I never used to be one that bought into constant analogies and metaphors for daily life. I just went on with my daily activities, stressed out much of the time, and not really understanding what I was going through.
But now, the idea of being caught in a flood really catches my eye and is without question one of the most apt descriptions of how I think we’re going right now. In the beginning, you see, we were just starting, the water trickling in, the dampness sort of permeating small, unrealized areas of our lives and we thought it was OK. We could easily mop it up or bail it out later. We had bigger things to contend with. The dam had to be built or repaired in other places.
I’m not just giving you metaphors here. I have examples. Where daily things like laundry, dinner, picking up the kids, how to deal with school, all those things were decent sized problems, particularly for someone who wasn’t used to doing them every day, there’s the fact that I had to move our entire house just a couple months after losing Andrea. I had to get a different job because my boss didn’t want me working with them any more. I had to seem like I was a really strong and capable Dad able to take care of my children and seem like where they were a wreck I was OK, strong and able to handle things so they could feel safe.
But I had to give up a home that would work because I was losing more than 1/3 of my salary. My children were a mess because, under the deal we’d made, we had to be out of our home in a very finite amount of time. With no home to move into, my father offered to let us live with them, in Nebraska, as long as we needed. We could pay for food with Social Security and unemployment. I could write. I could get us through the 2 remaining years of high school for my oldest, Abbi, and then decide what to do. It was so tempting, to the point I was nearly resigned to do it.
You have to understand, in those first weeks, the point where my writing was stiff, stilted and jerky on the page, I was lost. I was down in the flood, missing my best friend. The person who helped me make decisions was gone. I was alone, fumbling around waist-deep in the water not knowing what I was feeling. Ultimately, I decided that, under all the changes we’d had to face, including moving my daughter out of her school and going to the public school, the last horrible thing that would break my kids would be moving them from the home they know right now. Living in Nebraska, in the calm, safe, security of a home that was mine, that was my life alone, was tempting and would have been wonderful for me. But it really wasn’t about me. Not any more. It was about those four kids and moving four kids from California to the Midwest, putting them in a school where their class might be 30-40 kids at most, was setting them up for ridicule and scrutiny they really didn’t need.
So I was resigned to stay. I got so lucky, I was offered a job that paid me better, was friendly toward my family where the previous one wasn’t, and let me be a journalist, not a virtual traffic cop placing and rearranging other people’s stories to fit someone’s schizophrenic idea of a story calendar. My father, still living with us, said “it’s about time. You’ve been so due for even the tiniest break I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to ask what else could happen!”
Once we started trying to find a house the market was insane. One house I went to said he would open the house for fifteen minutes and I could fill out an application. Little did I realize it wasn’t just my 15 minutes, but me and 20-30 other couples, all of whom started negotiating higher rent with the owner because they were desperate, just like me, to get into a home. I was lucky that a property manager who I had been dealing with prior to getting pushed out of my job remembered me and had set up with the owner that we could move in, if we wanted the house, with no advertisement on the home. If we wanted it, the owner was fine with us already. The water pouring over the dike was so heavy by that point I was literally feeling like I was drowning.
Once we moved there was stuff everywhere. We had to move from a place we called home, with tons of stuff, a lot of it Andrea’s, and go through the materials before we were even ready. Again, the major wash of water overshadowing the routine.
The major change now, though, is that I’ve hit a wall. Where 8-9 months ago the water was washing, like a tsunami dragging us out to sea, now it’s been a sneaky, rising flood that has come up from underneath us.
You have to understand, I’m not really stressed out, not like I was. I don’t hate my job, in fact I love it, quite a bit. So the daily dread of getting in the car and driving to work wasn’t there. A year ago I was racked with worry. Financially we were unstable. Andrea’s knees were shot and the bones were literally grinding against each other when she walked. I was so hurt watching her struggle to even walk from the car into Target for the day. Liver problems and medical issues had caused her to gain a bunch of weight that made it hard for her to sleep in our bed. The light of her smile had dimmed. The depression she was feeling had taken, literally, the color from all the sound and vision of her world, it was all muted tones of grey. She told me as much. But where you might think, “he’s happy she’s not suffering any more” you’re wrong. You see, she’d turned the corner. In the last few months, nearly a year, she’d gotten so happy. She was smiling more, dancing again, singing off-key and giggling like the Andrea of old. Just when we were poised to get her better it all went away.
So the stresses are gone. Sure, I should be happy, but I’m not. You never realize how much water has overtaken you until you look and see that your body is wet. Now, I am seeing the daily laundry overtaking me. I can’t fold it all, can’t iron my shirts, fold towels, even get it all in the washing machine. The boys have ripped holes in nearly every single pair of pants. Hannah has gone to excessive eating again, to the point I have to force her to get outside and walk around with me so we both get a decent amount of exercise. My poor Abbi is in a school she didn’t want and we both know she has to attend, but she doesn’t know how to let go of her past. Noah doesn’t want to do things separately so he knows what is going on every day. Sam, he just doesn’t want me out of his sight.
And I work as hard as I can to stay together. I work until my body tells me it’s had enough and needs to stop and then I sit up in my bed and watch TV until I can’t sit any more. Like yesterday, we’re walking just off-kilter, seeing the world from the periphery. I’m treading water. The massive panic went away and I realized it masked the rising flood waters below us.
That, and I miss my best friend now. It’s been a long road these months to come to the realization that I had to take the mantle of authority. Now, I realize nearly too late that I make the decisions. Right, wrong, good, bad, I make them. We’re down in the flood and it’s my own fault, but the solutions are there. I’ve got the kids doing more. I task out what’s most important and let the leaks lie while I fix the cracks. I’m slowly getting my head above water.
But it still doesn’t fix the one big thing yet, that I’m missing my best friend now.