My heart is breaking over a t-shirt.
I know. A t-shirt is a silly thing to mourn, especially when others are losing so much more in the world. Houston is flooded right now and people there are genuinely suffering. Not fussing over a t-shirt.
Yet, there is a connection. When I see Houston in the news, I picture The Pile where my t-shirt was made.
When homes are destroyed by flood waters, those waters are filled with grime, chemicals, and even backed-up sewage. Everything the water touches has to be taken out or torn out, including the sheetrock and framing behind it. For some, the overwhelming task of rebuilding after that kind of demolition takes months and even years. Piles of debris still sat outside many of the homes where we worked and, on our last day, the young men in my work group got the unenviable task of moving one of those piles from the side of the road into a trailer so the materials could be taken to the dump.
Alex and Jaydon did not want to do this job. I didn’t blame them. It was so hot and humid, I found it hard to walk half a block down to a neighbor’s house earlier. I learned on this trip that humidity makes the body’s cooling system less efficient because sweat doesn’t evaporate. The whole group felt the truth of this all week and especially that day caulking in a house without air conditioning before facing the sun and The Pile outside.
I put on my gloves and went outside to help the boys, knowing they needed it.
Not long after I’d started, a truck rolled by with a member of another group from the local area. The young man jumped out and threw a can of sky blue paint at the trailer, splattering the road, the trailer, and Alex.
I suppose I shouldn’t have laughed. But I was sweaty and exhausted, too–the kind of sweaty and exhausted that makes you search desperately for something to laugh about so you don’t cry.
The boys dipped their hands in the paint and made hand prints on the legs of their shorts and even on the back of my t-shirt. They told me never to throw away that t-shirt, and I knew I wouldn’t. Couldn’t.
We got back to work then, telling each other stories to help the time pass and, eventually, The Pile was gone. Under all the pieces of sheetrock and torn two-by-fours, we found a frog, still camouflaged and probably annoyed that we had removed his cover.
It was only this week that I saw Alex again. He wore the shorts with the handprint, and I remembered what had been nagging at me in the back of my mind.
The t-shirt. I haven’t seen it anywhere in my laundry. And it was in the bag with those shorts I threw out in the cleaning frenzy that Sunday when we got home right before I went back to work the next day.
I’ve looked and it’s gone. I’m sure it was in that bag in tossed, and I ache to go back in time to take it out before throwing the shorts away.
As I said before, it’s a silly thing to mourn, really. It only matters to me because I grew to care about the kids helping me and want to remember that time, as hard as it was. The people who had to rip out their home next to The Pile lost so much more–maybe even drawers full of t-shirts, albums full of memories, or other objects with enormous sentimental value. And, unlike me, they did not lose those things because they were thoughtless.
And it’s all happening again in Houston. A year from now when those unaffected have long forgotten Hurricane Harvey, workers will be moving piles of debris just like that one in Baton Rouge. I read in the news that it may be best to give money to reputable organizations and also to remember to give it in six months or even a year later.
From my experience with The Pile, I know this is true.
Meanwhile, I’ll try to keep my minuscule loss in perspective as I see the storm now heading for Louisiana.
Hoping you are all dry and well,
P.S. I’m setting a reminder on my phone to give in January and then again next August. In case you are interested, here are a few organizations in an article I found.