The Texas Story Project.

Saturday, August 26, 2017 was one of the worst days of my life...

Hurricane Harvey began as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa. It progressed east toward the Gulf of Mexico and strengthened into a tropical storm and then a hurricane. It made landfall as a Category 5 major hurricane in Rockport, Texas. It weakened into a tropical storm and stalled over Texas, raining 40-52 inches in different parts of the path of the storm.

The Hurricane had been all over the news and was all anyone could talk about for the past few days before it hit. I didn’t think too much of it.

Until it completely screwed up my life.

I live in Houston. My parents have lived here their entire lives, and my mom had lived in our house for 41 years. I loved that house. I lived there almost my entire life with my brothers—one, who is in college, and one who is graduated and was living with us.

My house was right across the street from a park. A park where half of my childhood memories were created. Everyone knew where I lived. I was the guy who lived right across the street from the park. It was part of my identity. I always pictured myself living there for the rest of my life. I knew that I would eventually have to leave, but I thought that even when I grew up, when I came back to Houston I would always have a home. I didn’t know I would have to leave so soon.

On Friday, the 25th, school was canceled all over Houston to prepare for the storm. It seemed to keep on getting worse and worse. We spent all day moving furniture, getting everything off the ground. I had no idea this would be the last day I would see any of it not soaked in water or in a trash pile.

That night it started to rain. It was raining really hard. My grandparents live on the end of our block. So when the water reached our front yard, we went down the street to get them out. We helped them move some of their furniture and then started back down the street again, because they were not ready to leave. Halfway down the street we realized that the water was up to our ankles and we might not be able to get back to their house again. We turned back to go get them out.

“You have five minutes to get a bag and get out,” my brother told them.

We ran around the house frantically trying to gather their things for the next few minutes.

“HURRY THE HELL UP! WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THAT! DO YOU NEED THAT?! THE WATER IS RISING!” my brother screamed at the top of his lungs, panicked and anxious.

They had gotten everything they could, and we started back down the street. My grandmother can hardly walk from one end of her house to another, let alone walk down the block in 10 inches of water. It felt like an eternity walking from one end of the street to my house, trying to make sure my grandmother was okay, and she didn’t fall in any holes or trip on anything. We were lucky enough to make it back to our house safely, but as soon as he saw his wife step in the door, my stubborn old grandpa started trudging back through the water to his house. What the hell he was going to do there we had no clue? But we couldn’t sway his mind if we tried.

We watched the news for a while, further crushing our spirits. I took a shower and went to sleep. I had no idea that it would be the last time I ever showered or slept in that house again.

My mother woke me up at 5 in the morning with the last words I wanted to hear, “The water’s coming in.”

With a groan and a curse, I jumped out of bed and ran out of my room to face the horrors of Hurricane Harvey.

I couldn’t process it. I didn’t know what to do as I watched the water, seeping in from our back door and up through the floorboards. It welled up and spread like a stain on a t-shirt. It was as if someone spilled a giant glass of water at a restaurant on our house. It spread on the tablecloth and off the edge of the table as it gushed into our rooms. I can still feel it on my feet. Splashing through the water IN MY HOUSE as it rose. I knew exactly what was happening, but it was happening too quickly for me to process. Life doesn’t give you a chance to take it all in.

I remember my fear as the lights went out and flickered back on. I was afraid of being electrocuted through the water. I could just imagine my house being caught up in flames and water as I picked up my dog, got out the door, and began to walk through waist deep water, rain still pouring down so hard that it hurt. My dad stayed behind to turn off the power. I wondered to myself if that would be the last time I ever saw him.

As we waded through the flood to the higher ground of my neighbors house, I started to comfort the whimpering dog in my arms,

“It’ll be okay. Everything’s gonna be alright.”

I think it was more of a false reassurance to myself than to him.

Finally, the whole situation and realization of what had just happened caught up to me. I began to cry. The tears streaming down my face as fluid as the waters of the rain and the flood. No one had any idea. They couldn’t distinguish my tears from the rain. Or they couldn’t hear me over the sound of it. Or maybe they couldn’t hear me over their emotions.

I woke up later that morning in my neighbors’ house. I looked out the window to see my house and the park submerged in floodwaters. It reminded me of a swamp in Louisiana. Of course I’m sure that a lot of areas that weren’t swamps in Louisiana looked like this after Harvey as well.

My brother and dad, who had gotten back earlier, had gone back and were leaving my flooded house with all of the things they could salvage when they saw my grandpa coming down the street towards them. They said he came wearing a giant backpack and holding a walking stick. I imagined a hitchhiker Moses, and quite frankly my grandpa is so religious I’m surprised the waters didn’t part for him like the Red Sea wherever he walked.

We spent the rest of the day scavenging for food and comfort, just hoping and praying to be rescued with eleven other people from our street that we had never met before. It’s a pretty terrible way to meet someone.

The next day the water had cleared up enough for us to be picked up and driven to my aunt’s house away from the flood zone. Do you have any idea whatsoever how good a shower felt after this?

There are no possible words to describe how I felt when I stepped in to my newly flooded house for the first time. I still could barely process the situation. Just about everything I had, everything that held an ounce of familiarity, was ruined and gone.

Friends, family, and complete strangers came to help me and my family clear out the house. The same was happening for flood victims all over Houston. By the third day, our house was almost completely empty. Everyone had left except me and my brothers. So we did what we’ve always wanted to do: play soccer in the house. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in that house.

Now here I am, five months later. But where exactly am I? I’m living in my aunt’s house again after living with my grandpa for the majority of the five months. So much has happened. Life hasn’t given me a chance to take it all in.

This storm completely changed me and my families’ life forever. I remember asking my parents one day if we would ever move. They said never. Even after I, the last of the three sons, went to college and moved away they would still be there. They planned to live in that house till they died. Even now, people are asking me if I’m okay. They tell me everything will be fine, and they can relate to me. I’m so tired of it. I don’t want sympathy and pity. I’m so done with all the questions. I want to move on. Every time I’m asked it feels like I take a step back. Someone asked me on the first day back to school from the storm, “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” I said, being completely genuine.

“It’s okay,” he said, “not to be okay,” and walked away.

It was then that I realized I wasn’t okay. I haven’t been okay at all these last few months. I’ve been so emotionally unstable. I’ve been fighting with my family and friends, suffering from a lack of familiarity and consistency, and desperately searching for balance and peace in my life ...

I’m lost. I’m trapped in a void. There’s a house shaped hole in my heart, that will perhaps never be filled.

I drown in my sea, my flood of insecurities, pain, and darkness. I am blind and restrained.

When will I ever find the light again?

Gabi Wager is a 13 year old student at St. Catherine's Montessori and an actor in Houston. This is his true story of his experiences in Hurricane Harvey.

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