Two years ago today, it was an extremely cold January day when I set out for the office. I was cranky about being back at work, but I was hopeful for the new year to come.
I returned home, and walked right into a living nightmare. A nightmare so bad, that to this day I am filled with fear and dread on the anniversary, convinced the day is cursed (no matter how illogical I know that to be). Even writing these words has left me choked up and my breathing shallow.
My landlord (read: fucking idiot moron) later confessed to me that he had known the pipes in the laundry room were frozen and that in lieu of contacting a professional, he had thawed them out with a hair blow dryer, and left. In that moment, however, all I knew was that there was a roiling river of filthy water rushing down the hallway and into my lovely home. And, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
There was hardly any damage to the rest of the apartments in the building, but not mine. My beautiful Christmas present, a brand-new (and pricey) rug, had absorbed so much of the filth, it could hold no more water. The rest of the water was just swirling around in the apartment, as high as calf-deep in some places. It was well below 20 degrees outside, the water was as cold as ice, but I remember not even being able to feel it, as I trudged through it in my dress slacks and shoes for the next few hours.
In hindsight, the only funny bit about this whole experience is that I distinctly remember (in addition to my high-pitched shrieking) running to the closet and grabbing an already-drenched, but large, beach towel, and throwing it heroically onto the bathroom floor to soak up the water. As you can imagine, the damn thing just floated around on top of it all like Aladdin’s magic carpet. It was infuriating.
To speed through the rest of the story, the landlord was not to be found for many hours, so I was forced to handle things with the firefighters on behalf of the building. When he showed up, he gave me a song and dance about how he’d “take care of everything,” which in actuality meant he would let unsupervised strangers into my home the following day without my knowledge or consent, who tore up the filthy floorboards and my flood-soaked items and threw them on top of my bed and pillows, my sofa, and a painting I had purchased in Australia (amongst everywhere else you can think of that you wouldn’t want wet, filthy items) to get them out of their way.
Worst of all, they stole from me. No, I think worst of all was that they rifled through my underwear drawer in search of valuable items – I know, because they found one I had failed to remember to remove in my haze the night before. Not only was I devastated at the loss of the majority of my belongings (either from the flood itself, or from the assholes stealing/destroying my remaining items), but I felt completely violated that they’d had their grubby fingers on my intimate apparel on top of everything else. How could people be so terrible?? Hadn’t I been through enough in those 24 hours already?
In any case, I did learn some valuable lessons, and I will say that even though it was some of the most stressful months of my life trying to sort all of this out (I developed a weird stress-related rash all over my lower legs – super attractive!), there was a silver lining, which I will get to eventually.
Here’s what I learned:
- Don’t trust what your insurance company tells you. They’ll cheerfully pretend to feel sorry for you and tell you to send them everything, but they cover almost nothing. And, you won’t know this until you’ve handed them all the documentation they need to deny your claim. You have to do all the legwork to find the cost of your items or comparable items, and they won’t cover anything that was damaged/ stolen by the jackasses your landlord inflicted upon you.
- Don’t allow yourself to believe that things can go back to how they were before. The rug still has dirt spots on the backside, and the company assured me that it will one day start to mildew and rot. Happy thought. I can still see the scratches in the painting that could never be repaired, and the restoration dry-cleaning I was told I had to have done, lest my clothes all mildew and rot as well, actually ruins any nice clothes you might have. They lost many items in the shuffle, they tore off decorative buttons (of course the ones you don’t have extras of), and they put holes and tears in so many items I basically had to dispose of my whole wardrobe in addition to all my furniture. Oh, and yes, they too will have their hands on your dirty underwear, make no mistake about it.
- This will cost you far more than you will ever get back, and so that you don’t go crazy or injure the responsible party, you need to accept it, make peace with it, and move on as best you can. I am still working on this one. Moving out of that shit-hole helped a lot.
- Remove anything of value, immediately, should you have anyone entering the premises, and demand to be allowed to supervise any workers while they are there. It might feel awkward to be so high-handed, but do you love those irreplaceable family heirlooms you inherited enough to stand up for yourself even when you are down and feeling vulnerable?
- Inventory, inventory, inventory! Before the emergency. Anything you like, anything of value, keep a photo of and, if possible, a record of the receipt. Keep a record of the purchase price or value. These should not be hard copy or on a computer hard drive that can easily be lost in a fire/flood. I literally take pictures of the receipts and upload them to a web-based drive I will always be able to access.
One of those silver-linings I mentioned? I realized that outside of a few of the things mentioned above, I didn’t love my “stuff” as much as I thought I did. Not that I would choose to go through this again ever, but in some (teeny, minuscule) ways it was almost freeing to have to start over.
I also used this opportunity to replace my mass-produced, boring furniture with unique, vintage treasures that I adore. I have the coolest furnishings of anyone I know now, and it is truly a labor of love to go “treasure-hunting” for items, and to re-build my home, piece by piece. Whether it’s my writing desk from the ’20s or my icebox from the early ’30s, or the trunk I use as a coffee table (and tell people it fell off of a pirate ship – hey, I think it’s as plausible as any other explanation), I find joy in every piece, and that is a silver-lining indeed. Or a very expensive and consuming hobby. One or the other.