We’d lived here less than a week when the first flood came. I walked into the kitchen to check on dinner and when I spotted the deep dark swirl outside the window, in what used to be the entrance to the garage, I threw a spatula toward the sink and made for the back hall, screaming obscenities all the way. I was too late. Our garage—full up with giant boxes of new not-yet-assembled furniture—was already drowning.
We’ve changed drain lines, installed new and bigger gutters, graded slopes, built a catchment, ripped out wood, reset pavers, and ran pipe and more pipe. We have taken every precaution. And yet, seven months later, I still wake to the sound of a downpour, heart pounding, at 4 a.m., to rabidly check the radar and run from door to window to door like a panicked dog. Fear of flood.
According to the United Nations, more than six million Syrians have been displaced and three million have fled the country. Where will this mass of humanity, these mothers and fathers and babies go, who will take them in? On Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “The first and foremost responsibility of government is to keep its people safe. We are working on measures to ensure … that Texans will be kept safe from those refugees.” The U.S. House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to keep the refugees out.
But over here? Here, I read the news and picture Dylan Roof, an American, walking into a church and sitting down for Bible study. Here, every week it seems there’s a gunman on a campus. Here, there’s a remote hiking trail up the road from me, but there’s also a lone house with yard paraphernalia on that trail that stops me from ever going there alone. Mr. Abbott, U.S. House, do you fantasize we all feel naively safe, refugees or no?
As I write this, we’re getting a yellow-on-the-radar downpour. It’s been raining hard for 90 minutes and I keep pressing “save” and running to the window to make sure water is not collecting at the garage door (it’s not) and to check the gutters to make sure they aren’t clogged (they’re not) and to the basement to make sure the new drains outside are draining fast enough (they are). My husband is sitting in a chair, reading a Chris Offutt book. He stares out the window and says, “I love this rain, how quiet it is out here.”
Me, I keep running.
Last week I went to see John Irving. He talked about his writing and story creation process, and said (loosely) this: That’s the thing about fear. You don’t choose your fear, the fear chooses you. And that one, uncontrollable obsession will always be what keeps you up at night.
Is it in my DNA, this fear? There’s a photo in my family album of my grandmother and my aunts (as toddlers) being rescued by canoe from a rundown rental house in Cairo, Illinois, circa 1946. In the background, I can see the river water up to the bottom of the windowsills.
Jeb Bush says we might let in Syrian mothers and orphans if they can prove they are Christians, “I mean you can prove you’re a Christian. I think you can prove it, if you can prove it, you are on the side of caution.” So the United States of America, founded on religious freedom, should start giving religion tests?
It’s still pouring outside. I check my iPhone for the radar. We are still in the yellow, and now there’s a line of red that may, or may not, cross here. I stare at my phone and think about its creator, Steve Jobs, born of a Syrian father. Was Mr. Jobs a Christian, a Buddist, an atheist, anything? Do we care? The storm is coming. I get up to check the doors the windows the garage the basement. Again. I use my iPhone to obsessively take picture after picture of drainage patterns and innocuous water puddles. You know, just in case.
I feel sick about our leaders, our state governors, coming out with formal statements, saying they will not accept Syrian refugees in their states. I think about their fear, and the fear they’re producing out of whole cloth. Is there a there there? And the millions of homeless families, the flood of humanity seeking refuge from the terrifying storm.
My German grandmother loved a good storm—they served as perfect backgrounds for her storytelling—but if she saw bad lightning or a tornado coming and we were not living in a place with a basement, she would yank her painting of The Last Supper off the wall and we would hide behind it until the storm/tornado passed. I never once saw my grandmother in a church, unless she was at a wedding or a funeral. I wonder how she would do on a test.
The longer this rain lasts, the harder it comes down, the more I press the save button–save save save–and run my room to room checks to find …… nothing.
I need to stop. Just, stop. My husband is still in his chair, reading his book, welcoming the quiet. The dogs are curled up, snoring. To John Irving’s point, it seems my fear, irrational and nonsensical as it is, has made its choice.
And this swath of rain, three hours on, is still coming down.