Memory after the Flood

Water conjures images of “clean” but flood water is, well, everything but clean. The extra heavy rains are something the old city infrastructure can’t handle here and so I lost one floor of my place to flooding yesterday. Sorting through the wet things after the flood, I’m wondering what’s in the water. Water from the roof, sidewalk, street and backyard was probably almost clean when it fell out of the sky, but incredibly dirty when it got up to 4 inches along the stone floors. Over six inches of water was standing in the back yard garden, unable to get down the city drains or into the soil in the heavy rainfall.

An image of the street run-off water spurting back up out of the sewer covers, like miniature fountains, at the 50th Street subway station last week comes to mind. We all walked carefully around these, but at home, there was no space to walk around the flood water. So I’m cleaning it out thinking how this happens here; the buildings flood here more than in years before this. It’s the extreme weather, I tell myself. Time to upgrade our city planning to be sure the subways don’t flood in on us and the drains can handle the storms. Probably time to think about moving to higher ground as well.

Some of what’s in the water is memory.

I have to chose what to try to save and what to let go and through away now. By nature, I’m quick to let go, and dragged 4 sodden, large black garbage bags to the street side today. A sewing machine, photos, electronics…but the emergency back pack and first aid bags, I’m washing them. Their contents are mostly ruined, which says something about the state of my emergency planning, but the bags should be saved. While they soak in an antifungal disinfectant brew in the tub, I remember.

The bags were packed in the weeks following the September 11th tragedies in New York, when I worked in Manhattan and lived in the Bronx with my children. I was on my way in to work that morning on the bus and watched the planes crash into the buildings. The memory of us all running on the streets like waves in a chaotic storm to find any kind of mass transit to get out of Manhattan is vague, but I know I walked for hours and got home safely. For weeks, the cloud of souls hovering disembodied above the city created an overwhelming sense of loss.

Afterwards, I bought a case of gloves, of masks, surgery things, antidotes and all kinds of things now wet and mostly useless. Those weeks were a time of quiet fear when being “prepared” was on my mind. The Red Cross advice was in my head like a song that repeats whether you want it to or not. Emergency planning advice was displayed everywhere in the city. I thought of protecting myself from cold, from radiation, from infected water. I didn’t think of protecting myself from fear.

When I repack, maybe next week, I’m thinking of putting in different things. Water and food maybe instead of antidotes, and definitely inside of something waterproof. I’ll add a dose of hope, a pencil and a notebook too I think. Because hope is an antidote for fear, writing is a vehicle for creating new stories and for letting go of old myths.

What do you pack in your emergency bag?

You may also be interested in:

DEATH AND THE DREAM, short stories from J.J.Brown available at as an ebook edition distributed by Smashwords. The paperback edition is coming soon.

12 responses to “Memory after the Flood”

  1. Great post. You would think that because I live in South Louisiana and hurricane country that I would be prepared. Sadly enough, I am not. I have first aid kits with every size band-aid that I could put my hands on and tubes of neosporan (ms) and the like, but not much else. Your post gave me a lot to think about. Thanks. Following from LinkedIn. Donna



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