I dare you to wade through this

2011 February 4
by Don Hammack

This was the first chapter of my abandoned Nanowrimo 2009 attempt.

The shingle banged off the back window of the fire chief’s car. It skittered down the road, joining the millions of tons of debris that had been created that day, from tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Pieces of people’s lives, fractured now in ways small and large. They all joined a family that day.

There was no way anybody would ever want to be in that family. You lost something, some things. Things important. Unimportant. But there you were, a massively messed up massive group with ugliness in common. There would be good, lots of good in the coming hours, days, weeks and months. Eventually, you’d get back to normal. Well, not normal like it was before. Normal like it was from there on out.

Conversations always veered to the topic. Always. No exceptions. What did you lose? Is everybody in your family OK? Friends? Do you need anything? You couldn’t escape it. Months from now, you just wanted to go 15 minutes without talking about it, much less hearing about it. The time you finally got out of the area, you just said “Mississippi” when somebody asked you where you were from. Better than answering the questions, going back to the topic.

The shingle. Maybe it came from the building where people were peeking out the door, telling the chief they thought there was an old lady in the second floor of the building across the highway. She lived above the shop there. Well, she had lived there. One side of the upper floor had been peeled away, part of the adjoining side, too. The roof was mostly gone. The building would stay like that for a long, long time. Turns out she hadn’t been in there. They didn’t really know her, and the chief didn’t do much other than just holler up that way. No response, keep on moving.

It would happen again in just a few minutes. A guy thought there was an old lady in a house across the street. She was on oxygen, but he didn’t know if she’d left. There were a couple of oxygen tanks poking out of the rubble in the middle of the street. So much rubble. Rubble. Weird word. Beirut had rubble. Here wasn’t supposed to. Rubble. Burble. Rearrange the letters. Burble. Some of that was going on, too. Water was still draining out. The wind whipped up the water left on the rubble after the burble. It tasted like salt. Salt. Last. Rearrange the letters. Last. You’d passed the last time salt water would ever taste like fun.

What was that buoy doing in the middle of downtown? Buoys tell you how to get back to port safely. How to get back home. Or how to leave. What do you want to do, with the buoy in the middle of downtown. Get back home? Or leave? Stay? Go? What do you want to do? What are you going to do? Are they the same? Is it bad if they are not? Is it good if they are not? Why not? Does the world revolve around you? Revolve. Evolver. Rearrange the letters. Evolver. If the two weren’t the same, would it make you evolve?

The buoy in the middle of downtown. The rubble of that lady’s house in the street. Draw a line west between the two points and it goes through your house. Goes through what’s left of your house. Your house, with your bedroom. Stuff is missing from there, but there’s extra stuff. Your neighbor’s kitchen. That’s in there. Your ceiling is in there, too. It was always there, but now it was significantly lower in one corner, angling up to its regular height diagonally across the room toward the inside of the house. Your grandmother’s twisted cast iron bed frame was in there. Lots of books piled up next to your bed were not. The carport on the south side of the lot was gone. Its roof, with its shingles intact, would be found about a block up the street. Fat lot of good it did there, but the shingles were there. That was one thing that survived here that didn’t elsewhere, shingles. Good thing you paid all that money to get new roofing put on there a couple years before. Money well spent.

It would take you the better part of the week to even try to get to your house. Dad told you it was bad. He was right. South wall gone, along with the second bathroom. Furniture in different rooms, having floated there in the giant washing machine your house had turned into. Washing machine filled with salt water. Dirty salt water from the Sound. Everything smelled. The salt was gone at last. It was just nasty. Nasty. Ansty. Rearrange the letters. Antsy. That smell would make you antsy. Flood smell. Not the pork bellies and fryer chickens. That was a different level of crap. Rotting flesh, the stuff that confounded the cadaver K-9s over the following week. Decomposing food stuffs and decomposing people. What were they supposed to bark at?

Bark. Chunks and gashes of it gone from trees. Debris from homes and businesses gouged into the Live oaks as it was pushed into them and by them. it got tangled up in the trees. Five Halloweens later, you could still walk down those streets and see ghosts left over from it. Little kids think of ghosts in sheets, floating through the air. Sheets and curtains still clung to the branches, wrapped around in Gordian knots, lashed there with cords, rope, yarn, string. Hanging raggedly from the limbs years later. Ghosts. Like kids imagined it. Like adults would never forget. Ghosts are different now. They can be sheets, but they can be CDs. Thumbing through a rack of albums, stopping at one you used to have. Boo. Head shakes. Keep looking. Shelves of books. You used to have that one. Boo. Head shakes. Keep looking.

Keep looking for what means it’s over. Keep looking for what means it’s in the past. Keep looking for the time when you don’t have to talk about it, when you don’t have to see it. Leaving would make it easier, wouldn’t it? Do you want to stay? So you want to leave? Home. Away. Like a game. One team’s at home, one team’s away. You always list the away team first. Is it better to be away? What if the home team is away, too? What if home is away? What if away goes away? What if away is everywhere? What is home anyway?

One thing you’ll think as this is going on is that debris is proof that stuff shouldn’t mean anything. If it’s that easy for important stuff to be ripped apart, how important can it be when it all goes away? It isn’t really that important. You tell people that. You mean it. Really. You mean it. Mean. Name. Rearrange the letters. Name. Home is a name you put to a thing that’s important to you. It’s where the heart is. It’s where the hearth is. It’s where your furniture is. CDs. Books. Home is just a name you put on wherever you are living. You’ll have a bunch of homes in the next few months. Floor at work. Winnebago. Hotel room for a night and your first bath. Rented efficiency apartment. Friends’ blowup mattress in their living room. And again. And again. Friend’s guestroom. Another friend’s guestroom. An apartment of your own. Home of your own. Own. Now. Rearrange the letters. Now. Home is where you live now. Home could be a slab on an overgrown lot in a year. Now it’s a home. It means everything. It means nothing. But it means everything. Means. Names. Just words, but names are tangled up with meaning, real, implied, imagined, perceived, revised, evolving, devolving. Concrete, wood, bricks, windows, shingles. Wind. Water. Shingles. Glass. Bricks. Wood. Slab. Rubble. Burble.

10 Responses leave one →
  1. 2011 February 4
    Paul Hampton permalink

    You never kept up with the lawn

  2. 2011 February 5
    Don Hammack permalink

    True in more ways than that picture can illustrate. In fact, the lumber hid the worst of it.

  3. 2011 February 5
    Bobby Cox permalink

    I enjoyed reading this Don. I’m sorry you and so many others went through such a tragedy. I’m just thankful that you made it through, you’re back on your feet, and you’ve got a new home. My in-laws still have their slab that’s slowly disappearing in trees and brush. They bought a new home, but the old homesite is just sitting there…like so many others.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. 2011 February 5
    Don Hammack permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Bobby. My best to your in-laws, and your folks. And to you and your massive clan.

  5. 2011 February 5
    Mike Mahaney permalink

    A pretty good start! Could take it anywhere from here … What kind of story were you planning?

  6. 2011 February 5
    Don Hammack permalink

    Planning? Who was planning? Like most first attempts, it was a heaping helping of navel gazing.

  7. 2011 February 6

    Very powerfull. Took me right back. I like to think thats it wasn’t what we lost, but what we gained. Things it might have taken a lifetime to learn.

  8. 2011 February 6
    Don Hammack permalink

    You got that right, Don. Although I do miss the Village Sports Pub.

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