In which the rain comes in
and we are perhaps washed away
The water first started coming in at the light fixture in the middle of the bedroom ceiling, running in a sudden steady dribble, onto the bed. In short order, all the lights were leaking and dark lines had emerged outlining our new ceiling in grids as the water found its way along the gyprock sheet joints before trickling down the walls and onto the floor behind and under our new furniture.
We pulled clothing and books away from the wall and covered everything in a clear and clinging skin-thin plastic film. We placed buckets strategically here and there, but though they filled up steadily, the water refused to be contained. As the drips fell haphazardly, they bounced and ricocheted in a fine mist that soon coated the surrounding objects in a fine dirty-yellow dew. Eventually, the mist gathered itself on the plastic surface into droplets that ran together and pooled here and there on the tarps and floor.
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We peered up frequently, almost constantly, to ponder the ceiling as one consults the tarot or horoscope, and fretted about the water’s progress, its various new sources of egress. We ran out of vessels, and we mopped the slick tiles between the buckets and bins, glancing again and again at the corners that had, so far, remained dry.
We sought temporary refuge outside with wine, and waited for the dripping to slow inside. It had long since stopped raining but the slow seeping continued into the wee hours. When finally at 3 a.m. we went to bed, it was under a blanket of plastic film, with the feet of the two halves of our bed separated, and a large square Obi workshop bin between them. Our lullaby was an irregular but incessant drip, drip-drip, drip, drip-drip-drip, drip-drip.
Within the next two weeks, it had rained a second and a third time. We had something of a routine — I manned the buckets and mop and put the plastic sheeting in place, while Husband climbed up onto the roof and bailed off the water.
In the between times — before and after the roofing crew showed up — we climbed up the ladder to arrange and reinforce our rooftop swimming pool. We tried various strategies, nailing or stapling thick black tarps to the edge beams (szarufa? gerenda?), rolling up wood fairing in the the tarp edges, stapling it, and throwing it over the side. We laid the tarps crisscrossed over the roof surface, taped it with Tuck tape around the chimneys, patched holes where nails had poked through, and tried in every way possible to seal off all possible water entries — to astonishingly quick and miserable failure.
At 3 p.m., the roofing crew would leave, and we would consult the Oracle weather apps and, depending on the prognosis, climb up to do what we could to hedge against a humid night. I bought a year’s supply of plastic film from Obi so that at least there would be no shortage of covering for our possessions inside.
The fixture in the center of the living room, with the three bulbs that could be positioned in different directions, was a real pain. We unscrewed it so that it would allow the water to run down freely rather than pool behind it, but this led to erratic spray and splashing. And so, we rigged up a jute cord from the fixture to the stovepipe, which served to move the fixture slightly out of the way of the dripping, which seemed to somewhat improve matters, albeit only slightly. Small flies congregated on the rim of the light fixtures and all along the jute cord, a line of insect Morse code. Every time I looked up, I saw those tiny black punctuation marks feeding and leaving their eggs in the yellowish attic-and-insulation-infused water droplets. Later, they also congregated on the stained and bubbling gyprock seams and around the bathroom lights. We were besieged.
In 2020, when the lockdowns started and I felt such a swelling of emotional discomfort and dissociation — a distinct incongruity with the common narrative — that I could no longer ignore it. I furtively, secretly, started to write. It had been a very long time since I’d written anything resembling an opinion. But it was like a dam breaking: I could have spent day after day putting into words what I observed and experienced, and not come to the end of it.
Life as I knew it was so turned on its head that grappling with my reality became all consuming. At first, I felt sheepish, as if confiding my most shameful deeds and desires to a diary. I went about writing furtively, feeling that I was sinning, not only for having an incorrect opinion, but for performing the heretic act of writing out my thought-sins. Soon, I began to dare to think my taboo opinion was worth preserving, that it might even be worth crafting into something another person might read and might be influence by, that I might make of it something useful and worthy. This, I suppose is a truly heretic thought, as it portends a shift from shame to bold action.
I could not help myself. I wrote out my feelings of bafflement and frustration, of rage and confusion. Nothing made sense anymore, and for me, the only way I have ever been able to make sense of the world has been by writing. One word at a time, I wrote, and I wrote, as if I could write (or “right”) the world back into being. At an irregular but constant pace, my words filled the digital pages of Word documents and then became the first drafts in this Substack.
The 2020 lockdowns were the wedge that would later drive open floodgates.
The pandemic measures had dramatic outcomes — of which many are yet to be fully understood. But, on a personal front, the two most significant were that I began to believe in myself and to imagine what I might yet do. For the first time in years, I considered what impact I might have, what I wanted my life to be, and I increasingly had the courage of my convictions, despite also being increasingly terrified of the global forces I saw at play.
There were many tears and evenings of fretting. But from that deeply anxious, fearful and alarmed state, grew something incredible: the recognition of what should be protected and preserved, a vision of what could be, and the determination to pursue it, regardless of what lay ahead.
Something of this spirit persisted and has helped us weather the storms that “flooded” our home. It is with grim determination, a certain amount of outrage, and the experience of powerlessness, that we realized some things cannot be stopped. The most we can do is step out of the way to help them run their course.
There’s something else I want to write about, but it’s hovering around the edges, evading my attempts to pin it down, and it has to do with the way of water.
Since the time when we had no roof and there was so much rain, it’s been exceedingly dry — the newspapers even venture to say that all of Europe is experiencing a drought. Friends back home inquire with a tinge of alarm: Is it true that this is a record-setting drought? And I, with my water-stained memories and the persistent smell of humidity in my nose, am surprised, unaware. Sure, it hasn’t rained lately, but is that sufficient to earn the label “drought”?
And then, I realized that I’ve been wanting to write this (and several other) pieces for, well, what had been weeks but has become months, and so, perhaps a drought it is.
I took this photo ages ago, one morning when walking with Rumcajsz to the forest. In fact, it might have been one of those mornings after a sleepless night of manning the buckets. Summer has since run its course and is now showing all the signs of receding so fall can take center stage.
This is the “road” to the forest, a surface that is ever changing — sometimes hard packed, other times mucky and slick, but most often, dry and shifting as sand dunes.
You can see the softened edges of a truck’s tire tracks, but in the dip, the sand is smooth and marked only by the rivulets left by water currents, as if a river had formed over night. Just the day before, as on most days, I had walked this path, leaving visible footprints. And here, a mere 24 hours later, was something of a clean slate. All my previous steps were wiped out by these beautiful smooth patterns.
When I was a teenager, I received something — a calendar or a poster or a card? — with a photo of footsteps on the beach and the story/prayer/poem titled “Footprints in the sand.” I found it very clever and reassuring, though at that time I would have categorically denied the existence of God.
If you don’t know it, an older person, looking back on the trail of footprints in the sand that is his life, sees that in many places there are two sets of footprints but in others, there is only one set. He asks God why He abandoned him during those times, and God tells him that He did not abandon him, but rather, those were the times He carried him.
Just now, for the first time in years, I remembered that story, and remembered that at one point I found comfort in it. Perhaps there’s something about this footprint-less path that I might need to contemplate a little more deeply.
And so, I’m left with questions:
What does it mean to leave traces of yourself behind? What does it mean to travel an unknown path? And how might we gain a new perspective on a well known and well traveled path?
And what’s more: Does it matter more where you have been or where you are going?
And what’s more: Water, even the smallest amount, has the incredible power to wash things away, even, perhaps, to wash away our sins.
Perhaps, just perhaps, there is something about the persistence of water, about how it finds its way through any obstacle, that is worth emulating, worth pursuing, and at a minimum, worth allowing to run its course.
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Here I am with eyes, once more, brimmed with tears, Darling Daughter. You write so well that your words tug at my heart strings - I miss you so much. And your writing is truly as therapeutic for me as it must be for you. Thank you. As soon as I can dry my eyes, I'm going to read this one again.
I have a question though: All of the water coming in? Did it damage all the new plastering and painting that you had already finished? How discouraging that must feel!