The Gravity of Change

14 09 2015

The day before the move, Danae and I were working furiously to get the dog run set up. Danae had taken three days off of work so that we could get everything lines up for the move to go smoothly. Workers were hammering away in the house as I came inside to pee. I stood up and pushed down on the toilet handle. Nothing.  I tried again. Suddenly it occurred to me, in this severe drought, in this 100+ degree heat, the spring was at a trickle and the water tank level was getting lower and lower with every hand washing, every flush. I ran up the hill to the water tank and began knocking down the side — at first up high, where I knew it was empty, then down to where the hallow vibration of thick plastic went from an almost ring to a flat thud at the water line.  We were in trouble.

I ran to Danae to tell her what I had discovered.

“Shit,” she said, “what are we supposed to do now?”

The good news about this house is that not everything is a steep learning curve. Two years ago, Danae and I remodeled the Garden Street house and our family lived in the house for two months during all phases of construction.  It sucked.  It more than sucked. I was pretty sure, once we were all done, that I would rather be eaten alive by an anaconda than go through that again.  And here I am, back in the belly of the snake.  Point being through, we’ve done this, and as much as it sucks, we know we’ll make it through and that the pay off will be fantastic — perhaps even sweeter than if it had already been done ahead of time.

No, it just sucks.

We know remodel. We know how to tile, how to lay hardwood, basic plumbing, how to set a toilet, how to install an electrical outlet.  We can do baseboards and crown molding, we can set cabinets and, as of two years ago, I can now do drywall.  There is nothing about the remodel that we don’t understand, or cannot help costs by doing some of the work ourselves.  The two things we don’t know, and need to learn about an understand, are water systems and septic.

I searched my memory for anything I had learned when the well guy came out to give an estimate of how much it would cost to set a 5000 gallon tank, attach it to the well and convert the house from spring water to well water. He said, to keep costs down, they would forgo trenching PVC and instead would lay poly pipe over the hillside.  SO not to code, but getting things done renegade style is just a part of mountain life. Apparently, so is charging $85/hr for grunt labor to do so. Suddenly I find myself regretting the money I spent on getting two advanced degrees.

“We need to get to the hardware store and pick up 200′ of hose,” I said to Danae.

We got in the car and drove the quick 5 minutes to ACE and bought two coils of industrial hose.  Back at the house, I stretched out the 100′ that was already attached to the well behind the garage and up onto the hillside, then called for Danae to throw me the next 100′. I attached the two hoses then precariously made my way with the hose trailing and uncoiling behind me across the steep slope toward the tank. I ran out of hose 50′ before reaching the tank, then called for Danae to bring the last 100′. I attached that, then told Danae to unscrew the tank lid and drop the hose into the tank. I ran back to the Garage and turned on the well pump switch inside a wall mounted electrical box. I could hear a whir deep under ground, then walked over to the actual well and turned the lever to “on”. Maybe 30 seconds later I heard Danae yell, “Woo!”

We left the hose dangling and went back to check at 20 minute intervals as the water level rose inside the spring tank.  It felt amazing to have figured out a work around on my own.

Several hours later, it was time to lock up the house and head back for our last night on Garden Street. I went to the tank to retrieve the hose and it was at a slow trickle.  Was the well drying up, too?

Suddenly I felt dejected. What had we gotten ourselves into? While we’ve never been ones to jump toward safety (we moved to East Palo Alto just nine years after it was declared to have the highest per capita murder rate in the entire United States), our Garden Street house  had grown to be a known.  We knew it inside and out. It was situated smack dab between San Francisco and San Jose. It had comfort, proximity. It had running water.

The next night we show up with the movers around 8:00 p.m. They have been steadily working since 10:45 a.m. I have been packing furiously since 5:30 a.m. Everyone is exhausted. As the movers unpack the truck, this one oafy young guy brings boxes up the stairs and proceeds to drop them on the deck. He brings furniture into the house and deposits an antique dresser upside down on a concrete floor. He walks in with my grandmother’s ceder chest, a wedding gift to her in 1938, on his shoulder.

“Be careful.  That was my grandmother’s.  It’s very special,” I plead with him.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, “Where does it go?”

“In the master,” I say. He brings it in and deposits it on its end on the concrete floor, scratching the molding.

Off the truck he drops a box, glass shatters.  I hold my breath as Danae opens the box to see what was inside.  My great grandmother’s depression glass plate. A Wedgewood vase that was a wedding gift.

More sounds of shattering glass. This time a box of ceramic soap dishes for Faerie Goatmother.

The move is disastrous.  Yes, they got everything here, but not in one piece. The screen door at Garden Street is broken. Gouges and scratches on antique furniture. Entire pieces of my bed frame missing. The arm covers on a newly upholstered chair, gone. It gets to the point where we ask them to just stop.  Please, just leave the boxes where they are and we’ll get them.  We cannot handle anymore losses.

At the end, one mover asks if we have any water.  Danae takes their water bottles and goes to the sink to fill them.  This is spring water. This is the water we used to drive 4 hours round trip to Patterson to fill up with. The water comes out brown.

Yes, we filled up the tank some but, in doing so, we’ve kicked up the sediment at the bottom of the tank.  God only knows the last time Joanne flushed the tank — IF she ever flushed it!  We’d already been told that it was in desperate need of a clean out.  Now we understand why. Likely the filters need to be changed as well.

This suddenly explains the alarmingly orange color I was seeing in the toilet when I assumed the contractors needed to be drinking more water.

The movers finally leave at 1:30 in the morning.  They are pissed that they haven’t gotten tipped and that we won’t give them more or a portion of the move price in cash.  Yes, they worked their asses off, but they were beyond careless and we already knew we had one hell of a claim on our hands, if not a lawsuit.

I climb the stairs to Gwen’s room where I’ll sleep for the night. The kids are sleeping at Danae’s mom’s. It’s beyond hot up there and I’m feeling all kinds of uncomfortable.  The heat, the water, the damage.  What the hell have we done?

The next day we spend unpacking and taking pictures. More damage. Hundreds of dollars in palm oil (for soap making) are in danger of going rancid. The movers dropped the boxes, denting them and causing the sealed plastic bags within to burst open. Danae and I keep calling out to each other to document each issue as we find it. We’ve easily compiled well over fifty photos.

Danae places a call to a guy who will come and flush our water tank and fill it with 2500 gallons of clean water.  The spring is still producing, but slowly. It occurs to us that maybe the well needed time to replenish, perhaps it isn’t dry at all.  I go to the tank, while Danae runs to turn on the pump. Sure enough, water gushes from the hose.  We will be fine. We examine the system.  There is a large tank filter for coarse grit then, down the pipeline, a smaller filter for sediment. There is no telling the last time these were changed.  We will get it all taken care of.

We moved into the Garden Street house on February 1st, 2001. In a decade and a half I have felt as though I never quite recovered from that move.  To say that I hate moving is like pointing out that the sun is bright, or that chocolate mousse is rather rich. I save packing until the very last second so that my environment is in tact as long as humanly possible. To be moving AND remodeling at the same time is, quite literally, killing me.

Yesterday I took the kids to my niece’s birthday party at Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz.  It was nice to have a few hours away from the chaos, to sit on the beach in the bright sunlight with nothing to do but sit and visit. I looked at all of the houses around me, perched atop their cliff faces, picture windows pointing toward sunlight.  They all looked so clean, orderly, functional, done. I began to feel physically ill.

In all facets of my life, I am a sprinter. I can do social in short bits. I can do large amounts of stress in short bits. I can do massive amounts of pain in short bits. What I cannot do well are marathons. We have been at this for almost a quarter of a year now — the offer, the two four ton dumpsters we filled to prep our house for sale, the open houses and putting four dogs in the car then having to disappear for several hours while the dogs whimpered and whined, not having anywhere in particular to go, and not feeling confident enough to hang at a dog park while managing four dogs on my own. Considering offers, countering offers, accepting an offer then waiting for all the financial stuff to go through. The documentation, the scrutiny and then, finally closing escrow and hoping that would bring a sense of relief. Instead it opens a whole new portal of discovery and a whole new journey of work.  And it all leads to here.

It’s 6:40 a.m., Danae and the kids have just left to make their way over the mountain to school. I can just now, through the darkness, make out the lines of tree trunks and am seeing the blackness begin to turn green. The contractors will begin arriving at 8. Danae has taken two extra days off of work because we are so not ready for the dogs to be left alone here while work is being done.  She will drop the kids, then go to Garden Street for another load.  When she comes back, we plan for me to go with her to pick up the kids and get yet another load from Garden Street.  We’re almost cleared out.  Something in me is desperate to go back to say good bye to the house, and yet another part of me can’t bear it.  I’m afraid that if I go there, the tears will come and I won’t be able to stop them.  It’s not so much about the place.  I never wanted to stay there.  But the house is a thing I have cared for, tended to, for more than a third of my entire life.  There is so much of me there.  It’s almost as though saying good bye to Garden Street is saying good bye to pieces of myself that extend far beyond choices in wall color and landscaping.  It’s like saying goodbye to my youth and the dreams that peeled away year after year. It’s about accepting all of the things that never happened there as much as it is walking away from the physical reminders of everything that did.

It’s 12:46 now. Work on the house is slow going today. I swear, one guy has been trying to put up a door frame for more than four hours. I’m trying to reconnect with Faerie Goatmother. I’ve unloaded my stock and have made peace with, for the first time, having to tell a client I am back ordered on a couple of items.  Getting back into production mode will take time. The remodel will take time. Getting into new routines will take time.

I think of the wildfires burning out of control right now in Napa and Lake Counties. Some people have lost everything. It’s a necessary piece of perspective. Today the rain has come, soft and steady. A sign of the changing season.




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