Day 1: You start with the furniture, moving it out piece-by-piece. Big Nana was the last one to decorate this apartment, so it’s her cherry wood stuff that you’re trying to save. There’s the chair she sat on everyday for years. The couch purchased after her death. The sliding glass door has water between the double panes. You notice this as you move everything into the yard. You take the doors off of the closet, the molding off of the walls. You cut the carpet, which sloshes under your feet, into strips for easy removal. Then, you rip up the padding underneath. You sweep. You disconnect the washer and dryer, now useless.
Day 2: You throw out things from the washroom. A box of high school notebooks filled with the notes you took on heating and plumbing in the 70s. Two bowling balls. The train set you owned as a kid. Tools. Lots and lots of tools. The kitchen floor is next, layer upon layer of flooring (Big Nana’s Pergo, stick-on tiles, Little Nana’s linoleum). You smash it with a sledgehammer, pulling it up in large chunks, which you break into smaller chunks in order to fit it into garbage bags. You think you’ve hit sub-floor, but there’s more sub-floor underneath.
Day 3: And then comes the actual sub-floor, an intricate parfait of plywood, two-by-fours, cellulose insulation, and tar paper. Five of you attack with saws and crowbars. You finally hit concrete, cracked on one side and leaning sharply towards the exterior wall of the house. You have removed at least six layers of floor. Your brother shows up; he’s brought you six gallons of gas from Pennsylvania.
Day 4: You remove the fridge. Detach gas line, bail out the oven, and move it. Empty the water in the pots and pans under the counter and throw out the pot your grandmother always cooked her Sunday sauce in. You detach water and sewage pipes and cap them. You take out cabinets, a sink, and a counter. You start on the walls. Saw the sheet rock 18 inches above the water line. Wear goggles and a mask. Remove soft, crumbling sheet rock from both rooms. Remove the molding around doorways. Tear down half of an entire wall between both rooms. Pull out the insulation. Remove all of the screws from the studs. Sweep.
Day 5: While two of you are tearing up the garage and one of you is drying tools, the other two of you go into the weather (though not flood) -proof storage shed in the back yard. You empty bins filled with bay water and your grandmothers’ belongings. You don’t dare look too closely as you throw out old family photos, documents, books, the cards you made as a kid. A collection of plates, teapots, mugs, platters, and knickknacks. Big Nana’s wedding pictures have been soaking for five days in a tub of water. You take them out and leave them to dry. They are saved, sort of. However, her copy of your parents’ wedding album is not. But you find treasures undisturbed, stacked high above the rest – the wooden magazine rack your great-uncle crafted, high-quality costume jewelry from the 50s and 60s, Little Nana’s silk scarves, Big Nana’s Christmas ornaments.
Day 6: You go back to work, to your actual job. There’s more work to do in the house, but you have to go back to work, have to pretend there’s normalcy, even though next weekend you’ll take down more cabinets, rip out more walls, and discover, silent, soft and fluffy, a layer of mold spreading from the perimeter of each room. You’ll bleach it. And you’ll wait for everything to dry so you can put it back together. You are thankful you never lost power. You are thankful it wasn’t worse. You are thankful you still have your house and your life. You hope this doesn’t happen again. After all, it’s been 29 years, and it’s never happened before.