Waiting Out Harvey in My Parents' Trailer Is a Slow-Churning Nightmare

In the drive leading up to their spot outside our hometown of Houston, a sign reads "Ruff Enuff." My parents' place isn't flooded, but this is the worst storm we've seen.

by Brian McManus
30 August 2017, 7:04pm

Photo by the author

The text contained only a link to a news story: "Soon-To-Be Tropical Storm Could Bring 15 Inches of Rain to Parts of Texas Coast." It was from my twin brother Sean, and I thought I knew what it portended. Our upcoming trip from New York City—which we both now call home—to mom and dad's new place on said coast was going to be a bit wetter than expected. "Oh good," I texted back.

My parents live in what can generously be called the Middle of Fucking Nowhere, though locals call it Coldspring, Texas. My dad—a retired longshoreman who put in 40 backbreaking years at the Port of Houston—bought a plot of land there in 1995. It was surrounded by everything he loved: giant fields dotted with cows, rolling hills, winding country roads and, most importantly, quiet. On weekends, he'd clear and burn brush on his postage stamp-size lot, sometimes dragging me and Sean—we were just out of high school—along with him. Eventually, he cleared enough land to put a small camper on the property.

Two years ago, he and my mom, a retired school teacher, sold the house Sean and I spent the bulk of our adolescence in, retiring to their rural homestead, which they've taken to calling "Leap of Faith." ("Because it took one to get out here," as my dad is fond of saying.) Over the course of the last 20 years, they've bought more land, replaced the small camper with a small trailer, and moved the thing a ways back from the red clay road. My dad's since built decks for the front and back doors himself, along with two rustic storage sheds that wouldn't look out of place on the set of Westworld, and a small log cabin-inspired car-port for his tractor.

Sean and I somehow had never been to Leap of Faith at the same time since my parents clasped hands and made that jump. So we were very much looking forward to this trip—despite warnings from my mom that there'd be nothing much to do, that we'd probably be bored. (An avid Jazzerciser and Zumba enthusiast who has trouble sitting still, she admitted she often was herself.) Didn't matter, we told her. We're just coming to see the finished place, and to visit. We wouldn't be there long enough to grow bored anyway.

We were wrong on both counts.

The trip was supposed to last two and a half days, but by the time it's done it'll likely have been over a week. The airports remain shut down or inaccessible, and the roads leading into and out of Leap of Faith are mostly underwater, so we couldn't get to them even if they were operational. We remain effectively stranded on an island in Southeast Texas, just about an hour north of the Houston docks my dad worked so long. When I first sat down to write this, we were without power, so I typed on my phone while charging in the car. Power has since been restored, and with it running water, which comes from a well via electric pump. It has rained relentlessly for the better part of four days, and we came close to running out of food before making it to a grocery store down the road Wednesday.

As you are now well aware, that soon-to-be tropical storm my brother texted about got a name, Harvey, and then a few upgrades, first to a category one hurricane, then two, three, and four. We sat at New York's LaGuardia Airport together watching the news roll in on our phones, wondering aloud whether we were dumb as hell for attempting the trip. We decided to board the plane and take our own leap.

After all, Harvey was supposed to make landfall hundreds of miles south of our parents' place. We had no idea—though some did —it would dump trillions of gallons of water on Texas before it was done, end the lives of at least 22 people, send tens of thousands to seek shelter, or that cops, emergency workers and the National Guard would need to rescue upwards of 10,000 more. Nor did we have any clue it would shape up as the most expensive storm in the history of a state that's dealt with its unfair share of them.

The author's father outside "Leap of Faith"

I was born and raised on the north side of Houston, and have lived through countless tropical storms, hurricanes, depressions, and torrential downpours, enough that these weather events often barely registered. None of them could've prepared me for the slow-churning nightmare of Harvey. "This one's different," as my dad said Sunday afternoon when the power first went out and water kept falling out of the sky in sheets.

Harvey marks the second hurricane we've lived through together under the same roof, 34 years apart. I was nine and remember vividly how terrifying Hurricane Alicia was. The winds howled, the house shook and swelled. My mom had me and Sean sleep on the floor in their room just in case a tree fell on the house. Water seeped in and we pulled up the carpets. It was violent and fast. Once we got through that first night, though, it was mostly over. We walked the neighborhood after things calmed and looked at down branches and toppled brick walls of some old buildings. It was intense but quick, like a hard punch in the mouth.

I was at a house party when Tropical Storm Allison began raging, in 2001. The place was packed. No one there was at all concerned about the wind and water outside. That is, until a late comer stopped the music and warned, "If your car is on the street, I'd suggest moving it onto the lawn. It's starting to flood." The water rose up to the party's doorstep, and most who attended slept there that night, walking home hungover in waist high water the following day. That, too, was scary but swift.

By contrast, Harvey—in Coldspring at least—has been slow and steady. It lost its Category 4 status relatively quickly after making landfall, and then just squatted over Houston, covering an area of Texas that would stretch from New York City to Boston if it were laid out east. I'd already moved away by the time Ike and Rita came around, but watched in dread as CNN reported from both, and dutifully checked Facebook statues of my many friends on the Third Coast. Despite the damage on the news, most of them remained unscathed. They've not been so lucky with Harvey.

Much of this current visit has consisted of the four of us sitting in the living room illuminated by a maple syrup-scented candle my mom likely bought at Dollar General. We've listened to the radio, or played cards, or read. But mostly my mom has been looking at her new-ish Facebook account on her also-new smartphone, reading statuses of friends who have lost everything—aloud. She'll sometimes pause to get up and show my dad pictures of roads they're familiar with that are now underwater. There are many of them.

Many of my own friends and acquaintances have taken to writing a version of the same thing on Facebook: "I've never seen anything like this…and it's not over yet" or, echoing my dad, "This one's different."

After a couple of days hiding out from the rain, I began to feel a kind of overwhelming dread—a mixture of cabin fever and the undying feeling that we're stuck on the property and don't know when we'll be able to get someplace else. Dread of the loss in general, and the sense that my hometown is forever changed.

In the drive leading up to the trailer hangs a wooden sign my dad hand carved with the property's address and our surname. On the back it reads: "Ruff Enuff." This week, I asked him why he added it.

"Your mother told me, before we got here, that she wasn't interested in roughing it," he explained. "So I tried to make it nice enough for her. 'Ruff Enuff.'"

He paused, looked at all the water pooling in his now-slightly-bigger postage stamp, and at the rain coming down.

"I think we may have dipped below the bar."

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