her best to swim, God bless her. Carrying my purse, bag and dog, wading through waters I don’t care to describe, I yelled to Kody back in the bedroom, “Grab your cell phone charger, and lock the door.”

The Flood

And that’s how we came to be rescued on a dump truck with sixteen people and seven dogs.

Exiting our neighborhood, we turned north onto Fondren, formerly six lanes across, now a lake. On our route to safety, stranded vehicles collided like bumper cars in our wake. Apartment residents on higher ground waved and cheered and videoed, as if we were a float in a parade instead of afloat in a flood. A few short miles away, the Arena Theatre parking garage along with another fifty or so evacuees awaited a new group. Once there, the dump truck dumped us, and with our own cars left behind, we realized the next phase of the plan was in our hands or maybe in our feet.

I remembered the La Quinta. Less than a year before we were moving from temporary housing after our relocation from Dallas and into our Houston fixer upper. Our newly refinished wood floors needed a few days to dry before we could move in our furniture, and our temporary lease had expired, so for a few days we stayed at the pet-friendly La Quinta, not far from our house and a little over a mile away from the Arena Theatre parking garage. “Kody? What about the La Quinta.”

 

My man is a good man. He made the call, and the La Quinta had a suite for immediate occupancy at an amazing rate. In the meantime, the rain stopped. We grabbed our bags and our dog and started walking, me in my flip flops. The first half mile remained dry except for a few unavoidable puddles. The second half of that journey took place in the rain, not to complain. We made it—to breakfast and coffee and two dry, connecting rooms with two showers. My heart swelled with thankfulness that spilled into my prayers, praising God for my family and dog, our safety and shelter, and all the small things including a dry change of clothes and shoes.

In the weeks after meeting Harvey, I’m not saying that I haven’t been sad. I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of loss. I’m not saying that I haven’t felt like screaming at the top of my lungs or throat-punching some people. Ask anyone close to me. I’ve phoned a few to talk me off the ledge.

My family has lost much, and we’ll live in a hotel for a while, but things are replaceable, and we are safe and alive, and we still have each other. When my thoughts turn dark, I let myself feel those natural, human responses to crisis. Then I make a conscious effort to shift my mindset with some help from God. Then peace washes over me, and I feel a sense of hope, as though I hold the secret formula to life:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

*According to The Times-Picayune on nola.com, “For the 48 hours ending at 11 a.m. Monday, Aug. 28, Harris County, Texas which includes Houston, measured an average of 23.7 inches of rain, which represents 732 billion gallons of water…that’s almost three times as much floodwater as was pumped out of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

*On September 2, 2017, ABC News reports, “Harvey dumped 20 trillion gallons of rain on Houston alone….Cedar Bayou’s preliminary total was 51.88 inches. This sets a record for tropical cyclone rainfall in the continental U.S….According to the latest estimate from the Texas Division of Emergency Management, 185,149 homes were either damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey and the resulting flooding. That number is expected to rise.”