By Sunday morning, the creek behind my Bellevue complex had overrun its banks, and water was lapping at the condo opposite mine. Out back, what was once our common area was nothing but brown rushing water. My neighbors and I met to assess our situation. We considered leaving, but we’d all seen images of cars floating in the river alongside the semi-trailer trucks and a portable classroom. Staring at the roaring, swirling water, we decided we had a better chance at home than on the road.
I spent the next hour pacing from one window to the next. I carried my books upstairs in armfuls. My mother called from out of town; our brief conversation did nothing to reassure either of us, but by the end of it, the rain had subsided a little. The water was still everywhere, but it was no longer lingering at my second step; it had settled on the first. An hour later, I could actually see a little grass. For whatever reason, we were spared.
My cable starting working again right about the time my phones went out, and I sat before the television for the rest of the day, not really believing what I was seeing.
The word “surreal” gets bandied around a lot during calamities, but it is truly the strangest thing to watch televised images of people carrying other folks out in boats and know it’s happening only a few blocks away. I could hear the helicopter broadcasting the pictures I was seeing. Looking at the aerial shots of Bellevue, it was hard to believe anything was left of our little town. It felt wrong to be sitting there watching it, to be observing the wreckage of my neighbors’ lives.
Three of my colleagues and the parents of another lost everything that day. That much I know. What I don’t know is the condition of the strangers I see almost every day: the very tall man with the very tiny white dog, the friendliest grocery-store clerk in the world, the retiree on his front stoop in River Plantation who always waves as I walk past. I hope they all came through unscathed. Looking at the damage, I think that may be too much to ask.