My birthday was roughly three days after our computers, passports, credit cards, and luggage were stolen. I don’t cling to high birthday expectations, but birthdays can add insult to injury when injuries are in the forecast. This January 14th though, I felt confident that we had lived through the worst of it having survived a robbery, a highway encounter with Mexico’s police, and losing the brakes on our car during a road trip back from Yaxachen. Sadly, I was wrong.
The city where we live in the United States noticed a spike in water usage following a cold snap and city authorities started calling people who were out of town to find out if someone’s pipes had burst. We were on this list. After receiving the call, John promptly called our friend Garret who went over to our house to find out whether we were some of the lucky ones with broken pipes. While we waited for Garret to call back, we walked over to the pizzeria at the mall in Merida to get my birthday lunch.
Once we arrived at the mall, we ordered our pizza. Then, we stood and waited for an interminable period of time while they made it. We were hungry. We were weary. John was worried. I was suspending concern until we found out whether our pipes had burst or not.
The pizza arrived. We sat down at a table and arranged the paper plates, the napkins, and the forks. We each took a slice.
John’s phone rang.
I couldn’t hear Garret’s side of the conversation, but I watched John’s face closely as he sighed heavily and put his hand over his mouth. It was bad. Bad. BAD news.
I looked down at my slice of pizza that I had been coveting intensely now for over an hour. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry at all.
“This is what it sounds like to walk through your kitchen…” Garret was telling John. John listened. He could hear splashing. Sloshing. Wetness. Lots and lots of water.
“How much water?” I whispered at John as he listened to Garret talking on the other end. John held up his fingers, spaced about 3 inches apart. Six thousand square feet, our first floor, was completely inundated with water. As he spoke with Garret, it was gushing (that was the graphic and painful word Garret used to described the flow of water) out of a main pipe, under some stairs into the rest of the house.
I wondered what the Universe was trying to telling me. I felt confident that some Powerful Higher Being, perhaps luminous but still vengeful, at least toward us, thoroughly hated us for some reason. A scene from Fight Club kept popping into my head where Tyler Durden gives a speech that includes the lines, “In all probability, he [God] hates you…”
I thought about my walls. Walls that I built with my bare hands. I’d drywalled them: me, personally. I’d spackled them. Sanded them. Painted them. We’d purchased the school from hopeless hoarders who had filled it with 2 tons of trash that John and I had removed ourselves. The previous owners had housed 13 cats and 3 dogs in the building for one year unattended before we moved in. We had cleaned and cleaned to make it livable. But now, all that hard work was all under water. Another scene from Fight Club…”All gone…” Tyler Durden says to the main character after there’s an explosion in his apartment and all his “flaming worldly possessions” are destroyed. “All gone…”
Half the pizza was left untouched.
John ended the phone call with Garret.
“Can we fly home early?” Lydian asked.
“We don’t have passports.” John replied.
Another friend, Chad, owns a construction company. John called him and he went over to meet Garret at the house and to see the damages right away.
We walked back to our tiny hotel room. I hoped we wouldn’t be hit by a car playing frogger through the streets of Merida. I wouldn’t have doubted this unlikely sort of poor luck what with our current record. At the hotel room we all sat silently, pensively. Lydian started to freak out, but she didn’t talk about it. At age 12, she just started driving John and I nuts. She was worried about the passports. It didn’t make sense to her that we could be “trapped” in Mexico without passports. She wondered how long we’d be trapped here, but didn’t ask. Eventually there were tears and a fairly dramatic pre-adolescent-crisis. We tried to tell her that this was all a “great” learning experience for her though inwardly I doubted it. I hoped that the optimistic talk would pay off, but my mind was no longer in an optimistic place. Giving her a pep talk was like giving myself a pep talk at the same time. I listened to myself putting a positive spin on our negative circumstances and wondered if I should believe myself or blow myself off.
We all tried to console ourselves privately inside the tiny prison-cell-of-a-hotel-room that we were living in together. There was nothing to say. We just had to wait.
Chad called back within an hour. Water had been flowing vigorously through the building, but he and Garret had noted that it wasn’t getting deeper. Because it was an old public school building, there were drains everywhere. And the water had pooled in a sub-basement. There was over 3 feet of water standing in this sub-basement area, but only about 1 to 2 inches was standing in the rest of the house.
John talked with Chad briefly and then let Chad get to work on the project. I tried to read. I tried to work out. I tried to stretch. I ate a small tasteless handful of peanuts and dried cranberries and then decided I wasn’t hungry. I tried to think about the problem, but couldn’t solve it mentally. I tried to blame someone, but there was no one to blame. I tried waxing philosophical but couldn’t really make sense out of a situation that was still evolving.
I learned the word for “flood” in Spanish (inundacion) so we could explain our latest set of tragedies to our Spanish-speaking friends in Progreso when we went for classes in the evening. Pipes don’t often burst in Mexico where the temperatures never hit freezing. It was hard to fully explain our woes in a country where carpet is non-existent and the walls are made of concrete. Nonetheless it was good to talk about it a little, albeit in a foreign tongue.
The next night, Chad called to tell us that he had gotten things under control. There were dehumidifiers running. The carpets had been vacuumed. “The damages are minimal.” He said. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Again…were we lucky or unlucky? I wasn’t sure.
When we arrived home, I entered our home cautiously. I didn’t want to see. In my mind, I imagined peeling drywall, ruined carpets, stains on the furnishings. Things were in disarray because they had been moved off the floor to higher ground, but overall, the walls looked like they had when we left. I carefully inspected every corner and cranny. It was unreal that we could have water gushing through our house and end up with truly minimal damages.
It was a mess, but a small mess comparatively speaking.
A part of me wants to lay low after these recent semi-tragedies. It seems prudent to “play things safe” and perhaps it is. But I could read the events of the last two weeks another way and say that if something “bad” is going to happen, it’s going to happen no matter how hard I try to prevent it. And if things aren’t supposed to end badly, even the most precarious situation can leave behind very few scars. Maybe I’m just a Glass-That’s-Half-Full type of person, but I can’t help but feel more grateful for the friends who helped us than angry about the bad karma or whatnot that brought on our bad luck in the first place.