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Flooded Basement Brings Out the Best

Flooded basement

Into every military wife's life, a little rain must fall. Sometimes  four inches of it. But always when her husband is deployed. This "rain" comes in the form of little things (a bench on the porch that came apart from its legs) and big things (last Monday). All I wanted to do was go back to bed. The sky was grey, the air felt like February, and there were no open parking spaces at work. The bread at lunch was stale. My hair felt flat. 

My plan after noon was to go home, get back into pajamas and snuggle with Lindell on the couch. I'd put on all his favorite movies and forget the morning ever happened.

But when I walked in the front door, past the bench and its collapsed legs, the babysitter looked apprehensive. "There's some water in the basement," she said delicately, slowly. 

I pictured rain drops. Maybe a small leak from the washing machine. Surely something I could ignore for the next three hours. 

"It's actually alot of water," she said.

I opened the basement door, peered down the stairs, and saw a laundry basket float past. I pushed the door closed again.

No. I would just pretend this hadn't happened. 

But...I couldn't.

One of the most tiring aspects of having a spouse deployed is being responsible for everything. There is no one to take over when you've hit your limit, no one to say, "Let me handle this." 

I put on my L.L Bean boots and walked down the creaking basement stairs. There were at least 3-inches of water wall-to-wall in the basement. Pingpong balls bobbed up and down as their floated past. Books were saturated beneath the surface, stuck to the floor like an anchor. Our life-size, cardboard Darth Vadar was floating on its back. 

I ran back up the stairs, closed the door and cried. I asked myself several times, "Do we really need the basement or anything in it? Can't I just bolt the door closed and forget it?"

I got on Facebook to see if Dustin was online. Luckily for me (not necessarily for him), he was. I pounded out instant messages one after another. I was frantic. And poor Dustin, halfway across the world, was helpless. 

Or was he?

Within 30 minutes, people started showing up at my door. First was a friend Marion, who brought her husband and a sump pump. "When someone is in trouble, we can never assume other people will take care of it," she said. Then she told me to sit down and let them handle it. 

Next, Dave from the Military Family Assistance Center came. Through the miracles of modern communication, Dustin had gotten in touch with his former command here in the states and told them what was happening. (Not so "helpless" after all.) But what Dave wanted to know was why I hadn't called the Military Family Assistance Center myself: "Don't you have that magnet with emergency numbers on it? We give it to all military families." I didn't know how to tell Dave that (1) my first reaction of choice was to cry about the basement, not make phone calls, and (2) I had probably thrown away the magnet. I never thought I'd need it. Oops.

My friend Shelley came next. She brought contractor-grade trash bags, and, more importantly, left with my children and kept them until 8 p.m.

People from Dustin's former command came soon after, and that's when I got the bad news: it wasn't just water in the basement. It was sewer water. 

You know those scenes in movies where someone opens their mouth real wide to scream, and you can see the thing hanging down at the back of their throat, and then the scream (and the camera) pans out to the street, then the city, then the state, and then all the way up to satellites on the moon? Yeah, my reaction was kind of like that. 

And the water was rising. Carpets were floating. Furniture was ruined. I had new sympathy for anyone who has ever experienced a flood in their home. It is a helpless feeling. 

By 7 p.m., however, all the water was out of the basement. Friends and neighbors brought dehumidifiers and fans. The next morning, Dave from Military Family Assistance and people from Dustin's former command came to help me mop and bleach the floors. Still, I wanted to bathe in anti-bacterial soap. 

Now, here's where I'd like to clap my hands and say, "I handled it after all." But the truth is, I couldn't have gotten through Monday and Tuesday without the above-mentioned crew of friends, neighbors and military-support services. It's true what they say, "When it rains, you find out who your friends are," or something like that. 

On Wednesday, Dave brought me a new magnet with emergency phone numbers. It is on our refrigerator. I hope I don't need it again.

On Thursday, I went out on the front porch and nailed those legs back onto the broken bench.

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Navy wife Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (2005) and I'm Just Saying (2008). She has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek, and on Nightline, The Early Show, CNN, Fox News and other local and national news outlets. Her liferights were optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television to be made into a half-hour sitcom. Visit for more details. To contact Sarah, you can also visit her Facebook page.

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