By Kim Thore
I never thought these words would exit my lips but losing my home was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Don’t worry, I’m not being glib or consciously uncoupling from the life I used to know-it is simply that I have learned that when the unthinkable happens to you, sometimes you can persevere and even come out better on the other side. Admittedly we are not even through to the other side yet, but I am really hopeful about the future.
It all unraveled January 7 at around noon…I had been in a meeting and hadn’t taken my cell phone with me..I walked into my office , picked it up and saw that I had 10 texts from Jon…as I scanned through them…each one was more dire than the last. Water was gushing through our building, coming through our ceiling, walls and floor. The fire department was there and no one knew what exactly was happening except that it all looked like an urban outtake from that Russell Crowe movie. I grabbed my purse, ran to my car and sped down I-40 to see what was happening…as the president of the HOA I also had to be on site to assess next steps.
Because of the danger that electricity and water do not mix, the firemen were putting up caution tape as water poured through the front door of our condo building. I flashed some ID and a smile and wormed my way in and stood there in shock. The home I had worked very hard for and had kept despite moves that took me to other states, was now resembling a water soaked napkin. I wasn’t allowed to try and save anything except my cat Bijoux- who was less than thrilled. Jon had grabbed Steve and China-and that was it. That’s what we walked away with, our family. I realize that those are treasures.
I spent a lot of time over the next few days asking why—why would a neighbor stupidly ignore repeated warnings not to turn off your heat in the winter because pipes would freeze? Why had I let our insurance lapse and dragged my feet getting a new policy? Why had I worked so hard for things that were now ruined? Why me? In retrospect, I think the universe needed to teach me a few lessons.
I had never once considered a flood would happen, I lived on the second floor – if anything fire was a concern and I remember thinking it was almost comical that one of the key selling points of the condo had been that it had a sprinkler system which had made me feel safer, the very same system that exploded in the attic dumping hundreds of gallons of water in a building, destroying the homes of 12 people.
As I said in an earlier blog, you tend to think this happens to other people, not you.
However, after three months of being displaced, living in a campus dorm room and having any sense of normalcy removed, I have finally come to the realization that despite all, I am glad the flood happened to us and especially me. I won’t speak for Jon, but it has changed me and I daresay made me a better person.
First, I hope I will never take anything for granted again. I had been complaining that the condo was too small and too cluttered just before disaster basically fixed that problem. Our home may not have been perfect but it was a home. Losing it taught me not to take anything for granted.
This experience has also taught me that people can be extraordinarily kind. We stayed for a week with Jon’s Dad, but it’s always tough to live with someone else, they have their routines, you have dogs, etc and we weren’t sure where we were going to land…with no insurance, expenses would be coming out of our pockets and that would mean a mortgage and a rental payment. Every night for a week, the last words I said to Jon were, “I am scared.”
I didn’t know how we were going to manage being displaced.
Someone at work suggested we ask if the college had any housing we could stay in…and before we knew it, word had gotten around to the Dean of Students that we had lost our home and he offered us a suite at the Senior Dorms, he even relaxed the rule about no dogs. Suddenly we had a roof over our heads. Every day I wake up thankful for that simple act of kindness. The couch I am sitting on as I type this? The Director of Admissions arranged for us to have it from some old furniture the college had in storage. She even gave us a dining room bistro table from her own garage.
It’s small, Thursday and Friday nights are always a bit loud, and instead of tree frogs and crickets, I listen to the sounds of traffic every night and morning, but we are together and we are safe. This dorm room might as well be Versailles because it is a palace compared to where we may have landed, and as many people do when tragedy strikes.
I’ve learned that while it’s fun to own 168 pair of shoes, 50 handbags and three closets of clothes, I can live with what a single wardrobe contains. We don’t have closets and that forced me to some harsh realities…all the sequin skirts, vintage jackets and Gucci heels will not make you happy. Pretty maybe, but not happy. I still love fashion, I always will, but in a week or two when I start to clean up the two rooms of our “stuff” that are currently covered in construction dust, a large majority of it is going to be donated. If I didn’t miss it , I don’t need it. I’ve been a consumer of goods for many years and the last three months have taught me less, truly, is more.
You find true friends in those crisis moments. A neighbor of mine whom I had considered a friend truly showed her genuineness when she met me at the condo to move soggy contents so the mitigation company could start pulling down walls, rip up carpets and basically reconstruct half of my home. I kept thinking as we worked in less than enviable conditions, wow I have only known her for a few months and she’s willing to do THIS? Rose trudged through debris, helped me pack up 10 years of my life and did it with a smile. As we moved through and made piles of ruined and some irreplaceable items that crews had broken, she kept me focused on the task at hand and didn’t allow me to feel sorry for myself. Sometimes when you are in the trenches of despair, all you need is that one hand to pull you out of it.
Perhaps the greatest lesson of all is I have learned that I am far more resilient than I ever thought. I haven’t slept through the night in three months, any sense of normalcy has been long gone, and everything is just a little bit harder and yet I keep plugging along.
Some parts of my life have even flourished. Without all of the sound and fury of a chaotic life, I have focused on that which I can control. I can’t make repairs happen faster or wish away the event, but I can create something out of the ashes. 30+ somethings . Without the distraction of a DVR , satellite tv, etc. I have taken to creating again…one of the things lost was my art portfolio…in the past two months I have created a new one. I realized I was hanging on to a time in my life when I considered myself an artist, and when the “evidence” of that got destroyed, a part of me died…only to be revitalized when I timidly started trying to create images that in many ways speak about these experiences. My first art show in years has now been set for June 6. I have to wonder if I would have done this had I still retained that portfolio crutch from so many years ago ?
Yesterday all of this sunk in when I plopped down on the lawn of a very big church that is across the street from our building—Steve , China and I took a walk and I thought I should sit in the sun for a bit and let the dogs enjoy the warm weather… I played with the dogs, let them eat grass and roll around. People in cars whizzed past me …rushing around – caught up in this ever-rotating mortal coil. I used to be one of those people. I smiled, fell onto my back and let the dogs lick my face as the sun poured over my skin.
Life is hard. Life can be unexpected. But, thanks to a broken water pipe I learned life is good. Really good.