So, there I was. It was Saturday night. I’d just finished my takeout. I was watching a movie. I was sitting at the dining room table, painting. I was doing laundry. I was thinking about making hot chocolate. I was feeling at peace.
Then the dryer buzzed.
Our dryer is a little on the older side, and the timer can only be set for 30 minutes, so you have to run it through one cycle, listen for the buzz, and then start it again. Two cycles usually does the trick. I’d already done two loads of laundry and I only had one left.
So, the dryer buzzed, and I decided to finish painting one final flower before getting up. I was painting daisies on an old window that my mom’s friend had found at a garage sale. There was green on my hands from the stems and a chunk of yellow under my thumbnail from the pollen in the center of the petals. I was sitting with my legs crossed under me, in big fluffy socks because my toes had been cold since I woke up. My legs were stiff, my shoulders were slouched, but I was in the zone. The hours were flying off the clock in that happy way they do when you’re immersed in something you love. But then I remembered: the dryer buzzed, and if I didn’t get up now, I’d never remember to start it again.
I stretched my arms out, rolled my head along my shoulders, and then stepped onto the wood floor to stand up. Instantly, my foot was wet. I jumped and instinctively took my sock off, wondering what spilled. Then I took a few more steps and realized the whole floor was wet. I walked to the kitchen, and when I crossed the threshold of the wood floor in the dining room onto the linoleum in the kitchen, my foot splashed into a near two inches of water.
I gasped, whispering, “no no no no no no,” as I sloshed through the kitchen. When I opened the door to the laundry room, the small shag rug was floating like a raft in front of the washer and dryer. I pulled the knob to turn off the washer, then kicked my way through the water to find towels.
I laid the towels down and they withered, like a piece of paper in a puddle. They absorbed what they could but then just lay there, pointless, and within seconds, I had no more dry towels. Standing in the near ankle-deep water in the kitchen, I grabbed a plastic cup out of the cupboard and began shoveling the water in the sink, as if I was trying to keep a boat afloat. I threw in cupful after cupful—and then I called my dad.
As I waited for him to arrive, I started to use one of the towels like a mop, laying it in the water and then wringing it out, laying it in the water and then wringing it out. Then I noticed that the water had moved into the entry way by the front door, and through the doorway of my sister’s bedroom. So, I wrung out the towel for a final time and took off running, my feet splashing across the floor, and turned on her bathroom and bedroom light.
“No no no no no,” I said again as I moved into her room, horrified by how the water had slithered down her hallway to the base of her bed and underneath her desk. I began to use the towel to push the water back down the hallway, careful not to direct it into her closet, and out into the entryway where the water was already pooled. From there, I would take the towel and wring it out in her sink, then start again.
By the time my dad got there, I was wet from the neck down, openly panting. Shortly after, the neighbor from down the hall knocked on the door, kind but concerned.
“Do you guys have a leak?” he asked.
I nodded, my feet now numb and my hair sticking out at all angles. I tried and failed to start a few sentences but ended up just apologized over and over, to him, to anyone, to everyone, to me. He graciously brought me more towels and I threw them down, using some to mop and squeeze, and others to dry the parts of the floor we’d manage to clear of standing water.
I was still making trips up and down my sister’s hallway as my dad worked diligently in the kitchen, trying to drain our makeshift lake. Then, as I wrung out my towel on one trip, I noticed that the sink was covered in drops of blood. I saw it on the towel, and then I saw it on my hand. The ring finger on my right hand, which has been prone to random and inexplicable bouts of aggressive eczema for the last year, had split open. The sensitive, paper thin skin, had been rubbed raw from the water and the tight, persistent squeezing of the towels. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept going.
When I took breaks, I would lean on the walls, my hands shaking and my legs getting weak beneath me, and then I’d curse, realizing that as my apartment was actively flooding, I was also getting blood all over the walls.
Once it appeared that all of the standing water was gone, I started to scoot around on the remaining dry towels donated by our neighbor, trying to dry the floor as best I could. My dad turned off the water in the laundry room and noticed that not only was the washer full to the top, but the knob I’d pushed to start the cycle had not moved.
“It never stopped filling,” he said. “The cycle never started. The washer just filled and never stopped filling.”
So, as I’d sat crisscross applesauce, peacefully painting daisies at the dining room table, the washer had slowly filled to the top, then spilled over the sides, gracefully and silently, until it snuck into the kitchen, into the living room, under the table in the dining room, into the entryway, and down the hallway into my sister’s room—never making a sound.
If I hadn’t been home, if I’d set the washer to run and went on a walk or gone to the store, or, heaven forbid, stayed the night at a friend’s house, the washer would have simply kept filling, drowning our apartment and everything in it.
At least we’re on the first floor, I thought, imagining how bad this could have been if we lived above someone and brought unexpected showers to the forecast of their Saturday night. But then I thought, wait, how did our neighbor know we had a flood? I hadn’t called anyone except my dad, and I hadn’t told or talked to anyone else since my sister wasn’t home. I stepped out into the hallway and was horrified to find rivers of water running from our apartment to the one across the hall. The floor squished and bubbled when you walked on it and I held my head in pure panic.
We knocked on the door of the apartment, but no one answered. Unlike the kind, concerned neighbor who’d brought towels, I’d never met this neighbor, and didn’t want to do so Noah’s Ark style, when we were all trying to escape two by two. So, we got to work, dragging our towels along the carpet and then wringing them out in the sink. I called my landlord, who put in a call to Servpro, and then, when there was seemingly nothing else we could do, I sat down, wondering if I was going to fall asleep or openly sob.
Just before 11:00pm, my dad, a true hero, took all the towels home with him to wash and dry, and then I got in the shower, the water warm but borderline triggering. Standing there, I worried I was going to step out of the shower and find more water, or that the neighbor across the hall was going to get home, get angry and come banging at my door, aimed to hurt me.
I knew none of this was my fault. I knew that things were going to be okay. I knew that I’d done absolutely everything that I could. I also knew that I was exhausted, that my muscles were going to SCREAM at me in the days to come, and that what I needed most was sleep. But after my shower, I walked back out into the living room and sat in my favorite chair.
The wood floor had started to pop and crack in the places where water had gotten between the panels. By morning, it would be bubbled and warped, making our once flat, shiny floor, rough and hilly, like a miniature golf course. But that night, I sat there, eating Oreos in my sweatpants and robe. My wet hair was sticking to the sides of my face and the raw skin on my ring finger was pulsing and red, but I sat there and finished the movie I’d paused almost three hours earlier, pretending like the evening ended like it was supposed to. Hoping that, somehow, I’d lay down and then wake up to find that this was all a dream.
But it wasn’t.