A few months ago, Hurricane Irene blew in, causing major flooding on the street where my family and I live. The water came up the street in a matter of hours, rising onto the first floors in almost all the homes on the street before succeeding. The destruction was extensive- foundations collapsed, mold moved in, and many things were destroyed. In the aftermath, we were labeled as victims of the hurricane in the radio in and in the news.
I updated Facebook a few times after the hurricane with pictures of the gaping hole in the side of our house, as well as the water damage, and the garbage piles that littered the street. But those pictures were a minimal representation of what flood damage looks like. The water on the street, and the lines it leaves on the walls when it's gone- those are things that everyone expects to see. But they are not the true pictures of what the devastation of a flood looks like.
The real pictures of devastation look like this:
The wedding pictures, laid on tables, and in the driveways, and on the lawn, their colors bleeding together as their owners try to separate them in hopes they will dry, before all of them are destroyed.
Red condemnation notices scattered among the doors of the street.
The box of baby clothes, shoes, books, toys, and furniture, strewn on the top of the garbage pile, as the mother of a ten year old walks away, trying not to think about the memories she doesn't have anymore.
A shut-in's son, returning to the home where just days before, his mother was evacuated by boat, crying about how she'd lived in the house her entire life, to collect the last of her belongings to bring them to her in the nursing home where she now lives.
The do not enter signs placed at the top of the street, to keep scavengers and rubberneckers, curious to see what people have been through.
Month by Month contracts that the people sign, waiting on insurance to fix their homes, hoping that they'll only be out of their homes for a short time, even though they've already been out of them for weeks.
Large green and yellow dumpsters, being parked in front of houses where work is being done, filled to the brim with carpeting, furniture, and memories.
These are the pictures that I remember after the flood- not the actual water, but that which it left behind.
Don't worry though- there's more.
Because even though these are the pictures of devastation, they aren't the only pictures. No story only has one side. These images may be a clear representation of the victimization that we've been labeled with- but they aren't a clear representation of the people who live on my street.
When I think of these people, I see a picture of all the neighbors, people who have never gotten to know each other or spent any time together, huddled tightly, talking about how their rebuilding is going, and how they can help each other.
I see the baker down the street leaving boxes of muffins on the front porches of those who moved back in to their homes after a long night at work, just in time for breakfast.
I see the couple down the street, returning to a depressing home to find that their dog, who they thought had drowned, is alive and waiting for them to come home.
I see laundry baskets with detergent, bleach, toothbrushes, cereal, and other basics being left outside people's homes by local businesses who want to help out. And I see the stores in the area offering discounts for anyone whose been affected, from the little local shops to big stores that sell home furnishings. And I see those things being shared among the people they've been given to according to the needs of those around them- not just their own.
I see a woman who has lived down the street from me for the last fourteen years, whose name I didn't even know, sitting with my family at thanksgiving, telling us about working on Fulton Street on 911. I see her and her husband, with sons the same age as my sisters and I, going from strangers to friends during a holiday that has already meant a lot to my family. And I see the joy in all of us as we share turkey and stuffing, laughing and joking, knowing that tomorrow means more work on the house, but tonight is all about celebrating life and returning to traditions.
I see my father, this very afternoon, finishing the installation and painting of the new front door, yellow and white splotches on his work shirt as he puts in the finishing touches- the new lock- on the entrance that seemed so far away only a few weeks ago. There is pride on his face as we all stand back to admire his handy work, and the beauty of the door is not only in it's design, but in it's symbolism.
I don't know if you can see these pictures as well as I can. Next time, I'll have a camera, and all this will make a lot more sense. But for right now, let me explain this- we have been categorized, from those initial pictures, as victims. But we are not victims- we are survivors. We are the latter pictures, the people who are taking charge after the storm and making the changes.
The flood is over. The devastation was intense, but we've come out of it. And these pictures of rebuilding are placeholders for the pictures of the new lives that will come to be, sooner rather than later. Because survivors rebuild, recreate, and remember.
No water can wash that away.