Season 5: January to May 2016
The bottom of Rose Gardener’s house was always susceptible to flooding, but both of us have become a bit complacent. I am in heaven living there. At night, I sit on the porch and listen to the night birds in the walled, urban garden. My neighbors are musicians, their sweet music carried on a soft summer breeze. On January 2nd, a warm summer evening, it begins to rain heavily. I am talking on the phone to Kev about our campaign to repair the Kyogle Road.
As I say goodbye to Kev and re-enter the house, I can hear the toilet gurgling.
Within seconds, dark water is surging out of the toilet, and the bathroom drains.
It floods the entire ground floor. I rush to block the bathroom door with towels, but it’s futile. The power of the water is stronger than anything I can offer.
Within seconds, I am standing ankle-deep in toxic Category 3 “blackwater” (sewage). I race to save what I can, piling books and clothes on my bed and dresser. But so much is lost.
I must surrender all items touched by the toxic liquid: about half of my belongings.
The driveway is piled high with a stinking, rotting mess of my belongings: books, clothes, carpets, shoes, paintings… Every electrical item has to go. I try to catalogue the valuable items before teams of men in fluorescent jackets remove them. It’s a nightmare.
Bill had painted the floor and made the place so beautiful. Now it is unrecognizable.
My lovely new home is torn apart.
In this chaos, I fall apart.
I am homeless.
I lose my moorings.
Fortunately, I have contents insurance, so I am quickly housed in short-term emergency housing in central Brisbane. But I seem to have no housing options. Or I can’t figure out where to start.
Twice on the same day, I narrowly miss being hit by a car as I cross against the lights in central Brisbane.
Then an unprecedented heatwave engulfs southeast Queensland.
I will die now. I am confident that I will die.
Standing in the shallow water, watching my life float away is such a powerful trauma trigger.
My mental health collapses.
I have hit a massive impediment on my healing pathway.
The simplest tasks confound me.
Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)
The flood triggers devastating PTS symptoms, insomnia, bouts of uncontrollable sobbing, helplessness, and pain, exacerbated by endless battles with my contents insurance company. The insurance claims adjuster demands that I move back to Rose’s house as soon as the floor is cleaned and disinfected. I refuse (and Rose won’t allow me to live there again, anyway). My insurance company has moved me into emergency housing in downtown Brisbane. Twice I am nearly hit by a car on a holiday weekend when there is no traffic.
I feel utterly hopeless for the first time since Karl died.
I am in a dangerously low state of despair.
I sense Karl very close, comforting me, and explaining that I will be reimbursed for my lost belongings. My ultimate acceptance of this miracle (he calls it a “marigold”) makes him happy, but I am struggling to maintain my equilibrium. Later I recognize the massive gift of the flood, as the contents insurance payout finances my move to Canada.
But at the time, the payout is cold comfort when I can barely function, paralyzed with exhaustion and desperation. Now I am grieving for everything: my former life, my love, our lost home, this lost home, my furniture and belongings, and perhaps a hundred precious books that were part of my identity as an author. I feel directionless, and that terrifies me even more.
This new drama causes some friends to turn their backs on me. That’s the last straw for me in my fragile state.