the world outside seems beautiful today. the weather was the nicest you’d experienced in years; a shame considering it came after a week of rain had shut you in. not humid. not hot. not a cloud in the sky. perfect.
atypical houston. yet, you’re not going to complain.
everything seemed otherwise normal during your drive, until you looked closer. piles of furniture could be spotted at the curbside of several houses. you peer around. some of it seems perfectly good. an office chair. a chest of drawers. a dining set. stacks of mattresses.
you frown at the spread of children’s stuffed animals one house has splayed across its yard.
today, people seem to be driving a little bit slower, a little bit more considerately. lots of traffic lights don’t seem to be working, so you patiently play out several ‘four-way-stop-sign’ scenarios unthinkingly.
after the fourth one, you realize that the electrical boxes must have gone underwater.
you keep searching these affected houses for clues, trying to figure out what’s wrong with what seem like perfectly livable habitations. did the water really reach them? it seems so improbable on a day like this, when the sun is shining and the criminal–that water in the bayou you’re driving next to–is innocently flowing far below.
eventually you spot a trend of off-colored strips on the houses. light on the top, dark on the bottom. it seems odd, but then it dawns on you: that’s where the water stopped?
indeed, every house subtly bears the stain of water. dark swaths of water-soaked brick sit like shadows. they meet untouched brick at the waterline, clearly demarcated with debris where leaves and dirt stuck to the house.
you imagine rows upon rows of houses submerged with only their tops peeking out over the water, and shake your head in disbelief. the waterlines are everywhere now that you’ve seen them.
some are above eye level. some are taller than you.
you navigate to your destination, still wrapped up in these thoughts. when you park outside at the curb of the house you’ve come to help at, you simply stare.
turning off the engine, you get out, taking a step closer. you find the house number with ease; the address is clearly right–the number on the house matches the number you were given.
the house is a nice little one-story building in a nice little neighborhood. it’s got a front yard, with two trees. a front door and a screen door. bushes, plants, a cute little front gate.
you notice, though, that it also has a waterline at least three feet high and a drooping cardboard box with books sitting on the front path. you pick your way over the grass (and almost slip–it’s still muddy) and squat next to it.
it smells wet. you recognize a few of the titles as ones you’d read and loved. you pick up one of them fondly, but that small interaction tells you all you need to know–the book is heavier than you remember, and the pages are beginning to show signs of warping.
you sigh. still grasping the book, you stand up to look again at the house. you recognize that it looks like a perfectly fine house. waterlogged book in hand, you can perhaps begin to imagine it as a home, rather than just a house. in fact, it could be your home. it’s not, of course, but dysphoria truly settles in with that thought weighing upon your other realizations today.
you set the book down. as you walk forward, the air near the house hits you like a punch in the nose. it’s pungently damp and earthy, laced with industrial toxicity. unpleasant, but bearable.
trudging past the open gate, you spot more personal effects littered about the front door. you step inside to see a house in a state unlike any you’d ever seen before.
you hardly know where to look. rolls of carpet were haphazardly stacked against each other in a hallway off to your left. the foyer was in a state you’d only ever seen on HGTV, and even then, it was the opposite–the hardwood boards were clearly being pried off the floor, rather than being glued to it. what startles you most is the fact that you can see straight through to the living room. why? the skeleton of the house is on display: the bottom half of what you had expected to be a wall is nothing but vertical wooden beams framing empty air, the tatters of its drywall in a crooked, dusty pile below.
standing there, encroaching on a stranger’s home but ready to help, you breathe.
this is where you begin to realize how little you know, and how much more willing you are to learn. this is where you begin to realize how fortunate you are, and what sort of responsibilities come with it. this is where you begin to realize there is so much more out there, and right now, there’s a city that needs you.
this is where you begin.