Thankfully, most people in my life can’t tell that I slept in a trailer last night. As I put on the same suit/tie/shirt combination I’d worn to my last court hearing, I can’t help but wonder whether I’d run into any other lawyers I’d seen on Monday. Tip-toeing to avoid the residual mud on the driveway, I try to remember whether I have any dress socks in the two small garbage bags of clothes in my shed.
On August 25, 2017, I was as naïve as I was nervous. That morning, while I packed as if spending the next few days at the beach, I glanced at my wife’s side of the closet. Feeling foolish, I moved her wedding dress to the top shelf of our closet. As I unceremoniously exited our home, I tweeted: “My first #hurricane evacuation. Spent 10 min. walking around my house whispering ‘what has sentimental value’. Decided on nothing & left.” Driving north on hwy 45, I laughed as the local radio station played Luke Bryan’s ‘Rain Is A Good Thing’.
On August 31st, 2017, as my house filled with brackish water, I comfortably sat on my in-laws couch, drinking a Shiner bock and watching the weather channel. Trying to lighten the mood, I suggest a round of ‘What Do You Hope Gets Destroyed’—a game where we list items in our home that we’ve always hated. As Hurricane Harvey flooded my home, destroying almost everything I own, I was relatively comfortable.
Now, while driving to the Fort Bend County Courthouse, I think about a monologue one of my law professors loved to deliver: “As a trial lawyer, you leave yourself at the courthouse door. Being a lawyer is not about your feelings. You will do things that are uncomfortable, humiliating, or degrading. You do whatever it takes for your client.” I try to think about this every time I enter the Courthouse. But today, self conscious about my wrinkled shirt and lack of underwear, I’m struggling with it a bit more than usual.
For most people, the hardest time during a natural disaster isn’t the initial storm. It’s the time when your responsibilities stop caring about your home life. It’s the time when your life is nowhere near normal, but you have to pretend it is.
While a storm might receive worldwide attention immediately following the event, the coverage slowly fades as another, more pressing story takes hold. Initially, coworkers will pick up the slack while you tear down your home. Relatives will hold clothing drives at their churches. Bosses will give you time off to run home and meet the electrician. But slowly, you are forced back into normalcy. Coworkers will stop picking up the slack. You will use vacation days to meet the AC repair man. While you wait for your home to be remodeled, for insurance checks, or for contractors to get you a quote, people will slowly forget. Everyone will forget that all your clothes were destroyed. Or that you live with your wife and four dogs in a RV on your driveway. They will forget you don’t have a stove, washer and dryer, or refrigerator.
When anyone thinks about natural disasters, they think about the piles of debris, photos of children clutching first-responders, or other tattered remnants of the lives permanently altered by the storm. While these images depict the immediate aftermath of the storm, they fail to accurately portray the storm’s life-altering consequences. Because following the initial onslaught of national media, long after the donations, food-drives, and emergency relief, we will still be here. Tip-toeing to avoid the residual mud on our driveway, trying to remember if the mold engulfed all of our dress socks. Expected to be on time to a 9:00 a.m. Friday court hearing.