Waterworld…

(Another blog entry lifted from Crazy in Suburbia, Dec 2005)

Now, those who know me well (okay, anyone who’s been with me at the cottage or a pool) know that I am morbidly afraid of water. As in, we’re out in the boat which floats above a really, really, really, deep lake and when it tips over we’ll all fall out, the life jackets will soak up all the water and we’ll sink and die. A perfectly reasonable fear… It had nothing whatsoever to do with bathrooms/washrooms/water closets…until now.

Now, I’ve never seen Psycho, and have no interest in it whatsoever, although I’ve certainly seen the pivotal scene enough in various clip shows. I get that there are people who couldn’t shower for years unless they were in a stall with a good glass door. I even get that there are people who are convinced that when they bathe, they will fall asleep and quietly sink beneath the surface in their own little Jimmy Morrison moment. (Though those people are clearly crazy: he was on drugs, people, drugs. It wasn’t sleep that got him, it was DRUGS. So, here’s a thought: don’t do heroin, then climb in a bathtub. Problem solved.)

But, my problem does not involve such significant bodies of water. Such almost possible sources of death…no, mine is the slow dripping involved in the legends of Chinese water torture…

Now, having moved out of the family house twenty odd years ago, I have been exposed to plumbing in my home many, many times. I’ve even had toilets plugged. When I lived in the townhouse with roommates Chris and Lianne, and the downstairs toilet became so plugged that we couldn’t use it for three days, that was a minor problem. Fortunately, I became really, really ill whilst pregnant, and wasn’t in a position to wait while people finished with the other bathroom, and this motivation impelled me to fix what we’d been thinking of as unfixable. I even had a toilet handle break in my previous home. In two decades, I faced a clogged-beyond-belief toilet and a broken handle. Whew! I solved all those problems!

So, five years ago, we moved into our current house. Lots of things in the house involving water. Three bathrooms (one an en suite–complete luxury for a woman who gets up three times a night, and who was pregnant when we moved in), a kitchen, a laundry room, two outdoor hose connections, a dishwasher, a washer and a fridge. Water, water everywhere…and all was well.

I can’t actually remember how long it was before the kitchen sink hose broke. I don’t even remember Ty complaining about it…I just know that one day it was completely utterly broken and needed to be fixed. That wasn’t a problem: it came back to me that I’d actually fixed one at the townhouse. Clearly, such an insignificant repair that it had slipped my mind in my list of major life accomplishments. So, off I went to Home Depot, bought the necessary parts, installed it (with that little flair of “Wow, you couldn’t have figured this out?”), and life went on.

Until it broke again. Rather quickly, actually. Ty wondered what I’d done that it didn’t work. But, then the handle completely broke off so the question became moot. And I simply refused to fix it again. So that was no longer a problem.

It was a while before we noticed that there seemed to be some level of leak involved with the kitchen faucet itself. It was only when the tap was being used, it was minimal…and the faucet is one of those fancy-dancy ones with the cartridge, and every time I read the instructions on how to fix it, it seemed kind of complicated and fraught with potential failure. Besides, there was no cut-offs beneath, and when I checked, it turned out that the handle for the main shut-off valve simply did not work. One of those round ones like on outside taps…I went to turn it and it lifted off in my hand. And there were visible signs of previous people having used a big strong wrench to try and turn off the shut-off. And signs that the shut-off valve would break if someone tried it again. So, the question became moot.

When the downstairs toilet broke, that wasn’t a problem. I fixed it. Redid the floor just to add that extra flourish. Flushed the toilet repeatedly to make sure it was working. It was great. It was two whole days before I noticed that the toilet had started running over. It took two days to notice because in a house with six people, the sound of a flushing toilet isn’t unusual. The sound of a flushing toilet every thirty minutes isn’t unusual. The sound of a flushing toilet the day I was alone in the house with a sleeping Kate…now that was unusual. So I fixed it again. Two weeks after that, I fixed it again. Then, I decided that the sound of a flushing toilet was soothing and people should just learn to live with it.

By this time, the en suite toilet felt it was being left out of a fun game. I fixed that one three times, as well. Then, I realized that if one just keeps the door to the bathroom closed at all times, it was hard to notice the constant flushing. So, the door only opened to let people in or out.

This worked out really well because the closed door also meant that I couldn’t hear the sound of the constantly dripping shower. By the time the shower had progressed to a steady stream, Elizabeth gave up on me and made Russell come with her to the house to fix it. Russell bravely tried to use the main shut-off valve, but given that the tap leaking was the hot, we turned off the hot-water tank and that did the trick. Russell stayed warm and dry while he changed the washer in the hot water tap. That was great. It was fixed…and it was a whole week before the cold water tap in the shower started leaking.

But, honestly, why would that bother me? A rag kept by the kitchen sink, I never used the downstairs bathroom, the door always kept closed to the en suite bathroom…all was well in the house. Sure I’d noticed that there seemed to be some level of leakage by the toilet in the main bathroom, but that’s what towels are for, right? It became a bit troublesome to change the towel given that this meant I couldn’t completely ignore the fact that the faucet was now leaking. And the bathtub faucet. But, there’s a door on that room, too…

I was standing by the sink one day studying the slow flow of water, contemplating my options when I noticed a strange hissing of water from the toilet tank. A really strange hissing of water I’d never heard before…I took off the lid to the tank to check it out…and managed to hurriedly drop it without breaking it so I could grab the turnoff valve in order to stop the flow of water shooting energetically towards the ceiling and the pot lights. Eventually, I had the water down to a slow trickle… I tried and I tried and I tried, but no matter what I did to the turn off valve, water continued to slowly leak into the toilet. I poked around in the innards trying to see what I could do…and managed to break the part of the rod with the ballcock which puts pressure on the valve to stop the water. This meant I didn’t have to worry about a slow leak…I now was back to a steady flow. I eventually managed to wedge a screw under the end of the rod, balanced the rod across the overflow tube…no flowing water, all was fine. Concerned that one of the children might decide to help me and poke around, I disconnected the chain for the handle and wedged the flapper permanently open. In a worst-case scenario where water began to flow again, it would just keep going down the drain.

Along with my sense of humour.

I did the math on the bank accounts, checked the calendar to see when cheques might be coming…and tried to figure out if I could go live somewhere else. Fixing everything meant that the water to the house had to be turned off. The water to the house couldn’t be turned off because the main shut-off valve was broken. The water source to the house had to be turned off…which meant calling the city. This was easily arranged (and best done in office hours when it was considerably cheaper than an emergency call). But, I knew from polite conversation with the city staff, that having the water turned off from the street meant that I had to have my main shut-off valve fixed. Having my main shut-off valve fixed meant a plumber. No matter how many times I counted it up on my fingers, there was no version where all of this would be free.

A cheque came and I hurried out to Home Depot to buy toilet fixings. For three toilets. And I bought a collection of washers. All different washers. Now, I had to organize a time when we didn’t need to use the water for awhile, the laneway wasn’t covered with snow, and we could afford a plumber. I could manage the first two…the latter was iffy.

So, there I was one very tense and angry day. Ty had gone downtown to Space Channel to shoot some promotions for the Planet of the Apes comic. Planet of the Apes has taken much of Ty’s time this year. Although Ty has received some money for this, for the most part, Ty has been working very, very hard for no money whatsoever. It’s been a long, bad, year. Although hopes and promises are lovely things in Christmas movies, it’s very hard to use them to pay bills. Although Ty is having equal tension and frustration (as he pointed out to me–he’s the one doing all this work for free), I had a complete wife-like moment and pointed out that I’d been told that I hadn’t a choice in this project. Ty had high hopes that the new company would employ many of the guys in the Canadian comic book industry who had seen very little work in recent economically depressed times, and has been willing to commit to it for that purpose. I was willing to have him committed.

So, tense, angry Keiren…I’d just put Sean into a bath, which needed water. In the main bathroom. The one with the toilet where everything was wedged and tied. And the steadily pouring faucet. I was having vague thoughts of finding a hose big enough to go over the end of the water-line and running it into the tub, so that I could fix the toilet. But the water was not currently flowing into the tank so it was not as actively irritating and annoying as the faucet. There is no way to ignore a steady stream of water. As I watched the water flow down the sink, as if I were in a Bugs Bunny cartoon I started to see little animated dollar signs flowing from the tap and swirling down the sink with the water. This was too much.

So, as Sean sat in the tub, I went and got my tools. After a bit of a hunt, I found my Reader’s Digest Guide to Home Repairs. I turned to the Plumbing Section: Fixing Faucets, found the instructions on how to begin (Turn off the water supply to the sink), skipped to the instructions I could actually do. I was just going to look at it. Just look and see how much work would be involved in changing a washer. It was just a simple washer, for Pete’s sake. One teeny weeny washer…was I really going to need the water turned off to the whole house for one teeny weeny washer? I’ve seen the sitcoms and the movies where the incompetent man decides to show off his skills and fix the faucet and mayhem ensues. I understood completely that it wasn’t just a construct of television: that mayhem could actually ensue. But, really…how bad could it be? I was just going to take a look…

So, I unscrewed the handle. Easily done…and as I did it, the water began to flow a little faster out of the tap. I had this moment of slight surprise. Was this what the problem would be? Would it simply be that the water would pour full-force out of the tap and I wouldn’t be able to stop it because the handle was disconnected? Well, how could that be a really big problem if all I had to do to fix the handle was pry out the washer and quickly pop in a new one? Then screw the handle back on? It seemed to me that, clearly, the self-help book was going that route of “better over-protective than not at all”. Kind of like parenting books that tell you to take your child to the hospital when they vomit more than one time in an hour…leading to the Ministry of Health having to publish full-page ads in the newspapers begging people to understand that there’s a stomach virus going around, it makes people vomit, there’s nothing the doctors can do, but if you take your kids to the hospital they’ll infect everyone there. Kind of exactly like that. And people would still take vomiting kids to the hospital…which they don’t need to do. So, clearly, by this impeccable logic, I didn’t need to really turn off the water. This was going to be a piece of cake…and I was kind of embarrassed I hadn’t tried to do it earlier.

So, the handle was off and according to the book I had to gently pry out the little round part that kind of looks like a fuse with a broken screw sticking out of it. Out came a wrench…out came the little round part…which flew out of the wrench as the water shot straight up to the ceiling. Much harder than had the water from the toilet. Directly at two pot lights. And really, really strong and powerful.

I immediately went blank with shock. Sean, in the tub, began to scream. I was chanting, “I’ve done something bad, I’ve done something bad.” When Taylor came running upstairs to see what was going on, I had graduated to “Omigod, this is the worst thing I’ve ever done!” Luckily, while I was chanting, enough of my brain was functioning that I had grabbed the round part and tried to wedge it back in. Water pressure–apparently has a bit of a kick. The part went flying to places unknown. I was out of luck. Various puns about hot water, deep water, running water: none of these occured to me at the time. There was an old plastic ice cream tub nearby which was holding Kellam’s old aquarium pieces. I quickly dumped it and turned it upside down over the water. Glasses soaked, I couldn’t see a thing, so I flung them aside, promptly breaking the frames. But, as I acknowledged the faint cracking sound, all in all, this wasn’t going to be as bad as it seemed…I just had to wait until Ty got home. And hold the bowl, while the water ran down into the sink.

This was a good plan…until I noticed that the sink had completely filled with water and was now steadily overflowing. Hours later, I would discover that the little round part had actually dropped down the drain. Completely filling it and negating the draining aspect. Rescue Plan One had a bit of a problem, it seemed. Luckily, there was an old milk pitcher in the bathroom that we used to rinse kids’ hair…so I grabbed it and started bailing. The obvious solution was to fling the water into the tub where it could go down the drain. By the time I’d soaked Sean, I realized that this plan had some flaws. A crying Sean fled the tub, grabbing a soaked towel as he went, and leaving a tub full of water, drainplug firmly in place. I contemplated leaving the water for a moment to go unplug the tub…but the tub plug has no chain on it and, frequently when wiggling children are in the tub, it can become wedged down and needs to be pried out. I kicked the toilet open with my foot and started bailing again. Yelling for Taylor meant that I had an assistant. Taylor pried the plug out…and promptly fled in panic. I had to yell again.

When a fearful Taylor returned I had to try and patiently explain where he could find a copy of the water bill with the required emergency number. This was a process more difficult than expected as the water pounding against the plastic bucket was so loud that I couldn’t hear a thing, compounded by the noise I was making flinging water into the tub. And I was soaked through and my teeth were beginning to chatter. And I’d realized that the shape and size of the ice cream tub meant that water was spilling onto the counter and running down onto the floor and I was standing in a puddle. I weighed my options and decided that we would wait to phone just long enough for Taylor to dump towels on the floor (Kate wandered up briefly to deposit a kitchen hand towel on the water, then decided that it looked too scarey and left). Having dumped the few towels that were in the linen closet, Taylor had again fled to dryer ground. I yelled for Taylor.

Back came Taylor…decidedly more fearful. I barked out new instructions for Taylor to get all the dirty laundry from the linen closet. Luckily, with a family of five, this is a substantial amount. I was holding down the tub against the water with one hand, carefully curved to deflect all the water into the sink, bailing madly with my left hand, and kicking the clothes across the floor, into the nooks and crannies by the toilet which Taylor couldn’t reach from the door. I turned to yell at Taylor….who had again fled in terror. With a rapidly hoarsening voice I called him back.

Having been sent again to find a water bill and a phone, Taylor disappeared. After a few confusing minutes, I yelled for him. He wandered back to announce that he couldn’t find the water bill. This took several minutes for him to explain as I couldn’t hear him over the water and he had to yell at full-force. This continued for some time: I would explain where to find it, he would go, not find it…and simply not come back upstairs as he was too frightened. Ten minutes later, he had a water bill in hand and a phone.

This would have been terrific…except that it was one of those, “Hey, shouldn’t you have paid your bill by now” reminders with nary an emergency number in sight. I only found this out after I sent Taylor off to phone in a room where he could actually hear. There was an 8-4 pm office number, and when phoned, gave only 8-4pm office information. Stymied by this…Taylor simply hid downstairs and did not come back. It was several minutes before I realized I’d lost him again. When he returned to scream an explanation to me, I loudly explained how to call the operator and ask for the emergency number. Off went Taylor to a quieter room…and when he discovered that he was unable to use the phone because the evil, stupid, awful, horrible, bloody, damned spyware on Daddy’s computer had picked exactly that moment to connect to the internet…he simply hid downstairs and did not come back.

When I realized that Taylor was lost again, I began to desperately wish for the calm and reason of Kellam to assist me. Clearly, I was beginning to hallucinate. I called him back…and tried to explain how to disconnect the internet on Dad’s dial-up. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t realize until later that because of the evil, stupid, awful, horrible bloody, damned spyware that there were all sorts of bizarre icons on the slashbar where the internet symbol should be (bright red x’s which, when clicked on, announced that “Your computer is infected!!!” Really? Are you sure? How nice of you to let me know…), and that it was literally impossible to find anything to click it off. And I had no Taylor to explain it to me…as he simply hid downstairs and would not come back.

When I forced him back (thank god, I’m a yeller), I explained how to turn off the computer. And I put him under orders to return at all costs. I was now trying to weigh new options: Gary and Siv had moved, don’t know the new neighbours and they’re not usually home until late, Nicky and Herman tend to early bedtimes with the kids… Taylor returned, announced he couldn’t figure out how to phone the operator. I told him to phone his grandmother. Not my first choice…she’s having a very stressful time and wouldn’t really need the circus that was playing at my house…but my options were limited, and the arm pressing on the tub was beginning to shake with exhaustion, my shoulders were aching, my teeth were chattering, and I had no idea when Ty would be home.

Taylor went off to phone his grandmother but, when faced with the fact that he had clearly misdialed, simply hid downstairs and would not come back. After several teeth-chattering minutes, I began to yell. “Taylor, Taylor, Taylor!” and Ty appeared before me. I stared blankly at the apparition before me and it was several seconds before I realized that the apparition had been speaking. Shedding his coat, and dropping his bag into Taylor’s room, he pushed up his sleeves and said, “What do I do?” as he began to take the pitcher from me to bail. (Ty would tell me later that when he opened the door and spotted Kate and Sean huddled on the sofa sobbing together, and Taylor running towards him sobbing, he had a moment of panic not helped in the slightest when Taylor flung himself at him and yelled, “Dad! Dad, Dad, Dad! DON’T go upstairs!” while he tried to identify the really strange noise coming from upstairs.)

I contemplated having him take over from me as I ran around and figured things out…but, shaking arms or no, I wasn’t sure I could actually move and I knew that my fingers were too cramped and frozen for dialling. Speaking would be difficult as my teeth were chattering so. I sent Ty off to disconnect the internet, find the phone number and phone the city. With the immense sound of the water (I was having a constant sense-memory of a grade school trip to Niagara Falls), I could not hear a thing and had no sense whatsoever of what was going on anywhere but by me. But, eventually, I could hear Ty’s voice booming, “I’m not kidding–it’s an absolute emergency!” Ty dropped the phone, raced upstairs and grabbed the pitcher again. He offered to hold down the tub as well but I realized that despite my best efforts there was still significant leakage onto the counter, down to the floor. Ty agreed with my plan to hold it with both hands and keep the water heading for the sink: he had just been to Sean’s room to put some buckets under the leaks in the ceiling.

After a few minutes, Taylor came upstairs, beaming and, overhearing Dad suggest that I needed a break, said in his most cheerful tones, “OH, MOM, I COULD DO THAT FOR YOU.” I agreed as loudly and ran off for the quickest of breaks. As I left, I vaguely realized that I had somehow cut the fingers on my left hand but it hadn’t been noticeable as they were so continually in water as I bailed. But now, the blood was welling up.

I ran to my bedroom, grabbed more laundry and raced to the bathroom to spread it around my assistants. A small amount of water had seeped to Taylor’s bedroom so I dumped a pile of clothes there. I raced around the house looking for other damage and left a pile of clothes in Sean’s room under the bucket. Back I raced to my room, and stripped out of sopping wet jeans and sweatshirt as quickly as possible…which if you’ve every tried to strip out of sopping wet denim and sweatshirt fleece is pretty damned slow, frankly. I gingerly pulled a tshirt over my head so that I didn’t whack the frame on my glasses and break them more or send the lenses flying. I mopped my face with my shirtfront, looked at the mirror as I was about to leave…then stopped dead at the sight of my face covered with blood. And my jeans, covered with blood. I had a brief moment of panic…then I remembered my cuts. Sure enough, my hand was covered with blood. But I was too wet to worry about bandages so I raced back to the bathroom.

Before he’d come back to help me, Ty had run around the house turning on all the taps. This had cut the water pressure considerably but it was still strong enough that Taylor was beginning to pale. I reclaimed my position. Ty bailed and I held down the tub. Minutes ticked by…the water pressure was still strong enough that the sound against the tub made conversation impossible although I did wail a few times, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever done.” I’m sure Ty said reassuring things…I just couldn’t hear him.

When one of the kids came to report men in our front driveway, Ty went off to talk to them (he tried to send me so I’d “have a break” but I refused. No way was I facing up to what I’d done!). Again, I was left deaf to what was happening in the outside world. It was slightly surreal, feeling completely cut-off from everything and everyone, while actually in one’s house in the middle of suburbia. My arms numb, my spirits numb, I was remaining calm for exactly the same reason I managed to make it through each of four births: there was absolutely no way it could last forever.

Ty appeared at the doorway, just in time to punctuate that thought. With an ellipses, apparently…because it seemed, “the guys” couldn’t get the turn-off to turn-off. I had a brief moment of terror where I thought I might crack but, no, I remained calm. They were apparently now wandering through my house looking for ways to turn off the water from the inside. I fought back the brief bright shining moment of hope (which if encouraged, could only turn to hysteria when it was completely utterly crushed). Ty rushed back briefly, pawing frantically through the pile of sopping laundry and towels to find my many wrenches. This didn’t brighten my mood. Emergency water guys needed my tools?

Ty appeared at the doorway, and he had his “how do I tell her the news that will make her hysterical?” face on. It seemed that “the guys” couldn’t get the shut-off to shut-off. One had told Ty that if it was his house, he would happily take the chance and keep on turning the wrench clenched upon it…but he felt he had a one in three shot of it breaking off. Ty hurriedly told him to stop (and that was without knowing that all of his dad’s press clippings, books, pictures, etc. were on the opposite side of the wall of the main shut-off valve…put there because it’s the part of the crawlspace that hasn’t had any leaks, is furthest from outside walls, and carefully placed on top of skips). Ty reported this to me, then disappeared again. Moments later, I turned to see one of “the guys” trying to figure out how to navigate his way into the bathroom, awed by the mountain of wet clothes. He pushed his way in, reached for the cupboard doors and announced loudly, “Have you tried turning off the cut-off valves?”

The words, “Do I look stupid?” did in fact bubble up within me…fortunately, frozen as I was they didn’t all make it to the surface and my brain was working slightly faster than my mouth. I realized that if one looked around, clearly there was an easy affirmative answer to that. Best leave that one unsaid. When told there were no cut-off valves, he then looked for the little round part to put back in the handle. When told that it had gone flying who knows where, he expressed some level of disbelief and shoved his hand under the plastic tub, feeling the handle, trying to see if he could find it! I managed not to slam the bucket down on him, and when the water shot out and soaked me, I said nothing whatsoever. Fortunately, I was completely overwhelmed by another rising tide of hysteria. I had this blank moment where I thought that maybe, just maybe, they really, really couldn’t turn it off. I tried to figure out just how long I could keep this up. Could it be that I could literally be here for hours? Was it time to just let the house flood and let the water run outside?

The water guy left, discouraged, to take another shot outside. Ty came back to help me with the continued and arduous task of bailing. I was past shaking and numbness: it was becoming a definite struggle to lift the pitcher of water and a couple of times it fell out of my numb fingers. With that task gone to Ty, I simply had to hold down the tub again. As tired as I was, I still needed to keep my fingers around it, to curve it into the best “don’t get the water on the counter” shape. After a few minutes, this meant that so much blood had dripped from my fingers, onto all the little ridges on the tub that it had started to encircle it. I started to become slowly entranced by the site of the little red line winding around and around. And the pink water in the sink.

Minutes passed…maybe. Maybe it was hours…days? Then, pushing the tub wasn’t so difficult. In fact, it felt as if it I wasn’t fighting any pressure whatsoever. It was so much easier–and eventually, Ty took the bucket from my hand and said, “Honey, the water’s off!”

I looked around me in some shock. Was it over? Was it really over? And it was…

Right up until the two hours I spent, later that night, trying to get the completey rusted-on bolt off the broken toilet.

(And that would be the best place to stop this story…rather than to mention that after ten days of leak-free, drip-free living, I walked into my en suite bathroom…and soaked my socks. An hour later, I still couldn’t determine why the nut at the end of the waterline to the toilet was leaking. I changed the washer, I added a washer, I tightened, I loosened. Eventually, I had to acknowledge that much too much water was dripping to be soaked up by a towel easily. I couldn’t risk that kind of damage to the plywood subfloor. I actually had to tell Ty that, now, our toilet was out of commission.

I ignored all his comments and pretended that I wasn’t deeply, deeply upset and suppressing long-repressed hysteria. No, I could get through this. There would be a solution. So, I went to sleep. Next morning I got up, remembered that it was broken, and went to the main bathroom. When I left, I thought how nice it was to have a new faucet that worked–having had to replace the one I completely broke–and a proper toilet. I was almost down the stairs before I heard the very definite sound of a drip hitting the tile floor.

My next husband is going to be a plumber.) posted by Keiren Smith @ Wednesday, December 14, 2005

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