Quick Note: Sean works as a gas trader and is on the team of people who keep things running in the event of a hurricane. This means that during hurricane season, there is always the possibility that we will be evacuated (most often to Dallas) and yes, the animals can come with us too. Ok. Enough note-ing.
THE HARVEY CHRONICLES
Wednesday, August 30th, 2017
Wednesday evening, at home, 4 days after hurricane Harvey devastated Houston.
As Sean and I were standing in our kitchen, and as Kermie was sound asleep in his own bed for the first time in five days, I asked Sean why I felt so tired. We were safe. Our house sustained no damage; we arrived home to clocks telling perfect time. And we even got a little time to ourselves, away from Frog. So what was wrong with me? Why was I so out of it?
“It’s like what the boxing trainer told me when I was first learning.” Sean put his hands up to his face, assuming the boxer stance.
“What?” I asked.
“He told me,” Sean said, moving around and throwing pretend jabs, “you can wear an opponent out just by making him anticipate the punches.”
The previous Friday…August 25th, 2017
Text from my husband, Sean (S):
S: We are not going to Dallas. They are checking us into rooms in downtown [Houston] this afternoon. We can come and go as we please but I have to be in the [hotel] before any significant flooding occurs. We need to watch the weather but L. [my step-mother, in from Atlanta] may need to stay with us for a while.
Later Friday morning, at the grocery store.
Me (M): *Photo of bread aisle at Kroger* Who knew ppl hated rye bread that much?
S: Oh my. I cried a little.
M: About no bread?
S: Specifically the image that someone walked down the bread aisle and said to themselves “rye huh, I’d rather starve” and walked on
S: Did they give you a room key for me?
S: Cool. I’m walking back to get your car.
S: Also, have you tried the cookies [at the hotel]?
M: No but get me one
“Wow,” Sean said. He looked at the results of my three, back-and-forth trips from our house to the hotel and back again. “You got a lot of food.”
“Well, we don’t know how long we are going to be here,” I said. I pointed to a family-sized carton of Goldfish crackers. “I don’t know why I bought that. Kermie doesn’t even eat Goldfish. Maybe I can give them to the other kids?” Sean had mentioned that two of his co-workers also staying at the hotel had small children.
“Maybe,” Sean said uncertainly.
Saturday, August 26th, 2017
“Please. Don’t tell me you dressed up,” one of Sean’s co-workers said, chiding a just arrived, obviously newly-shaven gas trader. I felt my cheeks go hot because I, too, had dressed up for dinner. We were going to a steakhouse so I had made an effort; most of Sean’s co-workers were dressed in old jeans and t-shirts. So I ordered a Corona instead of champagne because casual. That Corona was going to help tone down my black dress and smokey eye make-up and make me cool. I know; a lot of pressure to put on a Corona.
It was Day 2 of our eventual five-day Harvey stay, and so far, Harvey had been a non-event. Some gloomy skies, the occasional drizzle or mist of rain, but in our minds, the weather didn’t warrant being housed downtown. And everyone was already a little stir-crazy.
With the arrival of clean-shaven trader, we were now a complete set and headed off to dinner at a hotel a couple blocks away from ours. It was the first time I’d gotten to see how many people were on the keep it going team and I was surprised. Our group was perhaps fourteen people and included two small children, one boy and one girl but no Frog because luck and shut-down airports had kept L. in Houston.
“You know,” I said to the brunette mother of the toddler boy. “I have Goldfish in my room, just in case you need any.”
“Thanks,” she said. “But I think we’re good.”
The hostess seated our group right away, in a private back room with a long, diagonal table. Sean and I sat in the middle. The mothers with children and particularly child-friendly people sat on the far end; the shop-talk, perfectly nice but not interested in getting mac ‘n cheese flung at them men sat on the other end.
“So,” a quiet man seated across from me said. “Did you get any blogging done today?”
I shook my head.
“You’ll have some time,” he said with a sly smile. “What else is there to do?”
“Wine?” A slight, blonde woman from the kid-end side of the table said, looking at us expectantly. “Does anyone want wine?”
“I’ll take some,” Sean said.
“Me too,” I said.
“We’ll get a bottle,” she said decisively. “Your choice.” She motioned to the brunette mother who was perusing the wine list. “But,” the blonde said. “I prefer a red, not fruity cabernet.”
“I’d like to take a moment,” the blonde said, raising her glass of red, not fruity cabernet. “To thank you all and your families for making the sacrifice to come here. On behalf of the company, I just want you to know that we truly appreciate you. Here’s to new friends. Cheers.”
“Cheers,” people around the table murmured.
“That was a really good toast!” someone said, as the happy chimes of wine glasses and chuckles filled the air.
Sunday, August 27th, 2017
“Rich people don’t flood,” the tall newsguy informed us. We–Frog, L. and I–were standing in the hotel lobby along with other guests, news people and first responders. The promised torrential rain had come overnight and it was a devastating. And it was strange to be in the middle of it (downtown Houston is very central) but not really experiencing any of it other than via the big-screen TVs that reported all sorts of scary, horrible things. But our hotel had generators. And room service.
“That’s what all the River Oaks people used to say,” the newsguy continued. “Rich people don’t flood.” He smirked. “But they can’t say that anymore.”
“[My husband’s company] said it was only suppose to be 20 inches, at most,” I said. “No one knew it was going to be a 500 year flood–”
“What?” I looked at L. Kermie was slumped in his stroller seat and absentmindedly playing with a red, triangle teether.
“800,” the newsguy repeated. “It’s an 800 year flood event. That’s what we’re saying now.”
So hoteling with an almost eight-month-old Frog is made infinitely easier by the angel grandparent L. Like a ton easier. Not only do Frog and L. have their own room (down the hall from us!) but L.? She is just great. And she was a nurse, which means that Kermie is probably safer with L. than with either Sean or I. Also, Frog is cleaner with L. I know, I know. She’s mine, back off.
“Once,” L. said. I had stopped by their room to visit and it was organized according to zone: a changing zone, a feeding zone, a sleeping zone. “I did a two-and-a-half day shift during a snowstorm in Virginia and the water went out.”
“We didn’t have water in the hospital for two days.” L.’s eyes got wide and she held up two fingers and laughed.
“What did you do?” I asked, astounded.
“Made due,” L. said, shaking her head. “It was gross.”
The rain had eased and Sean suggested that we go for a walk to survey the damage. From our nineteenth floor hotel room, we could see that Buffalo Bayou had flooded and risen so high that the street signs and many of the tree tops were dwarfed by the water. I grabbed the Nikon camera and my newish neon blue rain coat (that is water resistant not waterproof, an important distinction and a mistake I will not make again) and we headed downstairs.
One of Sean’s co-workers stopped us as we were heading out of the hotel. He’d just come back from getting bagels, the only other food option other than the steakhouse, and he looked disheveled.
“This may just be a rumor,” he said urgently, clutching his slightly soggy bag of bagels. “But I just heard that the mayor is going to turn off the water supply in two hours.”
“What?!?” I said. I immediately and frantically called L., worried about what no water meant for Frog (he was on formula and while we had plenty of purified water, in a pinch, we were planning on using the tap water). No answer from L. I tried again. Still no answer.
I decided to go find her and used my time in the elevator to frantically text anyone I could think of in Houston who might need to know that the water was going to be shut off. I raced down the hall to L. and Kermie’s room and was greeted by a ‘BABY SLEEPING’ sign that had been taped to the outside of their door since Saturday. I knocked, trying to be quiet but persistent. L. answered the door, hesitantly peaking her head around the side.
“There’s a rumor going around,” I told her. “That the city’s going to turn off the water in two hours.”
Her eyes got wide. “I’ll fill the bath tub,” she said and gently closed the door.
When I got back to our room, Sean was standing over the tub, watching the water flow into the basin, with his hands placed on his hips.
“I put a hand towel around the drain,” he said as I watched the towel flitting in the water. “You might tell L. to do that too.”
I then had a chance to look at my phone and most people I had texted about the water situation had responded. But a text from our neighbor Ken caught my eye immediately:
Ken: Not true. Well my friend works for the city and said not true . She said to lpok at thwor [sic] fb page.
It took a second but I realized ‘lpok’ was actually ‘look.’ And that ‘thwor’ was actually ‘their.’ So. Crisis averted. And our tub stayed full until the next morning.
Monday, August 28th, 2017
“How was your day?” Sean asked.
“Boring,” I answered, my iPad resting on my lap. Day 4 in the hotel had been just that. Sean went in to work and L. was watching Kermie and I hadn’t really come to the hotel with any plan of what I was going to do.
“You should write some notes down before we go to bed.”
“About what?” I asked.
“This.” He pointed out the window. “Harvey’s a big deal. It’s Frog’s first hurricane. We’re going to be telling him about this forever.”
“But,” I said, furrowing my brow. “I don’t have anything to say.”
Tuesday, August 29th, 2017
I wandered down to the hotel lobby because I was looking for something to do. I knew Frog and L. went cruising around in the stroller a couple times a day so I thought maybe I could catch them out and about. And also coffee. Luke-warm, post-tropical storm lobby coffee, but still coffee.
I scanned the lobby for L. and Frog but instead saw a woman L., Frog and I had met the day before.
B. was older and had spent Sunday night at The George R. Brown Convention Center shelter. She’d been rescued by a boat out of her second-story apartment building Saturday and was traumatized. She was newly retired, relatively newly divorced and also had a tremor.
“I just love your son’s name,” she had told me when we met Monday. “It gives you the perfect opportunity to share your faith.” (Side note: Frog’s given name is biblical. I’m not particularly faith-full but I’m also not particularly faith-less. We just liked the name and it sounded good with my grandfather’s name, William).
So I went over to B. and asked her if she’d seen L. and Frog. “No, I haven’t seen them,” she said. And then, B. and I sat in the lobby and talked for two hours. I’m not sure what we talked about. I mean, well, she was nice, and had just been through a crazy thing. She talked about God a lot. I think she might have sensed that perhaps I was not as biblical as she’d initially thought and saw this as an opportunity to convert me. Whatever the case, she was good and exhausting company and just before I was about to leave to go take a nap, a lady B. had met at The George R. Brown shelter, came over.
“There’s a woman,” the lady said, frazzled and slightly out of breath. “She is staying at The George R. Brown and walked all the way here for food for her children. She’s talking to the kitchen. She’s got three children with autism. I’ve ordered eight peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her,” the lady stated, proudly.
And then I saw the woman she was referring to, dressed in black leggings and an iridescent, white rain jacket. She approached B. and I with a white plastic bag.
“Did they give you food?” B. asked her.
“Only one chicken sandwich,” the woman said, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m, I’m tired–” she stammered, collapsing onto the couch next to B. “My kids,” she sobbed. “They’re handicap but they would only give me one plate of food at the George R. Brown. A bagel and a banana. I’m just so, so–”
“Goldfish!” I said, springing to my feet. The woman looked up from her tears, startled. “I have Goldfish in my room! I’ll be right back.”
The woman had calmed down a little by the time I came back with the Goldfish.
“Hide these,” I told her as I passed her the carton. “I don’t want you to get hurt because of these.”
She assured me she would be fine and she started to get antsy. My eyes followed her hand as she reached under the cuff of her rain jacket. “Bumps,” she said, scratching her skin. “We all have them at the shelter, from the water.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to be nonchalant but feeling a tingle of fear creep up my spine. I hadn’t thought about the water. I hadn’t thought about what might be in the flood water.
“We need to go,” I heard a friendly male voice say. I looked around to see a short man with a shiny, grilled-out smile standing behind me. He was the woman’s husband and explained that FEMA had just arrived at The George R. Brown and that they needed to go get in line.
The woman stood up. “This lady gave me Goldfish,” she said, pointing to me.
“Thank you,” the man said, extending his hand. We shook hands and then I looked at the woman, who made a tentative move toward me. She wanted to hug me. I hugged her despite the sinking feeling in my stomach. “Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” I said. B. and I watched as they walked away.
“Melanie!” B. squealed excitedly. “The hand of God!”
I went back to my room and changed my clothes. I piled my dirty clothes in the bottom of the closet and tried to not be scared about what I heard about the water and the bumps. I washed my hands. Twice. And then I went to say hi to my baby Frog.
I told L. about the woman in the lobby. She suggested that perhaps she and Kermie should stay in their room for the remainder of our time at the hotel. I agreed.
“Also,” L. said. “Feel on the bottom, Mama.” She pointed to Frog’s mouth. He was sitting in a toddler chair, on top of the bed and furiously chewing a lime-green teether. “Go ahead, feel,” L. said. I tentatively put my scrubbed finger in his mouth.
“Teeth!” I said. “Finally! I feel like he’s been teething forever!”
“There’s two of them,” she said, her eyes shining. “Now we know why he’s been in such a mood.”
M: …do you think we can go check on Maui [our cat who rode out Harvey at our house] tonight?
M: *Cat with heart eyes emoji*
Sean was already seated by the time I met him at the steakhouse.
“What happened this afternoon?” someone asked as I sat down.
“Huh?” I looked at Sean, confused.
“Sean was telling us about the woman you met, from The George R. Brown,” said a man at the shop-talk end of the table.
“Oh, ummm…” I said, feeling put on the spot. “She wasn’t creepy!” I blurted.
“What did the hotel do about it?” the blonde from the kid-side of the table asked.
“Huh?” I said, still utterly confused and disoriented.
“About the woman,” she said calmly. “What did the hotel do about the woman?” I stared at her, dumbfounded. What did she mean about do. Why would the hotel do anything? Until that moment, I hadn’t even considered how the woman had gotten inside the hotel. “Because my daughter, our kids,” the blonde continued. “They have been crawling around every where for days. We need to know if it’s unsafe, if there’s disease.”
“She wasn’t creepy,” I said again, weakly. “She was just looking for food for her kids.”
Wednesday, August 30th, 2017
S: Looks like we are going home tomorrow. Can you call some grocery stores and see what supplies look like?
M: Yes. Kroger is suppose to open at 9
A couple hours later…
S: How do you feel about going home today? I’d like to get you, Frog and L. out of the hotel before more flood people show up.
M: I’m down
We spent Harvey waiting for a punch that never came specifically to us and we are grateful. So grateful. But so many in our city and neighboring cities did get punched, again and again, and many of those punches were knockouts. If you would like to make a donation, might I suggest Undies for Everyone? Because everyone deserves clean underwear. And underwear tends to be one of the items that doesn’t get donated because used underwear isn’t a good thing to donate. We will also take donations in prayers, good vibes and Reiki healing ceremonies, whatever goodness you’re willing to offer.
Psst! Do you want more Frog in your life? No problem!
As a ‘Thank you,’ to his adoring public, Kermie has promised subscribers ONLY a special, weekly photo. Should you want to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity (he is quite the benevolent Frog), please subscribe below: