Shielding my eyes from the piercing rain, I looked up to discover the source of the crash – a towering pine tree silhouetted black by the purple urban night sky. Its branches pierced vertical. Its trunk lay horizontal, disappearing into my roof and reappearing out the other end of my house.
I walked back inside, lights still off, and crawled back into bed. Surely I could wait until morning to manage this situation. My tiny dog clung to me, still shaking with fright.
I closed my eyes, but sleep did not come.
Something was in the bed with me, gritty, wet.
I could hear water trickling like a creek, like I was back in Costa Rica in my little tree house by the river. Pleasant, but not normal for the inside of my house in SC.
I turned on the lights to discover dirt, plaster, and wood littered all over my bed. Amber colored water seeped out of cracks in my bedroom’s white ceiling and walls. Water was rushing out of the light fixture, puddling on the hardwood floor.
The smell of pine tree sap was heavy in the air.
“911 what’s your emergency?”
“A tree fell on my house, but I’m OK, I’m not hurt. Is this a reason to call 911?”
“Yes, we’re sending a fire truck over now,” the operator replied.
I wondered if I was safe in the house. Was the tree going to fall some more?
A fireman cut the electric breaker while another climbed into the attic with a flashlight. The light illuminated thick rafters splintered in two and a giant tree trunk resting on top of my lifesaving 1950s ceiling joists.
“You shouldn’t stay here. Do you have somewhere to go?”
“Yes, my house,” said my dad, who showed up shortly after the firemen.
“OK, well go now. The rivers are rising fast, streets are already flooding. You’ll be stuck here if you don’t go now.”
Back at my parent’s condo, countless emergency sirens blared all night keeping me awake. This screeching reminder of my hometown in chaos would become the soundtrack to my life for the next several weeks.
6am the next morning my dad and I are up watching the news. I want to leave to go check on my house, but we are mesmerized by the images of entire neighborhoods under water and of roads washed away.
We’re not even sure we can make it back to my house.
I leave first to map a new route since the familiar 10-miniute straight shot has been flooded out. It’s still raining, but not as hard. Rivers are still rising.
“It took me two hours, all the roads are closed and they’re closing more! I think you can make it in one if you take Farrow and drive through the park.” I said to my dad.
“What?” he asked.
“Yeah, off-road straight through the park. It’s the only way to get here that isn’t collapsed or flooded.” I replied.
At my house, rain has poured in through the giant hole in the roof and filled my basement and a few inches of the first floor. I grab my things I left behind in haste the night before.
We assessed the damage in the light of day, but there was nothing we could do until the rain stopped.
My job was to wait. Wait for the rain to stop, wait for city water to be restored, wait for permission to leave the house again, wait for the insurance and FEMA assessments, wait for a crew to remove the tree and cover the hole, wait for contractors to rebuild my house, wait to start my new life in my old hometown.
Waiting in my parent’s condo was difficult. I was no longer in control of my environment. I missed the rainforest sounds that I had traded for screaming sirens, ticking clocks, and climate control contraptions. I missed the deep sleep from the pitch black of a jungle night. The only thing I didn’t miss was the rain.
The 1000-Year SC Flood had me living out of a suitcase again and my hometown was literally a FEMA disaster.
“I need someone to watch my house for me, wanna do it?” asked my friend Tiger in Costa Rica.
“Heck yeah,” I replied. If I’m being honest, I was already considering moving back before even leaving Costa Rica the first time.
So I packed up a suitcase and my tiny dog and moved back to Costa Rica.
Then I immediately collapsed. The stress and the illness had finally won; I was out of commission. What I would go through next would be a complete unraveling and reprogramming of some of my most ingrained habits and identities.
I thought moving back and forth between countries was hard. I thought losing a house in a flood was hard. Fighting this illness was going to be even harder. I had no idea.