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A Family's Tale of Hurricane Harvey

By LalainaPublished about a year ago 8 min read

Almeda Mall is bustling and there are errands to run, but my sister still stops in front of the window of the only quinceañera dress shop. Her eyes glimmer with something I have never seen before, at least, not directed as a dress. Maybe at a knife or a basketball, but not at a dress. She is fourteen, and she stares at the pretty gold lace and the red faux rubies, even at the large skirt. Something about the dress speaks inside of her and makes her feel like all the other girls excited about their quinceañeras. She wants that dress. She needs that dress. Except, we don’t end up with that dress. Instead, there is a hurricane.

The day before the hurricane, she and I go to my new school, celebrating my upcoming first year as a teacher. I still don’t know about the panic attacks I will have in the middle of the school day or the fights that will break out or how everything I ever know will be uprooted. I feel a hum of joy that I have made it this far. I am excited about my first day.

In the car, I talk about how beautiful the rain is, drizzling down over Houston. I have always enjoyed the rain, finding it a calming presence; it is a reminder of home. There is no traffic on the way there, a rarity for our city. I mostly use Chelsey, my fourteen-year-old sister, for labor. She is taller and stronger than me, despite our ten-year age gap. We are sent home early because of the weather. I leave my new plant there, figuring that I will be back Monday to water it. It is dead the next time I see it.

We go to lunch at Kelley’s and proceed to eat chicken fried chicken. We laugh together and stare at the darkening sky. Ominous. I shook the feeling away, knowing Houston is always braving rain, floods, and hurricanes. Atlantis has fallen, but never Houston. We head home, glad to be done for the day.

My mom still goes to work the night of Hurricane Harvey. We are not prepared for when the water starts pouring in, flooding the living room first. The floorboards start floating along the water. We throw everything we can on beds, salvaging my mom’s excessive collection of photos because she is not there to. We unplug every television and charger. The water is up to our knees and debris floats everywhere. My two little sisters and I cram into a queen size bed, my dad on the couch. The water keeps rising around us. Our bed is an island, protecting us.

We lose our house.

The bones of the house remain, but it isn’t our house anymore. It’s Harvey’s, it’s nature’s, but it isn’t ours anymore. The streets have become rivers, boats occasionally riding past. There is not much to do while we wait, except strip the house, removing what is left of its dignity. We rip the carpet out of the ground and stack our wooden floorboards and wonder how our mom will get home because she is stranded on the corner and the world is one of water and we wait for news that this is all over. Our cat has survived by clinging to dear life from the windowsill and our dogs are physically fine and the chinchilla doesn’t overheat and die. But we have lost who we are.

We no longer feel safe. We shovel canned food into our mouths as a distraction, though our stomachs ache for something more filling. Our muscles are sore from the manual labor. Emotionally, we are drained and there is not much to do. So, we continue to strip ourselves of the house. We throw away everything. Photos, posters, stuffed animals, books, so very many books, clothes, shoes, furniture. Everything must go, especially once we put things in storage. There is not enough space and the water damage is significant anyways.

Mom makes it home through sheer grit and with the help of our dad. She abandons the car at the corner store and we are happy to have her home. That is the first day. All the others are a blur, but the first day is the day that haunts me. Time passes. The house is still hot. Nails stick out from the source of the house, forcing us to watch where we lean. The insurance fights us every step of the way, trying to get out of paying us anything decent to fix our house. Too many people want the same thing. Instead, we stay in a hotel in Galveston because there is no room for us in Houston, the city that we have called home for as long as I’ve been alive. We drive an hour each way to get to work and school. We invite people to come visit us. A few even do.

The water in Galveston is beautiful. Moody Gardens is beautiful. The pier is beautiful. It is paradise, but true beauty is my sister who has accepted that we cannot give her a quince. She doesn’t even mention it. I put off my own dreams indefinitely. I still don’t know when I will go. I don’t know if I want to anymore. That seems like another part of my life.

Instead, we bond over the lack of tourists and the Pokestops and how everything is so cheap in the off season. Moody Gardens is a favorite. One of the few benefits of teaching, despite the cost to my soul, is the steady paycheck. I buy passes for the family. My sister Chelsey is particularly enchanted by the otters and the fact that there is an encounter option. I already know I plan to give it to her for her birthday, feeling guilt over having the quince she never did.

We are on the boat ride at Moody Gardens when our lives change again. My mom purchases me a monkey with a pirate hat. My school’s mascot is the pirates and I entertain my sisters by naming him. As the boat starts to turn back, dad asks if we want to move and take a loss on the house. Give up. Get on with our lives.

Our home isn’t ours anyways. It isn’t the place Chelsey learned to ride a bike or Itzel learned to scribble on walls. It is not the place where we had breakfast and watched television together. It isn’t the place where we learned to climb the tree in the backyard, dad encouraging us to be brave enough to jump. It is the place where we lost everything. We let the house go because there isn’t much to let go anyways. Our house died with the hurricane, like countless casualties.

We live.

Puerto Rico has its own hurricane. Irma makes the hotels open their doors again. We go to a hotel in Deer Park, thirty minutes away from our old house and twenty minutes from work. We look at houses. Lots of houses. Mostly on the internet, but we also drive by every chance we get so we can tell the realtor which strike our fancy. That bonds us as a family really, looking at houses, somewhere new to make memories.

We pick a house. It’s a nice house. Much nicer than the one we had. But that isn’t what makes it special. There is nothing quite like finding a home when you have lost everything, even one in a bougie white neighborhood, even one you haven’t spent ten years of your life in because is a roof and a backyard and a kitchen and ours.

I watch Chelsey and Itzel run through the backyard. The house is not near a flood zone. They will never see it become a world of water. They will make new memories of family barbecues. They will watch television and share breakfast at the table.

We’re there by Christmas and it seems like a miracle. The tree glows from the corner of the house, spreading its light across the living room. There are new photos, posters, stuffed animals, books, so very many books, clothes, shoes, furniture, and even a desk. I put together that desk with my sisters. We pick it out because there’s a deal on the hutch and we never had a desk that could accommodate all three of us. We build it because our dad refuses to, but also because it feels like we are staking a claim on the house. This time, we will not be moved.

It is still winter when we sit in our new backyard and my parents tell my sister she can still have her quince. Six months after her birthday and several tension headaches later, but she is going to have it.

My sister wears a red dress for her quince. It is not the one she picked out. It is grander, charro style, huge and poufy with gold horses engraved on to it. She is closer to sixteen than fifteen by the time her quince happens. It is almost November. We have been in our new home almost a year. Her quince picture hangs next to mine over the fireplace.

We have survived.

immediate familysiblingsliteraturehumanitygrief

About the Creator


She/Her. Writing Center Coordinator & Professor. Novelist. 30+. Proud Latina.

I'm obsessed with my cat and fantasy fiction.

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