Unfortunately many of us become numb to our natural environment. Even I, who as a child searched for answers in the natural world around me, eventually tuned out. In my early years, I found my refuge from a strange and quickly changing world at the edge of nature trails, at the top of cliffs overlooking the ocean, or at the end of wooded bike paths. I prayed for inner peace, for an end to family feuding, for a sign. It wasn’t long before I felt that the world made sense after all and I was able to return to my life, revived and hopeful. I don’t remember when I lost all of that but for a long time I did. Was it when I got a car and I wasn’t forced to find shortcuts in the woods anymore? Was it as a college student when I ran along the roads instead of bike paths? Or, was it after I became a mother and was too scared to wander too far off main roads with a small child? Adulthood had severed the connection to a reliable source of comfort and I wasn’t even aware of it.
In late March of 2010, Rhode Island was being pounded by relentless heavy rains that would cause the infamous ‘100 year flood’ that destroyed homes and business. Rivers were cresting at record breaking highs. For those who lived near a body of water, the fast moving water destroyed everything, for those who didn’t, they still had to worry about flooded basements and damaged property. The news was crowded with images of people being pulled out of their homes onto rafts. Even parts of interstate route 95 had to be shut down due to the unprecedented flooding.
That was also the exact time my marriage began falling apart.
The economic recession was bottoming out and so was my husband’s patience with the cutbacks and restrictions we had to make just to meet our basic needs. I was an out of work teacher and he was a soon-to-be-laid off community organizer (at least he was warned) and we, like many people at the time were feeling the pressure. Despite the fact that our son just turned one, those days felt heavy…not celebratory.
Between the two of us, I assumed that our past experiences had prepared us well for having to make more with less. After all, I was an immigrant raised by a single mother and he was an inner city success story, rising out of public housing and graduating from college. I figured between the two of us, we had more than enough coping skills to get through this. I had no idea how different our perspectives really were.
I was looking on the bright side. It was only temporary…. We might have been lacking in financial resources, but we had plenty of other resources. Like perseverance, friends and family, and knowledge bases that would surely come in handy. After all, we were both college educated, wasn’t there a rule out there that said we would find amazing jobs by now…?
how bout now….?
He, on the other hand, was coming from the perspective of someone who only narrowly escaped the throws of generational poverty. He often cited the downfalls of not having a father figure, he was taking on a heavier emotional burden than I anticipated. To him, the thin line between making it and not making it, between rising above and falling deeper, was only getting thinner. Our interactions became saturated with fear.
Patience was leaking out of widening crevasses. I was tired and exhausted from carrying the burden of all household tasks and baby care. Having little to no interaction with adults left me feeling isolated and undervalued. I never anticipated that the tough part about being a mother would have very little to do with the actual child, but with the rapidly changing world around me, friends who no longer felt comfortable in my stressed presence, a vastly different connection to myself and my partner. The sheer physical exhaustion.
Feeling the pressure to make things work, I held much back. I didn’t want to be another statistic, or worse, to have to repeat my mother’s fate as another single mother. But all this mounting pressure was sure to burst eventually…
Day after day the rain continued to come down in sheets. I didn’t leave the house much, and living in a third floor apartment, it was easy to tune out the rising flood. One day I decided to pick up my husband at work. I was shocked to find my usual through street to the south side was shut down due to the flooding. Atwells Avenue and the Woonasquatucket River were one. Bridges and the surrounding side streets were shut down. I pulled over to stare in awe. How could this usually traffic congested part of town be so completely abandoned? The silence was extraordinary.
Another stark contrast to my expectations.
One of the final days of the rain was marked with yet another argument, more suppressed frustration. I left the house in tears and drove aimlessly through the city. I found that once my tears started, I couldn’t stop. I drove towards the river, vaguely recalling a once familiar source of comfort. Soon I couldn’t tell the difference between my tears or the rain.
I noticed that I wasn’t alone. Curious city residents flocked to the swollen river to witness the water speeding downstream. A crowd was gathering around the quickly disappearing banks, eager for a glimpse of nature’s power. I overheard a passerby speaking to the crowd nearby, “This is terrible for property damage, but for the river, this is great.” Apparently all this water serves the river by loosening debris that had been settled on the riverbed for decades. All this water…these endless tears…was in fact a good thing.
The rain eventually stopped and in time, the tears did too.
And the name of the river? ….Woonasquatucket?
It’s Algonquian for ‘where the salt water ends’. How’s that for a sign…