When four feet of water rolls through your home like a wave of destruction to eat every worldly possession you’ve collected throughout the years, there are few things that survive. Your couch and bed and tables and dressers will all become buoyant and tumble, tip, and fall, spilling everything into the water. You’ll return to find the water slightly drained, only knee-high where it was once chest-high, and you’ll know this because of the water line on the wall. Your TV will be missing. Your bookshelf will have toppled, spilling the bodies of books into a sea of dark water like an underwater bookstore. When the water is finally drained, you’ll find them bloated like the bodies of hundreds of drowned people you’ve fallen in love with over the years. Nick Carraway and Charlie and Scout Finch and Mara Dyer and Lena Haloway and Harry Potter have all drowned.
But you know what doesn’t drown? I’ll tell you. On a scale of one to useless, the things that will survive a flood hit a pretty high number.
You will come into your flooded home, wading through knee-high water so dark you can’t see your feet let alone what’s touching your ankles like sea monsters waiting to drag you under, and you can feel the linoleum peeling up and maybe hope a little bit that it’ll reveal nothing underneath and that you’ll slip through into a black hole because you’re sure this is the worst thing you’ve ever faced.
Here’s what survives:
First, check your kitchen. Your collection of coffee mugs, they survived. Stand up on your overturned fridge and count them. You have twenty-three coffee mugs. Your coffee maker is floating, top open, a few feet away. The pot is missing. It might be broken. Don’t step on glass, don’t step on glass, don’t step on glass becomes your mantra as you continue through the carnage.
Bathroom. Your toothpaste, the brush you’ve had for three years, the perfume you never wear are all untouched, but your favorite nail polish is gone. Tampons float in the water like tiny colorful logs. Your deodorant is in the sink. Don’t open it.
Go to your living room. Your TV is missing and the TV stand is facedown in the center of the room when it used to sit flat against the wall. The couch is a foot away from the wall. The coffee table is perfectly upright, looking almost untouched. There is a super-ripe banana sitting on it next to the TV remote. The bag of goldfish you’d been eating right around the time you evacuated are missing.
Now to the bedroom, where you open your closet and find your mom’s leather jacket from the 90s is ruined and your backpack full of all the things you used every day is soaked through and your mattress is now a waterbed and your dresser is overturned with everything inside.
Here’s what survives:
In the top of your closet is a box you haven’t opened since you moved in. You rejoice, pull it down, check inside. It is perfectly dry, all 243 hangers that you couldn’t fit on the rod in your closet saved. Praise and raise, you have coffee mugs and toothpaste and hangers but your clothes are all ruined. Your least favorite pair of shoes sits on the shelf also, laughing at you because they’re all you’ve got left. You’ll go naked now but at least you’ve got those stupid $10 boots that you bought and wore twice.
These are the things that survive a flood. Everything you store high because you know you’ll never need to get the stepladder to retrieve it because you don’t even use it.
Here’s what doesn’t survive:
Everything you’ve ever owned that is irreplaceable. But you’ll have to tell yourself that it’s okay. Sit down and have a cry. You’re going to cry a lot. You’re going to drain the water and clean up all the things you own and you’re going to tell yourself, “It’s just stuff. It doesn’t matter. It’s just stuff.” That is, until you find your dead grandfather’s hat and your prom dress and your college graduation cap and your favorite book. But it’s okay. It’s just stuff. If you repeat this enough, even you will start to believe it.