Herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh man!admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou too remain warm among ice.Do thou too live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the pole.
Chapter 68, The Blanket

Last February my ceiling collapsed.  I’m not speaking metaphorically.  A pipe running through the attic burst.  Actually, funny story, it was cold.  It was the freakishly long string of twenty something degree days last February and just as this cold snap turned bitter cold our furnace decided it wasn’t up for the task.  The furnace, which had before, and has ever since, for that matter, run without a snag, simply went on strike. I could anthropomorphize here and show some sympathy for this heater which has resided all of its life in a Texas attic. It could hardly be expected to keep working under such circumstances.  However, my furnace definitely fell in my eyes, paling beside the heroic steam shovel of Mike Mulligan.  Furnace envy.

So, furnace breaks, pipe in the attic freezes.  Why our hot water pipe runs across the attic is another story for another time, but just accept that it does.  Meanwhile, we drag some space heaters out and assign them the task of preventing our children from falling victim to frostbite in their sleep.

So, here it is, almost midnight, hubby and I curled up under the comforter when suddenly there is a loud pop.  We exchange a glance.  There are always strange noises around here.  Two dogs, three cats, three kids, twelve chickens, drive-by-shootings (not us–our neighbors, thank-you so much gun show loopholes and Texas’s incestuous relationship with the N.R.A), and in those ice storm days our drought stressed pecans were dropping limbs the size of mini-vans.  We figured what ever it was could wait until morning (having ruled out  gun-shot –too low a pitch).

Then came the sound that is never ever good.  It is the splatter of a backed up toilet or projectile vomiting–I can honestly think of no situation in which is good to hear that sound.  We’re up in a flash, but a flash only makes it clear how powerless we are.  Water is gushing through the ceiling and flooding the hallway.

Now, here’s the problem with a leak in the upstairs hall: water seeks the lowest point, and unfortunately it seemed to feel the best route would be through our (archaically wired) dining room chandelier.

So now, it’s closing in on one a.m.  My husband, unable to locate the cut off (no help to the freakishly deep snow that has blanketed the ground, and continues to fall–oh, but it is beautiful–) had finally simply cut through the pipe and clamped it shut into a mangled dripping metal knot.  Soaked to the bone we are in the dining room toweling up the water on the tile floor, wringing it out into a hastily emptied toy bin.  It is the calm that settles in the eye of the storm.

“Well, that’s one way to get you to mop the floor,” he teases.

“Hey, I mop the floor.  I sweep them and mop them and then as soon as I finish you guys come home and it doesn’t take you five minutes to track half the yard th-”

There is, in that instant, an enormous crash.  Oh god, one of the kids woke up in the dark–slipped–crashed down the stairs–

Then there is another crash.  Now we’re running and as we turn to the stairwell we see it it.

The ceiling.  Ah the ceiling of this old house is not your flimsy sheetrock.  It is plaster and stone and horsehair of the previous century and it is crashing down in slabs and chunks into the pooling water below.  And, as we stand there, stupefied, the crashes begin coming from behind us.  The dining room.  Damned if I didn’t just say that as soon as I clean the floor. . .

It occurs to me that we have some antiques in the dining room–including the antique lawyer’s bookshelves which houses my 1930 Random House edition of Moby-Dick with the Rockwell Kent illustrations.  I dash back into the dining room dodging the bombs of plaster and concrete and what can only be described as sludge.

I’m now standing ankle deep in debris and water, sleeves rolled up, caked in clay,soaked to the bone and I hear a voice.

“What’s up?”

It’s my eldest, well, technically he’s my eldest.  He is small and pale, a good head shorter than his younger brother.  And he has never been a particularly driven child.  Even his hormones seem to be dawdling, holding him in an extended childhood while his younger brother’s voice is dropping.

“A pipe broke,” I yell “Don’t come in here.  The ceiling’s falling”

Suddenly panic spreads across his small face.

“My—I had–” he runs into the room and begins digging through the rubble.

“REX!  Get OUT!”  I scream as concrete drops like dead seagulls shot from the sky, heavy. . . damp.

“No–I had taken apart that old camera and I had all the little pieces in here on the table–”

Let me just stop you there.  Rex is always taking things apart.  Electronic things apart.  He consults with the school science department before attacking the big things like microwaves and computers, but he is constantly fishing springs and gears and switches and crap out of every discarded semi-technological piece of debris he can get his hands on.  The camera is cheap, not worth a head injury from falling concrete.

I would love to tell you I was the mother tiger, ripping her little one out from under the ever faster approaching herd of charging rhinos–that I was noble, and firm and authoritative, but, that woud be such a lie.

Rex does not respond well to logic, reason, imminent danger and I have other things to pull from the soggy mess wondering to myself at what point is this destruction going to end, what’s our insurance deductible, how will we ever cover this, there goes badly needed new tires for the van. . .

I am brushing a mud laden lock of hair away from my eyes when Rex’s face appears again in front of me.  Blissfull.  The child is giddy.

“Mom!. . .Mom!” his urgency stops me “Mom,” his small chest heaves with a small guffaw of relief, “It’s gonna be Okay—-I found them!. . .”  He pauses to give me a nod, and then slows his speech for his mother to get it:

It’s all okay now.

Then he turns to trot away shouting back over his shoulder “Hey, can I play solitaire on your computer?”

“”It’s one thirty in the morning–go to bed!”

“Oh, like I can get to sleep now.  C’mon.  You can help me.”  He is so damned relieved.  So obliviously past all this destruction still in progress around him.

I have to laugh.

Sure.  What the hell.

We sit.  We play.  His thin little arm warm against mine.  His smile as beautiful and simple as the snow that is still falling in the night.

Oh man!admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou too remain warm among ice.Do thou too live in this world without being of it. 

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