From Tragedy To Togetherness: The Story Of A Flood

From Tragedy To Togetherness: The Story Of A Flood

From Tragedy To Togetherness: The Story Of A Flood

flooded home
Flood survivors recount how they lost everything but kept their marriages together.

For two weeks in June 2008, heavy rains and widespread flooding pummeled the Midwest. The nation's worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina, the floodwaters decimated downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, causing an estimated five billion dollars in damage and displacing over 2,000 people. The waters of the Cedar River crested at 31.2 feet, the highest in the town's 168-year history. The flood ripped buildings from their foundations, tumbling and twisting homes and offices.

My husband and I watched all of this on the news. "Look," said my husband pointing to the television. "It's the library." Only one floor of the two-story concrete building was showing above the water. The white walls reflected against the dark water. I remembered how I had just returned some books there only the day before; I started crying.

The flood ruined our town. Our home was lucky enough to be spared damage, but the marketing company where I worked was destroyed. Six months after the flood, I helped hang a banner declaring that the company was back in newly remodeled offices. The next day, I was laid off. Several more layoffs followed. The waters had receded, but the effects of the flood were still being felt. The flood caused approximately 7,000 job losses. In a city of 126,000 that loss hurts, and that was before the full brunt of the recession hit. Read: Money Saving Tips

As a couple, my husband and I volunteered—gutting and cleaning homes and businesses until I got sick with migraines and nausea. The doctor chalked my illness up to allergies and tensions from the flood. The stress took a toll. I yelled at my husband when I thought he'd violated the water ban (we could only use water in our house on the odd calendar days). He rolled his eyes when I cried in front of the news. We stopped going out to eat; our favorite restaurants had been filled with water. The effects of the disaster were wearing on us, and we hadn't even lost our home. 

On June 9, 2008 Linda, 65, and Max, 62, were evacuated from their home where they had lived for 30 years. "We didn't think it would be too bad. Maybe just the basement would have water," says Max. 

"We walked out of our home with the clothes on our backs," Linda says. "We lost everything in the flood." But she shakes her head and quickly corrects herself. "Well, not everything." She smiles and leans in toward Max. Their house was filled with eight feet of water. A small sign on their newly painted living room wall marks the flood line.

Linda has short dark hair, wears a gold cross around her neck and shimmery pink lipstick. Max's ruddy face is quick to smile. While Linda does most of the talking, he lets me know what he thinks. This is a man who's perfected the art of the eye roll. When I first meet Linda and Max, Linda wants to know if they should talk about their sex life. Before I can answer, Max says, "Sex, what sex?" They both laugh.

"We're too busy for sex." says Linda. "Yeah," Max laughs, "We only have time for mind sex." Linda explains that it took seven dumpsters to clean out all the flooded belongings from their house.

"The eighth dumpster took our sex life," she jokes. Watch: 3 Ways To Squeeze In More Sex

Both Max and Linda agree that the process of rebuilding after the flood was the most difficult challenge their marriage has ever faced. They didn't fight more, simply because they were too tired to fight. But Linda does recall some big arguments that arose, one involving where to put their new shower. Another when Max wanted to tear out her water-logged lilacs.

"I still do," he says pressing his hands together in mock prayer. "I pray to God every night, please take those lilacs." Linda reaches over and smacks his arm.

Max shrugs. "When you've been together long enough you know that those fights are really about the frustration, not about lilacs or a shower." Read: How To Fight Like a Wife

Katie, 26, and Andrew, 27, an Iraq veteran, were just shy of their three-year wedding anniversary when the flood took their home and their places of work.

"Everything we knew," explains Katie, "every piece of normalcy in our lives was just gone." The nonprofit office where Katie works was destroyed. During the flood, Andrew worked at a local hospital nearly three quarters of a mile from the river. It too sustained water damage. Katie and Andrew spent the summer fighting for their homes and their jobs. To boot, Katie discovered she was pregnant only three weeks after the flood hit.

"It was not the most relaxing time in our lives," Katie laughs, as she shushes to her two-month-old son. "We had been trying to have a child that spring. When the flood came we didn't think about it much. We heard that it was hard to conceive when you're stressed. But here he is."

For two months after the flood, the couple lived with friends. As Katie worked to rebuild the non-profit, Andrew worked to rebuild their home.

"It was definitely the hardest thing we've gone through as a couple," Katie says. "When Andrew was fighting in Iraq it was hard, but nothing like this. We had no refuge. No place to go for stability. The only people we could turn to were each other." 

Like Linda and Max, Katie says she and Andrew they were too tired to fight. Although they were frustrated and worn out, they tried to make sure they made time for one another. Living in someone else's home, they took a lot of walks to get some private time. In August, the couple took a quick vacation to regroup and relax.

"We didn't talk about the flood at all," Katie says. Katie thinks the flood drew her and Andrew closer. "I saw all the amazing things my husband was capable of." 

Both Katie and Andrew and Linda and Max have seen friends and neighbors torn apart by the flood. Linda says that she witnessed the marriages of her friends undergo a strain that will change them forever, but she's convinced that the worst of times show a person's true mettle.

"If that's how they are during bad times," she says, "that's who they truly are. You're either committed or you're not. There's no faking it." Read: A Hurricane Taught Me To Love His Family

Almost a year later, Cedar Rapids is still facing a difficult reality: many homes will never be rebuilt, businesses will never return. Many of the houses near our home are still empty and crumbling, a dark flood line wrapping around them like a black ribbon, staining the siding right above the first-floor windows. I spoke to one woman who lost her home, and when the financial and personal loss became too much to bear, her husband left her with three children and no place to go.

Today, I have a new job and my husband has survived the two rounds of layoffs at his company. Recently, as we watched a local news story about feral cats living in flooded homes and more problems with FEMA trailers, and I teared up, again. This time, my husband took my hand and said, "I wish I could have done more to help." I knew exactly what he meant. I squeezed his hand, "I wish I could have done more, too."

In the face of the overwhelming loss, our efforts don't feel like much, but volunteering with my husband, knee deep in river muck and sewage, has shown me a deeply compassionate side of him I'd never seen before. Once, as we were helping a tent business clean out their warehouse, the owner told us we didn't have to go into the murky interior. We could, he said, stay outside and rinse tents. My husband pulled up his boots, snapped on a mask, and went in. I think I even saw him roll his eyes, just a little. A year later, I know that even though our losses cause me to cry and him to be callous, we'll get through it. In the end we'll be together, doing what we can to rebuild. Our favorite restaurant even reopened recently, and we've had several date nights. Read: 4 Obama-Inspired Date Ideas

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.
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