Notes from the Colorado Flood

As most of you know, Colorado was hit by massive flash flooding on September 12, wrecking havoc across the state. Ken and I were lucky, with only a few inches of flooding in the basement. I wish I could say that was the case for many others.

Photo by Helen H Richardson/The Denver Post

To date, 8 people have been killed, nearly 2000 homes have been lost and thousands of people have been evacuated or displaced.  The damage is believed to be over $2 billion, with 200 miles of roads washed out and approximately 19,000 homes damaged.  The National Guard spent a full week flying rescue missions into the mountains, rescuing 3000 people and 900 pets while we listened to the sound of Chinooks and Blackhawks buzzing overhead.

Like I said, Ken and I were lucky. Despite that, I’ve found myself surprised by the intensity of a living in the middle of a national disaster and its initial stages of recovery.  Yesterday, we found black mold growing in our basement, triggering another round of panic. Today, we spent the afternoon salvaging photos that had gotten wet.

If you’re looking to shake things up, I recommend you pull out 10-20 years worth of photos and have yourself a look.  Turns out it’s a good way to take stock of who you are and where you’re going.  I mean, to see how far Ken and I have come since we met…good lord.  In 10 short years, we’ve gone from fighting hellions (well, I have anyway) to somewhat calm and vaguely responsible people. We’ve survived the early years of parenthood, which, as we all know, ain’t for the feint of heart.  And you know what? We still kinda like each other. On good days, we like each other a lot.

Looking through the wedding photos in particular about unhinged me. Especially since my mother passed away this year, which made going through those images absolutely brutal.

Nico’s school, which flooded four times during the storm. After having been closed the past two weeks, it’s slated to reopen on Sept. 30th.

The other thing that got me was realizing how many of our wedding guests have since divorced.

Wow.

What do I say about this? How do I explain all those once-upon-a-time happy faces, people who now live on opposite sides of the country from each other, much less across some giant internal divide? For all my years of writing this blog, I’ve come to realize that each couple is different in what makes them tick and absolutely unique in what makes them fail. Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time rhapsodizing about all the things that have helped me and Ken. But what’s right for everyone else out there?

Live through a giant life event/loss/fire/flood and you’ll know.

After the first 48 hours of the flood (which were basically spent under house arrest, monitoring increasingly horrific warnings and sirens, not to mention bailing out water in the driving rain at 2:00 a.m. together), Ken and I realized that we felt way more connected than we had in some time.

“You know,” he said, “catastrophe brings us together.”

“You’re right,” I said.  “And Target pulls us apart.”

We had a good laugh over that one, mainly because it was so true.  Remembering the things that are important in our lives—the kids, this incredible little world we’ve built together—tend to open up the floodgates in our hearts, while arguments about stuff and how much money we’re spending at Target generally serve to erode them. What a surprise.

Photo by Paul Aiken/The Daily Camera

But let me tell you what else has gotten me about this whole flood.  Just to be in the midst of so much disaster has really shaken me. To see the incredible damage and despair that so much of my community is facing has humbled me, and to see the way friends, neighbors and complete strangers have rallied to help each other out has ripped my heart wide open and filled it with love.

Because one of the good things that comes from these catastrophes is that we all come out of our own little individual lives, reach out to each other and reconnect.  We remember that no man (or woman) is an island, and that none of us can do this thing called life without occasionally leaning on someone else for help.  We realize that yeah, that’s right, it’s actually a sign of strength to a) ask for help and b) be strong enough to receive it.

In my mind, asking for help is part of what makes marriage work.  It’s part of what makes life work.  And as we all know by our own awful/wonderful marital experiences, this stuff is a lot more than just fun and games.  Sometimes, it’s about loss.  Loss of your old self and your identity, and maybe even the loss of old friends, an old job or your old city.

And yet, somehow, as the years begin to stack up, and the kids grow an inch or two taller and become slightly more independent, your life begins to take on a new form or hue—one the old you never would have recognized.  And because this isn’t a movie, you can’t look into your future to make sure things are going to work out all right—all you can do is look back.

This is one of my favorite photos from the flood: two women laughing after being rescued by the National Guard. Talk about resilience! Photo by Mark Leffingwell/ The Daily Camera

Sure, your new life sucks sometimes. Responsibility can feel like a 4-letter word; and downtime, the holy grail. Not only do you not have enough time for yourself, but you’re surrounded by a house full of people who seem to depend on you for everything.

But then something will happen, something so big it’ll shake your world if not turn it upside down, and just like that, you’ll remember what’s truly important.

When your town has been ripped apart by water, when 20-foot-walls of water are coming down the canyon and all the major roads have been washed out, and when the neighboring towns have turned into islands, it’s a great reminder of what really matters.  Because the only thing that keeps us going in times like this—as far as I can tell, anyway—is love.

Separating, blaming and dividing—hell, all they do is keep us trapped.  So open up your heart today and reconnect.  If nothing else, do it for the people of Colorado.

Do it for yourself.

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7 Responses to Notes from the Colorado Flood

  1. Kathleen September 26, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    I won’t lie. I really felt concerned for you with the flood. Morseo than many of my other friends there (apart from those who evacuated), because of all you’ve been through these past years. I think it might be a bit of projection- wondering how I would deal with one more big thing on top of how I am already doing. But also my inner dude was thinking, “Ma-an, she’s had to deal with a lot of shi-it lately.” Anyways, I am SO thankful that it has instead shown you your community, their heart, your support, your strength (in giving and receiving).

    Also, really hoping that black mold doesn’t become too big of an issue. It’s really common here, but sometimes I think we’re all a little *too* used to it.

    • tpajevic September 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

      Thanks, Kathleen. I might have been singing a different tune if we’d lost everything, but I’m just so grateful that we’re all good and are only dealing with minimal stuff. But I’ve been thinking of you guys out in on the NW coast a bunch during/after this storm, and wondering how the hell you guys handle all the rain you get. I’m guessing that’s why you’ve got all that black mold? Definitely staying on top of that one over here, thanks for the reminder.

  2. Gail Storey September 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Tanja, your post touches me deeply, especially how what keeps us going is love. So much love from so many people all working together to help one another–our neighbors, friends, family. And like you and Ken, Porter and I find our love intensified by our gratitude for each other and knowing we can count on each other in a catastrophe. I’m curious what you meant by Target pulling you two apart?
    Gail Storey recently posted..Goodreads Giveaway of I PROMISE NOT TO SUFFER!My Profile

    • tpajevic September 26, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks, Gail. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you know you can count on Porter during a catastrophe. That’s pretty much what the last few years have taught Ken and I, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

      What I meant about Target was that shopping and spending and particularly excessive spending pulls us apart!

  3. Laurel Kallenbach September 27, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Beautifully said! People coming together and appreciating community and is the best thing to come out of this flood.
    Laurel Kallenbach recently posted..Drive Oregon’s Tasty “Fruit Loop” in the Hood River ValleyMy Profile

    • tpajevic October 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      Thanks, Laurel. Hasn’t it been amazing to watch how everyone’s stepped up to help one another? I agree, that part of the flooding has been a blessing in disguise.

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  1. Why is the Change of Seasons So Hard? | The Rhythm of Grief - October 2, 2013

    [...] I got off with only minor basement flooding, many of our friends and neighbors weren’t so lucky. (You can read more about our personal flood experience here.) And yet, living in the midst of a national disaster for the past few weeks has still taken a toll [...]

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