I don’t have a Hurricane Harvey story. As is a typical thing for me: I had somewhere else to be. About a week after the rains stopped and enough of the waters receded, I got into my brother’s white suburban and drove to Telluride, Colorado.
The goal was to participate in the Imogene Pass Run, which basically was running the 17 miles from Ouray to Telluride. The only hitch is that there’s a pesky 13,000-foot point in between: 10 miles up, 7 miles down.
So, I left Houston and Harvey behind.
I took my time driving there but rushed to get somewhere above sea level. Ouray & Telluride are above 7,500 feet, so acclimation to that elevation was the plan.
The trip there was meditative and magical in lots of ways. As I drove through a bunch of small towns in Texas, New Mexico, & Colorado, people would check my Texas driver’s license and then I’d transform into this wandering Houston ambassador, spreading the Gospel of Harvey to anyone within earshot. It happened like clockwork enough times that I had a routine down. I’d shift my eyes around within whatever space I was in, trying to determine the number of turning heads so I knew how loud I would need to project my voice.
The run up the mountain wasn’t noteworthy other than the fact that I did it, one step after another. I wasn’t officially signed up for it, so I ran under my brother’s name since he knew he wasn’t going to be able to take the few days off. As I came running through Downtown Telluride to the finish line, to excited spectators cheering on everyone else, the announcer would say the name & hometown of the runners.
Usually they were from “_______ , Colorado.” I arrived at the finish line between 2 larger groups of runners, so the announcer was able to say my brother’s name and then say, “Oh! From HOUSTON! God bless you. GOOOO HOUSTON!” Then the crowd of strangers seemingly cheered louder for an extra second until the next runner passed through and their name & hometown was called out by the announcer.
A little dazed from the 17-mile trek, it took a minute or two to register what had happened. I felt special for representing my city in this corner of the earth. I sipped the remaining water in my camelback bladder, standing on Main Street in Telluride, and cried as I stared back the mountain I’d just come down. I felt so grateful. That floating feeling of humility in the ouroboros of sensing both isolatedness & connectedness simultaneously. It’s a feeling that’s even indescribable now. I’d done it, and all I had to do was not stop. The point of it was to not stop. To keep going.
After I got back, my life crashed hard. My car got stolen with my laptop inside. With my only means of income gone, a few clients “paused” their work with me. Some because I was non-responsive, others because they were local and their personal lives were under water. I was poor from the trip. My Airbnbs puttered along.
It’s guilt that lingers that I don’t have a Harvey story. That I didn’t personally do enough. I did my share of volunteering to help “the wet Houstonians” before I left but coming back was a different story. It was probably mid-October by the time I volunteered anywhere again.
And, to my own defense, there’s a familiarity with the surreal that we all went through in the 1st few months after Harvey.
- Telling a group of 10+ people how to eat an MRE (in Spanish)
- Learning which kind of gloves work best when they get water-logged
- Trying to best organize a gymnasium full of donated items
- Figuring out the quickest way to get sheetrock off someone’s studs
- Honing your explanation of what “chicken tetrazzini” is
- Instructing people how to sit down in the bed of a truck
- Figuring out how to pick up a pile of rotted wood without getting stuck by a rusty nail
I remember that no one had any names. We were all just “Hey” to one another. In calmer settings, there was more individuation, but those once-meaningful names escape me even now. I feel bad that those details are lost to the ether but it wasn’t going to be pretty to get Houston rebuilt. It just was going to BE.
But we (mostly) rebuilt Houston. It took everyone. It took time. It took all we could give. Drop by drop. Of blood, sweat, & tears. Because the 19 trillion gallons of water that Harvey poured onto Houston came down one drop at a time. And getting rid of its destruction would take just as many drops from us.
So, this is almost the 3-year anniversary of my going up a mountain. My guilt only dissipates when I remind myself of what it was like to stand on the street in Colorado crying through my sunglasses, or in a 10-foot-tall pile of clothes discussing “toddlers clothes” and “baby clothes,” or in strangers’ dining room wrapping up their great-grandmother’s fine china with my muddy, chalky hands.
I realize that I didn’t leave because I wanted to. I just had somewhere else to be. This world doesn’t stop for us, so there’s no point to stop for it. We just have to give what’s inside to get us to where we want to be.