In Writing

Monday, it poured. The rain came in sideways and chilly. It was relentless, the kind of rain that makes you understand why in biblical times they thought it might be divine retribution. It ran in rivulets down my hill.

It flooded my basement.

My history of basement floods is complicated. This isn’t even the first time I’m blogging about one. Shortly after my freshly-minted ex-husband – knower of all things house, indefatigable doer – moved out, we had a similar rain and it soaked into my basement under a basement door that put up no more than a nominal fight. I was alone for the first time. The kids were little and slept upstairs, and I cried on the third step down, wondering what one does about such an onslaught of the elements.

Nine years later, it was my daughter, now a legal adult, who discovered the issue. I pulled out my trusty pump, and within hours the whole thing was bone-dry. She did such an excellent job of disinfecting every nook and cranny that it didn’t even get that musty smell that damp basements sometimes get. The flooding doesn’t happen often enough to say that I’m an old hand at it, but it fails to daunt me now. Years bring new skills.

The basement is the keeper of all things past. In feng shui (if you’ll indulge me a moment), the basement represents the past. The ground floor represents the present. The attic represents the future. (Perhaps in houses with a second floor between the ground floor and the attic, the bedroom floor might represent something like a foot hovering above the decided step into the future? Dreams, maybe?). It is auspicious, hopefully, that my attic is absolutely without a single item to weigh it down (except some copper coils I handmade in a particularly fervent round of energy-hoping).

My basement, however, is another story. It is the home of all things temporarily in the way upstairs, which quickly become permanent denizens of its lonely depths. There are several evolutions of my taste in wall decor, for example, and candle holders I ran out of room for upstairs. There are way too many boxes of books I absolutely love and can’t bring myself to donate (and I donate a lot). There are bags of all the old sheet sets that remind me of my children’s childhoods, filled with trains and fairies and personalized pillow cases. There are remnants of past lives – the headshot I took for my now-abandoned consulting website, the old pictures of me and a long-forgotten boyfriend of my twentysomething years, the local magazine that tried to sell me advertising but which I convinced to let me write for them instead. It lacks a wall and proper lighting on the side where my ex began to fix it up years ago but then abandoned when he knew he wanted to leave me.

A few months ago, motivated by the fact that my boyfriend is a neat freak and I could not bring myself to let him see the basement in such a state of abandon, I began sifting through every last thing down there. I filled half of it with black garbage bags of the detritus of a life – too many copies of the aforementioned magazine, folders with papers which felt important but which I never looked at again, old wine boxes I once thought chic, but which, upon closer inspection, looked shabby with their cracked bottoms and cheap stamps.

My town DPW comes along and takes away big trash every two weeks. After this half-purge, I halfheartedly used to tell my kids twice a month, “Remember Wednesday we’ve got to take all that trash out of the basement.” They grumbled in dutiful assent, but didn’t go out of their way to remind me when the day rolled around. I had many good reasons why this or that Wednesday didn’t work. Meetings. Bad weather. Other plans.

But then Monday, the weather made the choice for me. It all got soaked, and required immediate removal. We dragged it to the garage, where we left it in all its soggy nostalgia and memory for two days. It was then I realized that I hadn’t not taken it to the curb because of dinner plans and gusty winds – this Wednesday was really busy, and I had to drag my portion of it out way too early, because I again had plans – but because letting go is hard for me. I come from a long line of pack rats, and although I am not one, my heart pulls to the nostalgic. Out went old, soaked love letters. Out went the games I used to play with my children. Out went a broken helicopter I once bought for my husband with so much enthusiasm when my marriage was still filled with hope. Out went a folder with an old book idea, now not of interest at all, but still part of who I used to be. Out went an old high school textbook I’d managed to squirrel away because I loved it too much to return it.

This morning, the DPW dutifully came on schedule. I couldn’t bring myself to watch them tossing all those years into the truck. I only glanced afterwards, when I heard their brakes screeching down the hill, to make sure they’d gotten it all.

Life is like that, I guess. If you don’t make choices, choices are made for you. Lighter, with the “past” section of my house unburdened, I look to the future. First, a new drainage system outside that dang basement door. Then, a contractor to put some walls on that sucker. And on to a new phase.

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