“Could we live at your house for a few days, or maybe a week?” our distraught friend Anna asked early on a recent Saturday morning.
“Let me just check with Kara,” I said, but Kara was already nodding her head. She’d heard the entire conversation, since I had it on speakerphone, my office-worker arms too weak to hold the phone to my ear for any extended period.
The decision to open our house to Anna, her husband Allen and their two cats was an easy one. Once you get into your thirties, you don’t have as many opportunities to be a good friend. It was easier in college, when any given evening might require you to scrape a friend off the sidewalk and fireman-carry them home, where you could safely draw on their face.
We needed to bank some friendship tokens anyway, since we’d missed the party where some of our other friends had assisted Anna and Allen in fortifying the perimeter of their house with sandbags. Having a toddler might prevent us from taking cool vacations with our friends, and we haven’t seen a movie in the theater since the original Home Alone came out, but at least parenthood also occasionally gets us out of dragging 100-lb burlap sacks through the muck.
In the end, even with sandbags piled around their house, the encroaching drainage pond behind their property was not to be denied its quarry. The constant rain, which seemed to have begun sometime during the Nagano Olympics, refused to relent, and the rising water poured into their newly finished basement.
“I think I can, I think I can,” their sump pump said, but it couldn’t.
Anna and Allen decided that continued battle with the elements was futile. They cut the power to their house and came to stay with us until the world dried out.
Benjamin Franklin said that fish and visitors stink after three days, but his visitors probably didn’t bring awesome kitty-cats that could entertain his toddler for hours on end, allowing him to sit peacefully on the couch, playing Tower Defense: Lost Earth on his iPod, only glancing up every few minutes to thwart his toddler’s stated intention to “sit on kitty.”
For their part, Anna and Allen spent much of their time trying to figure out how to get their lives back to normal. If you’ve spent any part of your day trying to get ahold of FEMA, you’ve probably had a pretty rough week.
A few days into their stay, Allen parked his motorcycle in the garage we weren’t using while Kara’s car was in the shop. When someone parks a Harley-Davidson in your garage, and you have to walk past it to take out the trash, did you know that it’s impossible to resist the urge to sit on it, grab the handlebars and go “Vroom, vroom, screeeeee!”? The strange thing is, you’ll feel a little bit cooler afterwards, even if you’d have died if anyone had caught you doing it, kind of like spray tanning.
About a week after they moved in, just as we’d gotten used to having dinner conversations that didn’t revolve around horsies and tractors, Anna announced, “It’s safe to move back to our place now. We’re going to go home and start tearing the place apart and putting it back together.”
We’d never had guests stay for that long, and after they left, the house felt just a little bit empty, the same feeling I remember having as a kid when the slumber party was over. The next morning, our son walked around our basement, searching in vain for a cat to sit upon.
“No kitties,” he reported through his tears.
With their own basement gutted and dried out, Anna and Allen have started reclaiming some sanity in their lives. Everyone in their house is breathing a little easier now. Especially their cats.
You can sandbag Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.