It is 7:30pm and we are sitting at Casa Verde in Puerto Viejo. This hotel restaurant is normally popular for casual breakfast but, tonight, this small, open-air establishment has transformed into a jazz club. Jimmy Mac is on piano and his voice carries through the entire place as folks are eating, laughing and some even getting up to dance for a song or two.
My aunt Diane has come to visit for a couple of weeks; staying just above me at my vacation rental unit. Though we have had our differences in the past (as most families do), we have successfully worked through many of them with the helpful tools of listening and open communication. As Ram Das says: “You think you’re enlightened? Spend a week with your family.”
Against the backdrop of Jimmy’s soulful music, a glass of chilled white wine, the pitter patter of rain and occasional thunder clap, the night becomes magical in a way that I’ve only experienced in this little Caribbean town.
Inevitably, Di and I begin to talk about my mom (her sister). We mostly discuss her sickness, death and how we’ve all dealt with it. I am able to express how I used to feel angry about how the entire situation was handled but have since come to realize that everyone was just doing their best. It is a deep and vulnerable discussion for the both of us, but with a lot of healing at the end. Like clockwork, Jimmy begins to play a Bruce Springsteen song – my mom’s absolute favorite artist. We both stop talking and listen. Tears begin to stream down my face…I can feel her with me.
As we pay for our meal, the electricity goes out completely, adding to the awe of the evening. It is now pouring buckets; Di and I are grateful we brought the rental car.
I get behind the wheel and begin our drive home. The streets are starting to flood but, thanks to a solid high from a glass of wine, vulnerable discussion and great music, the trip home becomes a fun challenge instead of a frightening experience.
Amidst laughter and a few screams when the water splashes all the way up to the windows, I pull the car in front of the big, wooden gate. Di jumps out to open it and I pull the car in…this is where the shift happens.
Not often does a single moment mark the difference between pure bliss and complete nightmare. When it does it becomes etched into one’s memory like bad tattoo upon delicate skin.
The headlights illuminate my ground-floor porch and, like the yard in front of it, there is at least four inches of water drowning the entire space.
I get out of the car, oblivious to the torrential downpour, which instantly soaks me.
Since the power in all of town is out, I use the light of my phone as I walk toward my place; its weak yellow beam bouncing off of the ripples in the water. At this point, my irrational optimism kicks in.
Maybe the front door stopped the water from coming in.
Nope. I open the front door and the entire place is covered in water, up to my mid-calf.
Diane is with me now and we both are in shock.
“This can’t be happening.” I say out loud.
Thankfully, Diane is the first one to come to: “Mel, grab what you want and let’s take it upstairs. You can sleep on one of the sofa beds. For now, get the important stuff since we don’t know how much more the water will rise.”
It’s true. Even in the few moments we are standing here, the water has risen to just below my knee.
As I try to make sense of what is important and what is not (an impossible task when one is in this sort of shocked state), I can’t help but think back to those hypothetical questions that we’ve all been asked dozens of times:
What is the most important item that you own?
If you were on a desert island and could only take 5 things with you, what you bring?
If your house was flooding, you could barely see anything and you were in shock, what you would save?
Diane grabs a backpack from her (dry) house upstairs and we begin to shove things in. By the grace of God, I hadn’t left my lap top on the floor next to my bed, as I sometimes do, so we load that in. A few pieces of jewelry, my passport, phone, chargers, all of my books – all are dry. In fact, the only thing that gets soaked is the travel backpack I keep underneath my bed.
We finally leave the space and head upstairs. We are both soaked and exhausted, but neither of us has the energy to do anything but head to bed.
I towel off, put on a big T-shirt, throw my sheets on the sofa and lay down. I feel a mixture of anxiety that the rain is still going strong but also gratitude for that fact that, in this moment, I am dry and I am warm. Not everyone gets to feel that way in situations like this; something I understand at a cellular level at this point.
I drift off to sleep with comfort of the serenity prayer playing over and over again in my head…particularly the: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” part. If there was ever a time to understand how little control I have in this world, it is when mother nature has unleashed her power and my house is directly below me, drowning in a sea of rainwater.*