I suppose you could say it all started for Tommy back when the river took his house. That was six years ago, more or less. Tommy can’t remember if it was six or five. Or seven.
He does remember the house was a bargain—two bedrooms, two baths, 1200 square feet. And then there was the land—ten acres of woods that thinned out right at the river’s edge. Tommy always wanted a place like that, out in the country where everything was slow and the only sounds were the coyotes and the birds.
He settled in and got used to his new life. The divorce had been tough on him (all divorces are), but now the papers were signed and he was ready to move on. Tommy fixed up his new house with some paint and new furniture. Added a deck on the back so he could sit there in the evenings with his dog and watch the water drift by. Tommy said he loved that deck. Sitting there watching that water made him realize that things will always keep moving, that the bad that might be here now will be behind you soon enough.
Tommy was there for three summers when it all happened. It began as a front coming up from the Gulf, welcome news for the farmers and their dry fields. The weatherman said the next two days would be wet ones and that we should all spend the time sharpening the blades on our lawnmowers. Tommy didn’t do that. He couldn’t sit on the deck and watch the river, so he pulled the recliner around toward the window and watched it from inside.
Watched it rain. Then pour. And then the pour became a deluge.
The weatherman said the system stalled over the mountains, churning in a big circle the kept dumping water onto the valley. It rained nonstop for those two days. We all felt like Noah.
By the end of the first day, the river was swollen. By the beginning of the second, water was spilling over the banks. By mid-day, Tommy’s house was gone.
He managed to get out the most important things—pictures of his kids, his dog, the motorcycle. The rest was soaked or swept away. Including the deck, which was soaked while it was being swept away.
Tommy thought his new life would be better than his old one. But as he stood in what was once his front yard a week later, he figured he thought wrong.
There was little doubt in his mind it was God’s doing. The Lord sent the rain, the Lord kept the rain there. The Lord watched as Tommy’s house ended up floating down the river. It was His will, Tommy thought. Had to be. Because if it wasn’t, then that meant the rain was bigger than God. Tommy hadn’t been to church since he was a boy, but he said he knew enough to know God was bigger than the rain.
He knew enough to realize as well that if God allowed all that to happen, it must have been for a reason. I think that’s what kept Tommy going in the months that followed. The insurance check arrived. He used it to buy another house, this one with no river in sight. He settled in once more, with new furniture and new paint (not a deck, though, as this house already had one). Things started looking up. Tommy considered it the start of his third life, and he was glad to be putting the first two behind him. Somewhere in the midst of all that newness, Tommy did something else. He took a drink.
He’d never held much fondness for alcohol. A beer at the ballgame and maybe a shot of liquor during poker with the guys, but nothing else. To hear him say it, Tommy still can’t explain why he decided to pick up a six-pack at the 7-11 that day. He just did. And wouldn’t you know it, the last one tasted even better than the first.
Like I said, that was six years ago. More or less. Tommy can’t remember.
And as it turned out, his third life was even worse than his previous two. He lost his job because of the drinking, which has also started to affect his health—“Can’t have a beer without a smoke,” he often says. He spends his days sitting on the sofa with his dog watching television. The Price is Right is his favorite.
I guess that’s how it goes with some people sometimes, sad as it may be.
Tommy says it’s all God’s fault for sending that stupid rain. It was a catastrophe, he says, and there’s little doubt it was.
But he’ll also say the drinking was his idea. God didn’t have anything to do with that. Which is why I think the catastrophes that God sends are ones we can overcome. It’s the ones we send upon ourselves that we crumble under.