Waters Rising

Illustration of a house under water

The water started to seep through our floorboards two weeks after we buried my grandmother.

Hurricane Harvey started in Sadie’s room. Our eldest crouched on the floor to staunch the water with bath towels, trying to save her dolls. Floodwater inched up the legs of her white and gold filigreed bedroom set, the same set my mother, and then I, used as girls. It flowed down the hall to the closet where I kept the crate that housed the dollhouse my grandfather the builder made for me shingle by shingle when I was 7.

Murky brown water floated roaches into the room used by Lilah, our 2-year-old, and soaked the chair I rocked both girls to sleep in as babies. It saturated rugs, couches, chairs, and the wooden dining room table my grandmother bought when she arrived in Houston from New York in 1953 with my 3-year-old mother in tow. Sixty-three years later, I returned to Houston from New York with my own 3-year-old in tow. We came in time to meet Harvey.

Houston was home. I grew up here, but I spent most of my 20s and 30s living, working, and loving in New York. Grandma, the daughter of a New York City department store magnate and a fiery Austrian immigrant from the Lower East Side, had New York in her blood. But in her late 20s, she got tired of the hustle. So did I.

I gave birth to my youngest in midtown. Shortly after, the city started to make me sick. The commute to work took an hour, day care closed too early, the bus was late, the train was stuck. Running, always running. My body had had enough. Houston gave me time and space. We traded in our 800-square-foot Brooklyn apartment for a driveway, a backyard, and cheaper rent, groceries, and gas. Here, we could buy a home, just as Grandma had done.

When we left New York, I told my husband I was done renting. I’d lived in nine apartments since Wellesley. Moving was tiring; landlords were, too. I yearned to put down roots, to boldly hang pictures, knowing this time we wouldn’t take them down in a year or two. We’d rent for one year in Houston, we decided, and then buy.

Two weeks before Harvey hit, I held Grandma’s hand in her apartment at Brookdale Senior Living Solutions, 15 minutes from our rental house. She lay propped up on pillows in a hospital bed in a pink nightgown, frail and pasty. She hadn’t eaten for a week. Her mouth was open, her eyes shut, and she took deep, labored breaths. I played her Mozart—her favorite—on my iPhone, and I told her about the new ranch-style house we’d just bought not far from her first home in Houston. We’d close in a few weeks, I said.

Our new home sat on a tree-lined street not far from the Jewish Community Center in Meyerland, one of few still reasonably priced neighborhoods near downtown. We’d be able to walk Sadie to kindergarten the following year, I told Grandma. I saw Sadie and Lilah learning to ride bicycles up and down the sidewalk. I’d prep dinner in our new kitchen, I told Grandma, then throw open the living-room door to the patio and fire up the grill while the girls climbed on the backyard play set.

But Harvey had other plans.

Over 80 percent of homes in Meyerland flooded. More than a foot of water flowed into the house I had dreamed of, the house we were about to close on. I found out the day after the flood. I sat on a sofa in a stranger’s house around the corner from our rental home numbly flipping through pictures on Facebook of our waterlogged almost-home. Another neighbor, also a stranger, had rescued us from our rental in a borrowed canoe and took us to his friend’s dry, two-story home. We left our rented house after five long, dark hours of listening to Lilah scream to be freed from her high chair. We strapped her in to keep her from trudging through floodwater, then turned off the power and sat in the dark waiting for someone to rescue us.

The day after the flood, looking at photos of our almost-bedroom, my heart sank. Our vision of our lives for the next five, 10, 20 years was yanked away from us in a day. We were lucky. We emerged unscathed. We got out of our contract to buy in Meyerland. But a part of me still mourns the home we almost had. I wonder, where do we go from here?

Harvey destroyed most of our belongings. We took the furniture from Grandma’s apartment with us to our new rental home in a nearby neighborhood that didn’t flood, one we can’t really afford. I snuggle with my girls on Grandma’s cream-colored couch. My husband and I read in bed with light from her antique lamps. We share our meals at her 1950s dining table, which we fixed. Here, my girls, my husband, and Grandma are with me. This house isn’t ours, but for now, it’s home.

Deborah Lynn Blumberg ’00 is a freelance writer, editor, and content marketer. She salvaged the dollhouse and is trying to find the time to fix it up.

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