Four months ago, what started off as a minor tropical storm dropped three feet of water on my city and decimated my plans.
Some were, in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential.
I was going to throw myself a belated 30th birthday party on Halloween, an elaborate Harry Potter-themed murder mystery dinner. I’d spent the last few weeks of summer making prop potions out of hair gel and glitter with my niece and crafting floating candles from the dozens of paper towel rolls I’d been saving up for months.
I was going to resume my diet, now that my ex-pat sister had returned abroad, taking all of the evil kid food with her and granting me, once again, full autonomy over the contents of the fridge and pantry.
Sidebar: By sheer addictiveness alone, I’m convinced that fruit snacks should be classified as a narcotic as it is impossible to only eat one package.
But more than anything, I took comfort in knowing that I was the architect of my future, or at least the day-to-day activities of the next nine months of it, a life which was sure to be full of new books and mule bags and doing battle with the wildlife that was constantly trying to invade the pool.
Then on August 28th, after three days of near-ceaseless rain and more tornado warnings than I care to count, I packed up two weeks worth of clothes and a box of important papers and drove white-knuckled along 290, down the only clear route we could find from my house to some place safe. I spent two nights with a friend of my sister’s, forty-five miles away from my own family, not sleeping in her 7-year-old’s twin bed (made up with Star Wars sheets), watching the levels rise in the reservoir around my neighborhood, frantically cross-referencing each gauge reading with the elevation of the street, the garage, the front door.
The Army Corps of Engineers at one point predicted the reservoir would crest at a level that meant four feet of water in our homes, levels that wouldn’t subside for weeks.
After that press release came out, I spent the morning sobbing on the phone to my sister, wracked with guilt for not doing more before I left, feeling utterly helpless. My reader-heart broke thinking of my library and the hundreds of books I’d been collecting over a lifetime which seemed consigned to a watery grave.
The rain stopped eventually. The sun came out, and the reservoir crested at a level much lower than originally thought. My books survived. And my city proved itself to be stronger than any hurricane—I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to call Houston home during the days and weeks following Harvey.
I was one of the lucky ones. I drove myself out before the floodwaters inundated my neighborhood and my home. I had a safety net of family and friends to catch me, and while Hurricane Harvey rendered me technically homeless for a while, I was never without a place to call home.
But I’ll never forget sloshing through my house in a pair of borrowed waders and my uncle’s size 11 boots, my nose filled with the heady scent of damp and rot, barely stifling the hysteria in my voice as I went from room to room with my iPhone, detailing the damage for my family.
During that initial walkthrough of the house, I found a sign I’d bought the previous Christmas floating around the study.
Jeremiah 29:11—one of my favorite Bible verses and also probably the one I struggle with the most. Because, while it promises a future full of hope, it also asks that we put our trust in something outside of ourselves. To put the reins in someone else’s hands. And that, to me, is scary as hell.
I like plans. I like putting next Saturday’s brunch in my phone and jotting down future trips and office holidays on my wall calendar. I like feeling like I am in control my own destiny, or at the very least, in control of my own zip code.
And then Harvey came, and, for awhile at least, I lost the reins.
I consider myself to be fairly self-reliant. If I’m sick, I’ll take myself to the RediClinic and buy my own Sudafed. If there’s a mouse in the house or a family of ducks in the pool, I’ll take care of it, albeit messily and with no small amount of dramatics. I’ve learned how to change the water filter and wrap the pipes and reset the modem when the internet goes down.
I like taking care of other people…I’m less good at letting other people take care of me.
In the wake of the hurricane, so many people wanted to help. I was inundated with texts and Facebook messages and emails from concerned friends and family members and coworkers.
“What can I do?” they asked. “What do you need?”
But I was one of the lucky ones. What did I need? I had clothes and my computer and a place to stay for as long as I needed it. I was okay. I was fine.
One of my best friends from high school went to Loyola for college. She arrived in New Orleans about five days before Katrina hit. She was able to evacuate in time, but I remember how scared I was for her. How scared I thought she must be feeling, how untethered. I remember asking her what I could do. What did she need?
Post-Harvey, the tables turned, and she was asking me those same questions. I told her I was fine.
“But really,” she said.
“I am,” I insisted. I was.
“It’s okay to let other people help you, you know,” she said. “People want to help. Let them.”
So I did. And it wasn’t easy. I had to swallow my pride and admit to myself that I couldn’t do it all on my own.
No man is an island. None of us has it all figured out. The story of our life is constantly changing and evolving, taking twists and turns that may be cause for delight or dismay. The plans we make for ourselves sometimes fall apart, and you have to trust that one day, the pieces will fall in line, and you’ll finally, FINALLY, be able to throw that Harry Potter Murder Mystery Dinner Party that you’ve now had to cancel twice.