I am dozing. My alarm usually goes off at 5:30, but today my schedule’s been pushed back. I don’t have to be at work till 8:30 which means I’m sleeping in. I’m laying on my sleeping mat on the floor just a bit awake but also happy to be asleep.
Loud drops begin falling, splattering the floor beside me. I’m awake instantly.
The puddle spreads quickly. I begin sliding my bedding to the side of the floor. Another large drip blooms quickly next to the first. I move my sleeping stuff into the hall, and distractedly yell for Maggie, my roommate/landlord, who’s asleep in the other room.
Running back into the room to move something else out, I’m standing in the corner when the ceiling comes down.
Water and dry wall breaking over my head and shoulders.
Cold water is spreading, filling the floor like a swimming pool, and I’m running out of the room. Another surge of water bubbles out of the ceiling as I reach the door to my room. I fall flat on my back, screaming, and riding a wave of water into the hallway as Maggie comes stumbling out of her room.
I lunge back into the room to grab my laptop off the desk by the door.
It’s cold, I’m wet. Maggie is frantic, and neither of us are wearing pants.
Water is spilling into the room, and overtaking the apartment.
Maggie puts on pants and calls the superintendent.
I’ve given up on everything in my room and we begin hauling boxes out of the hungry pool of water in the livingroom.
At some point I put on my hiking boots which I left by the door. At some point I wrap a dry towel around my waist.
The water pours in.
The room is unrecognizable. Covered in chunks of dry wall and scattered belongings. The fan in still attached to a metal bar in the ceiling though the bar is bent and hanging awkwardly in the center of the room. The building superintendent is here now and we’re videoing our private waterfall. I post a short video to snapchat. Then the super goes to turn off the all the water for the building.
I text my boss to say I might be late for work.
I call my parents. I tell them I’m okay but the apartment is flooded, particularly my room. They’re glad I’m okay.
My glasses have floated from my sleeping corner to the entrance of the room. They’re dirty but whole. I grab my purse off the desk. The fake black leather is wet. My wallet is a darker shade of green and the bills in it our crinkly with humidity but not soaking.
The flow of water is subsiding, and Maggie ventures inside the room to collect more of my stuff. My suitcase is wet but a few of the sweaters in it are dry. The closet and my dresses in it are dry.
The super is back and helping us shuffle towels around the floor. He’s fielding calls from half the building. They’re confused cause they don’t have any water.
Little do they know that we will be the only apartment getting a shower this morning.
Maggie tells me I should go to work. She can stay here and take care of it.
I’m still wearing a towel around my waist to cover up my lack of pants. My shirt and hair are still wet and when the front door of the apartment is open I feel very cold.
Maggie loans me a pair of black work shoes and a pair of tights.
It seems odd to go to the bathroom when you’re standing in 1 inch of water, so I don’t.
I go into the other room and change into my work clothes. Tights, skirt, shirt.
I use a plastic shopping bag to carry my things. Phone, wallet, keys, work shoes, water bottle. Thankfully my jacket is mostly dry. Maggie is calmer now as she continues to lay out an endless supply of towels. She promises to keep me updated and I tell her to message me if she needs anything downtown.
I leave for work.
Part 2: Talking About It
Arriving at the Lincoln Center early I sit and call my parents again. They’re still glad I’m okay. They’re worried about where I will sleep tonight.
In the back of my mind I remember a library book I picked up yesterday and left by my sleeping mat in my room. I’ll probably owe the library $10 to replace it.
The shift starts. My hair is beginning to dry. I look a little less put together than normal, like maybe I snoozed my alarm one time too many, but I’m not too obviously waterlogged that anyone would notice.
My boss chats with me for a moment.
Other than her I tell no one.
If I did what would I say?
Once when I was in high school Charlotte and I got into a fender bender on a windy road by our house. When I called mom to tell her about it I didn’t know how to broach the subject. I chatted benignly for 5 minutes about everyday stuff before Charlotte finally took the phone from me and informed my mom about what happened.
Half a decade has passed since then and I’ve gotten better about telling my parents exactly what has happened, especially if it’s something bad. I haven’t really improved when it comes to other people.
I’m worried about handing my story out to someone who will turn it into outrage. Maybe they’ll tell a story about how something similar happened to their cousin and they’ll vent about how water loses are the worst. I couldn’t handle that right now. Everything is still too raw. I know if I let someone with strong opinions in I won’t muster the strength to calm them down. They’ll be like a clucking squirrel when I’m meek as a sparrow.
Maybe someone will pitty me, tell me how awful my situation is and tear up a little at the prospect of my lost belongings. That wouldn’t be right either. I feel pretty thankful for the things that didn’t get wet, and oddly thankful for all the things I don’t have because now I don’t have to worry about getting expensive clothes or shoes replaced.
I reach for my phone and take down the video from snapchat. I feel stupid for posting something like that.
The performance is almost starting and people are rushing into the security line to get upstairs. I prepare people for the security machines and direct them to the bathrooms, or will call. Wishing every person a good morning as they go.
Should I tell these people?
I wonder if any one else’s ceiling fell on them this morning.
I’m still reliving the moment in my head. Instant fear and a downbeat of regret. Questioning myself, why I went back in. I should have thought and stayed out of the room. Why did I allow myself to get caught in somthing that could have been so much worse?
For a moment the Lincoln Center ceiling looks suspect to me. The rushing sound of snow being shoved aside by a street plow is almost too much for me. I didn’t notice it before but my shoulders feel bruised and my neck feels like I slept on it wrong.
After the performance starts I chat with the other ushers, waiting for the shift to be over. We’re talking about snow ploughs and why there aren’t as many people at this performance as there were at last Wednesday’s.
I want to tell them, but I also want them to know that I’m okay. Though I feel shaken, there’s not much to worry about. Like I told Maggie before I left, the worst is over. I can’t think of anything important that was damaged this morning. So thats good. Maggie just texted me that the plumber fixed the break and water for the building is back on. A shower sounds nice right now.
The shift ends and I don’t mention it.
On the subway to my other job I decide not to say anything.
I sign in at the office and walk to my desk. I haven’t had breakfast yet so I take one of my bagels out of the communal fridge and put it in the toaster. While I’m waiting Mary walks up. She asks me if I’m all right.
I immediatly tell her that I’m well. I notice she’s looking at my outfit and I mention that I had an ushering shift this morning. Normally I change out of the all black usher garb and ill fitting button up. With everything that happened this morning I forgot to bring a change of clothes.
We’re alone in the kitchen and I know Mary well enough to know she could handle it. So I tell her. I bet she didn’t expect this with her morning coffee. I continue to emphasize that I’m okay and we joke a little before she goes back to her desk and I go back to mine.
Its 1:30 before I realize I haven’t told Alex.
I didn’t call him this morning. It was 6AM, I knew he wasn’t awake or coherent. Plus my parents know enough about insurance and water losses to keep me comforted and well informed. Still, he should know, this is a thing in my life, will affect my living situation for the next week or month. This is important and I need to tell him.
I get to a stopping point. Going to an empty office I shut the door and dial. When he picks up I ask how he’s doing. We talk for a few minutes about nothing, then I tell him.
I begin by saying I need to tell him something, which is a phrase I always hate because so many awful things can follow that phrase and you always imagine the worst.
I tell him the apartment flooded. I tell him the ceiling crashed. I tell him everything you just read. And then I cry. It was only a little bit, just enough for my cheeks to feel crusty. Knowing that this would elicit tears I’m glad I didn’t get into it with too many people. We talk a little longer, joking around a bit. I can feel the pressure behind my eyes dissipating. Like spreading out my story in front of someone has spread the weight over a wider surface area, making it easier to bear.
He doesn’t rage against the establishment and he doesn’t pity my poor circumstances. He’s really glad I’m okay, so am I.
Mary gives me her number before she leaves work. She tells me to call her if I need something. She is very kind.
I take the subway back to the apartment. The floors are covered in bits of drywall. Maggie has thrown all of my clothes through a wash and rinse cycle. My books and papers are laid out on the table, still damp but drying. The library book is recognizable but I’ll probably still have to pay for it.
We each pack a bag and we take an Uber to the hotel. Talking all the while about this morning, recovering at least a little.
The view looking into the room.
In the bottom right corner is where I was sleeping before the splashing water woke me up. It is also where I was standing when the ceiling came down.
The hotel has free breakfast, and a gym. I get up at my normal time and head to work. Maggie goes to work too, trying to regain some normalcy.
I finally start to tell people. They already guessed that something was going on, but now I give them the whole story. Emphasizing how I’m okay, most of my belongings are okay, and that I’ve still got a place to live though I’m looking for a new one.
At the Lincoln Center I start asking my coworkers if anyone is looking for a roommate.
After work I visit two apartments in Brooklyn that I might potentially rent. Then I go back to the hotel and fall asleep.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk about bad experiences. Even when nothing was your fault, its hard to share the story. This is something that affected you strongly and you need people to respond charitably. Sometimes talking about the story causes you to relive a scary moment, like the moment the ceiling fell.
A few months from now I hope I’ll be able to tell a quirky story about the time my ceiling fell on me, but I’m not there yet. I’m okay and things aren’t as bad as they could have been, but I’m still in the process of bouncing back.
I’ll keep you posted, and if you know anyone who’s looking for a roommate in NYC let me know.