I am writing this on a Wednesday night. It’s hard to believe, given the range of emotions experienced over the last 72 hours, that it’s only fucking Wednesday.
From Sunday night to Wednesday morning, I felt swept away in a series of rapidly changing events in my hometown as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Most of the events revolved around the status of my mother – our flooded house, the next plan of action, evacuation, tortured silence from her dead watered down cell phone, rescue by boat, transport by truck, arrival to the edge of higher ground also on the verge of evacuation. The aforementioned sequence of events comprised of 10 hours that, simultaneously, felt so fast and ever so slow.
Being far away from my parents made the situation more difficult and confusing – everything I read from news sources had to be calibrated against testimonies from my parents, family, local friends, and social media. As a result, my thoughts are as fragmented as the information I tried to piece together.
Here are the fragments I am mulling over right now:
- Friendship: If you search #squadgoals on Instagram, you’ll end up with pictures of friends wearing the same outfit, dogs hanging out with cats, and other stupid shit that is supposed to emulate friendship. After Monday, I have a much clearer idea of what incredible friendship can look like. A friend is someone who checks in on you because they know you live alone and the local forecast looks precarious. When things get dire, a friend offers to pick you up in your flooded neighborhood despite the fact that stretches of every main artery to your house – the 99, 1464, 1093, I-10 and the Westpark Tollway – have all been deemed impassable by the local authorities. They feed you, house you, text pictures of you to your daughters, and then offer to drive you back to your flooded home to assess the long recovery ahead. They never ask you when you’re going to leave. Thank you to my mother’s friend, Thimy Ly, for setting some fucking impossible standards for #squadgoals and for being my Houston Hero.
- Local Heroes: By writing the above, I’m not advocating for people risking their lives to fulfill an impossible standard of hashtag friendship. I am also exceptionally appreciative to the high school classmate who took pictures of roads around my dad’s house to contextualize Alief’s flooding situation, to the wonderful people who offered their homes in case my mom’s exodus to Missouri City was unsuccessful, and to the family members who ensured me that everything would be okay.
- Thinking Beyond Black and White: The main question/criticism circulating right now is whether Houston should have been evacuated sooner. It’s easy from the comfort of our computer screens and keyboards to pose such black and white proclamations. However, when you’re in it – when you’re walking through the possibilities with loved ones – it’s not so simple. You could leave, but risk getting stuck on one of the many flooded corridors heading in and out of the city. You could stay, but remain in imminent danger due to uncertain reservoir conditions. You could leave, but will be forced to wade through murky waters with dangerous conditions and currents. You could stay and assess the situation, but you may not be rescued if you wait too long. The decision my mother made to evacuate early in the morning by foot initially frightened me. It ended up being the right decision. It’s not always, if ever, black and white.
- A Surreal Time Warp: I cannot imagine a more surreal experience than tuning into a local news broadcast and seeing images of your neighborhood – mailboxes your recognize, houses that look like yours, streets and playgrounds you have passed – all submerged in a catastrophe. It’s numbing, disorienting, dystopian. Here’s a story filed by the CBC that featured rescues in my mother’s neighborhood – Twin Oaks. I have only been able to watch it once.
- Local Media Saviors: I give local news a lot of shit for filing stories like which restaurants have slime in the ice machine (an actual Houston news segment). This entire climate disaster has, at least temporarily, flipped my perceptions of the role that the media plays in covering major stories. I give infinite kudos to the local ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates for their dedicated coverage of this climate disaster. All of the on the ground reporters I followed – Miya Shay, Brandi Smith, Steve Campion to name a few – were essential to my understanding of road closures, the status of reservoir integrity, evacuation notices, the impact in the different quadrants of Houston, and, in many cases, risked their own lives to rescue and report. The information was functional as opposed to purely sensationalist and entertaining. There were so many instances of a person stepping off a boat to tell a local reporter, “I watch you every night. You’re like my family.” Local journalism, like local politics, is where real, impactful, meaningful change happens.
- Mom: My mom remains the most measured, hopeful, and resilient person in my life. Only 3 days removed from a sleepless night of watching water rise in our house and making the difficult decision of evacuating with just a few small bags and our dog, she seemed to be in incredible spirits. “Hopefully when you come visit me next, I’ll have a brand new house!” she said to my sister and I after we discussed the first steps of many in rebuilding her life. Me too, mom.