Funny thing about Sharpie markers. On their website, the product description offers its use for “paper, plastic, metal, and most other surfaces.” It’s that “most other surfaces” part that gets me. You know what surface I never dreamed I’d be using my trusty fine-tip Sharpie on?
My kids’ arms.
Turns out, Sharpie writes well on skin – even if your hand is shaking like a leaf. And it stays there after several days of baths and soapy scrubbings, as a bold, indelible reminder of a hurricane that still haunts my dreams, almost two months later.
Before Harvey hit, I remembered thinking it was going to be a non-event. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and even though I’ve seen immense destruction from the likes of Katrina, Ike, and Andrew, the area of Houston where we live has remained relatively safe. We get some rain and some wind, and we might lose power, but we’re back up and running by the next day. I was talking o my dad the Wednesday before Harvey’s landfall, lamenting that we likely wouldn’t even get enough rain on our side of town to water my roses.
All weekend, we watched coverage of the storm’s destruction, first in Rockport and the southern Texas coastal towns, and then up through Brazoria, inching closer to Houston. The rain fell, and fell, and fell. I posted on Instagram stories for the first time, keeping family and friends and followers updated on our situation. We had some street flooding Saturday, but it was all rainwater so we felt safe. “At least we got some rain,” I thought.
Watching the round-the-clock news coverage was worrisome, but my family growing up was obsessed with weather. My dad did some grad school work in meteorology, and he raised us to appreciate God’s handiwork in the patterns and beauty of clouds and frontal systems. I have more weather-related bookmarks on my browser than I do online retailers. We spent the time during Harvey glued to the tv, watching endless radar, pictures of the widespread flooding, and dramatic high-water rescues. Sunday morning, a reporter took viewers on an emotional tour of his flooded home that sits on Buffalo Bayou. It was all so heartbreaking, but I needed to feel that empathy in order to keep the sense of urgency about me. It’s what kept me focused on praying for everyone – the victims the rescuers, our friends who were taking on water. My biggest prayer was of gratitude, that we were fortunate enough to not be dealing with boats and water and bug-out bags and evacuations.
Sunday night, rainwater seeped into our garage, about 4″. It was another sleepless night, but this time instead of keeping watch on television, we watched the water inch closer and closer up the foundation of our home. By midnight, it stopped raining and the water receded. “Whew, that was close,” I thought. Too close. My adrenaline was rushing so fast and furious that I couldn’t get to sleep, even though I hadn’t slept in three days. The adults in the house had spent the past two nights on rotating shifts keeping vigil to make sure the water didn’t enter the house. Finally, I drifted off somewhere around 1am, only to awaken at 5am with the sound of rain.
Still, the rain pounded mercilessly. Still, the water rose. This time, though, the water was brown. I was so tired that I didn’t notice the change in color until the next morning. By then, it was obvious – this wasn’t accumulated rainwater anymore. This was the creek, overflowed from its banks about a block or so away.
By Monday at lunchtime, it was back up to the edge of the garage. By 3pm, it was well into the garage. By 5pm, it was in my home and continuing to rise.
As we picked things up off the floor to move our belongings to higher ground, I was a nervous wreck. I was shaking. I was having a full-on panic attack. That news coverage I’d been watching turned into a weapon that the Evil One used to tempt me to despair. “You’re going to be fine, but your children will drown. They will die because you waited too long to leave. The water will keep rising and they won’t be able to fight the current. The rescuers won’t get here in time. They will die.” Over and over, these irrational thoughts swirled through my mind, pounding just as relentlessly as the rain outside. The only prayer I could mutter was, “Jesus, please help us.” That, and the song playing on endless loop in my head – Casting Crowns’ “Praise You In This Storm.” I will never be able to explain how much this song exemplified my my prayer in those hours.
Thanks to you, Harvey, I now freaking hate the sound of rain.
My sister and husband tried to calm me, but I couldn’t snap out of it. I couldn’t. My normally positive, sunny, use-sarcasm-to-make-people-laugh-in-crisis self was coming unhinged. I mayormaynot have had a shot of rum. Or two.
I called 9-1-1 to get on their rescue list. With the creek water rushing the way it was, I couldn’t try to bring five kids through to safety on foot. There was no way. So, we waited for a boat. The 9-1-1 dispatcher sounded exhausted, and told me to call back when the water was higher. He had no ETA. We got on the list for the Cajun Navy, the Coast Guard, you name it. We called friends of friends with boats and asked for help. My brother, an EMT, was working in the ER at a local hospital. He offered to send a friend in a lifted truck, but I was pretty sure at that point even a lifted truck couldn’t get through. We were trapped.
And my husband asked me, calmly and clearly, to write our phone numbers on our kids’ arms in Sharpie. “That’s ridiculous,” I stammered. “You keep telling me we are going to be ok.” I looked at him for reassurance. Quietly, he replied, “Just do it as a precaution in case we get separated.” I couldn’t breathe. I know my Guardian Angel wrote those numbers, because there’s no way my hand was steady enough on its own. NO WAY.
Mercifully, around 6pm or so, some neighbors told us there were people in boats helping folks out of the neighborhood. We waited for them to return, and when they did, I got into the boat with my three youngest kids (who, by the way, thought having water in the house, wearing life jackets, and riding on a boat through the streets was the COOLEST. THING. EVER!) About the same time, my brother’s friend with the lifted truck came rounding the corner with his brother on foot, wearing waist-high waders, yelling, “WENDY! YOUR BROTHER SENT ME!”
I have never been more grateful for boats. Or teenagers with trucks. Or my brother. Or God’s provision.
My husband, brother-in-law, sister, and two eldest girls walked through the creek to the safety of the truck several blocks away. Those of us on the boat were dropped off and reunited with them at the truck. From there, my brother’s friend Kyle took us to another friend’s dry, safe house to spend the night.
We were safe. We were together.
We tumbled into bed, an exhausted heap of nerves and emotions and adrenaline. And still, it rained. But His mercies were ready, as always, to dawn new the next morning.
And they did.
More to come, another day. There is so much of this story left unwritten. Stay with me.