At War with Water


Whenever I had a nightmare as a child, my mother would soothe me and tell me to go back to sleep, but I would be afraid because what if I had the same dream again? My mother, desperate for some sleep, would tell me that it was not possible to have the same dream twice. She was very convincing, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I believed her until the age of 30 when I bought my first home.

That was when my recurring water dream started. I now have it at least once a month. Invariably, my dream takes this progression:

  1. A storm is approaching
  2. There is some excitement
  3. The power goes out
  4. Water gets in
  5. House is gone

A psychologist might explain that this dream is really just a metaphor for all of the anxieties I face in which the home represents my inner sense of peace and the storm represents all of that which is out of my control, and I might believe that nonsense if not for the fact that as a homeowner I fear water like a rabbit fears the fox.

My first clue that water is public homeowner enemy number one came even before we closed on our starter forever house when there was a flurry of correspondence back and forth between lawyers about how exactly the sellers intended to sell a house without a sump pump. Back then, I didn’t even know what a sump pump was, but I could tell it was important just by the passion in my lawyer’s voice. Today, we have one that is made of solid gold and I check on it every night before I go to bed whether or not it is raining. In fact, I might have slept next to it during Hurricane Irene.

My second clue that I was going to be at war with water every single day of my life came when my mother was visiting and took a shower in our master bath. I went into the basement to do some laundry and holy shit, it was raining down there! Apparently, there was a leak where the shower pan met the drain pipe, but only when my mother was in there. My husband, who is significantly heavier, never had any problems.

I have actually lost count of the number of times I have hired someone to fix a leak. I feel like on any given day, I have a leak somewhere in this house it’s just a matter of how observant I am. We recently renovated our main bath–as in, we gutted it down to the studs–and one day soon after it was complete when I was in the basement doing laundry, I looked up, not because I suspected anything but because I was smug. Never in a million years did I expect to see a leak, but I did. And then I saw another. My contractor came back and made everything right again, until his caulk turned moldy and now I cry a little about it every day.

I also cry when it rains in the fall (and the spring, and the summer too), because our gutters are always clogged with leaves and mysterious debris and as a result our gutters are always overflowing, causing hundreds of gallons of rainwater to pool in the exact place it’s not supposed to pool–right at the foundation. Unfortunately, there is no safe way to clean the gutters, and so we pay our landscapers to do it. The problem is that our landscapers don’t live here with us in this house and can’t clear them every 20 minutes like they need so I will occasionally hang out my bedroom window by my ankles in the middle of a thunderstorm with a 14-foot green pole I found in my mother’s garage a few year’s ago. It’s fine, don’t worry.

When you rent you don’t fully understand all of the ways in which water will destroy you. You still see water as a good thing, providing cool refreshment and necessary hydration. I see the young kids today, doing research on Urban Compass to try and find the best NYC neighborhood for their personality and I think they have no idea what they are in for when they move to the burbs and have to give up their “flushable” wipes so as not to have raw sewage backing up into their basements. I envy them and their ignorance, but then I wonder, have they familiarized themselves with the city’s flood zone maps and evacuation routes? Because they really should.