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A Day Without Water

            It wasn’t quite that bad; just a day without hot or cold running water in our co-op while the workmen dealt with the pipes. We’ve had days without hot water before, often, because of repairs needed to the old pipes, but all that meant was that I had to delay taking a shower for a few hours, and therefore delay exercising, so I wouldn’t have to sit around feeling sweaty and gross waiting for  the hot water to come back on. But no cold water meant that we have to keep buckets of water in the bathtub in order to flush the toilets, and wash our hands (I made sure to wake up before the water was turned off so I could brush my teeth without resorting to the buckets).

“You could use my wee wee pads, Mommy.”

            It’s really just an inconvenience, a nothing, compared to what most people deal with on a daily basis, but it was enough of an interruption to give me anxiety, and nightmares, and something to think about.

I don’t like to suffer. I’m sure that’s true of most people (though there are some weirdos who think suffering is good for us). I also, though, feel guilty for my resistance to suffering. I feel guilty for wanting to be comfortable. I feel guilty for wanting to avoid pain. I even feel guilty for saying that I feel inconvenienced, as if it should matter.

But this is who I am, and I am annoyed at not being able to press a lever to flush the toilet, and turn a faucet to wash my hands, even if it’s just for one day, or less than a whole day. I’m annoyed, and I’m uncomfortable and I have to deal with it. But how?

“Yeah. How?”

The first step was the practical one: planning ahead. We had to make sure that we had the buckets of water waiting in the bathtub, and fresh water in the fridge. And I needed to get exercise and showering done the day before so I wouldn’t feel so guilty if I had to miss a day of exercise, in case the lack of water lasted longer than expected.

That was the easy part. But then came the anger: Why do I have to put up with this? Why can’t there be some way to fix the pipes without shutting off the water? Why do they have to replace the pipes and the heating system and raise the cost of monthly maintenance? Why can’t I stay in a hotel until the whole thing is over?

I call this stage the Railing-at-God stage, because all of those decisions were made months, or years, ago and there’s nothing I can do about it now (except go to a hotel, which costs way too much money). But I’m still mad and grumpy and I need to whine and get it all out. Most people feel guilty or out of control during this stage, because, logically, whining is pointless, and if something is pointless why would you do it? But I find that the whining happens anyway, whether you like it or not, so you have to find a way to tolerate yourself while you whine and complain, and try to be compassionate. You don’t get to skip this phase just because you’re a good person, or a smart person, or even the person in charge who’s making all of the decisions. You just have to go through it.


But then, for me, there’s the echoing stage – where experiences from my past that are even slightly resonant with my current uncomfortable experience start to pop up. If it’s an issue I’ve dealt with already, it’ll just pop up a little bit and let me know it’s there and remind me of the lessons I’ve learned. I have to be patient and tolerant while I remember those lessons, even if what I really want to say is – yada yada yada, I’ve heard this a thousand times already.

But then there are the memories, or feelings, or snapshots pieced together in a kaleidoscope, that I haven’t fully dealt with yet, and will now have to feel, against my will, for as long as they need to be felt.

Damn them.

“Yeah. Damn them.”

This time, as usual, that phase came in the form of dreams. There was the truly horrific nightmare about babies being suffocated at birth by mothers who felt they had no choice; then there were upsetting dreams about being back in elementary school, at my current age, and dealing with girls who didn’t like me and didn’t think I was cool enough and yet wanted me to take care of them anyway; and then there were those those endless bad dreams about not being able to find a usable bathroom and opening one stall after another to find stopped up toilets or no toilets at all.

And then I woke up and I raged at my brain for giving me so much crap to think about when I was already annoyed and inconvenienced with the no-water-drama. Damn it!

“Yeah. Damn it.”

But this stage required my patience and my compassion too, and most of all, my attention, because if I didn’t pay attention this time I would certainly have to deal with the same issues again, and again, and again, because the universe is like that. Or humans are like that.

And what’s the lesson I was being taught here? Don’t suffocate the parts of you that you find annoying. Don’t shut out the voices that want to complain or rant or in any other way make you uncomfortable, and don’t imagine that ignoring yourself will make you go away.

We like to say that time heals all wounds, and that this too shall pass, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the work that takes us from one side of that gulf to the other. Time heals nothing on its own. We have to be willing to use the time to heal, or else time just passes and we don’t heal.

“I’m healing, Mommy.”

It all sucks, and I hate it, and I resent it, and it goes on forever and I want to scream and make it stop. But I still had to live through the inconvenience of the no-water-day, and feel all of the feelings and think all of the thoughts, and maybe, if I’m lucky, by the end of the day, another one of my deep wounds will have started to heal. And if I’m not lucky, I’ll get another chance to do this work in the near future, and then twenty times after that, until I get the lesson. And even then it will still pop up and remind me it’s there, just to check and make sure I’ve got that lesson and can move on to the next one.

“How about this one?”

I so wish it didn’t work this way. I wish there was a pill to take, or a cave to sleep in for twenty-some-odd years while Time Heals All Wounds. But nope. It’s this tedious feel-your-feelings, think-your-thoughts, grieve-your-losses thing, over and over and over again.

But the water did come back on at the end of the day, and I was able to wash my hands as many times as I wanted and flush the toilet extra just because I could. And the next day I was able to get on the exercise bike and do my forty-five minutes while watching a French murder mystery, and take a shower, and imperceptibly, feel a little lighter as I went on with the rest of my life. And over time, each of these obnoxious, uncomfortable, interminable lessons can stack up into real change, and real relief, and real healing. Because, time heals all wounds, just not by itself.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

55 responses »

  1. Sorry about the discomforts, but I really enjoyed reading this honest post. So many bloggers try to spin everything into the positive, but sometimes we just feel sucky and need to vent. Today I was PISSED at our HOA, which we pay $370/month, but the junk from the windstorm is still on our walkways day after day after day. I care more right now because I extra-injured my back on Thurs due to falling over nothing like a clumsy unbalanced goof, and now I’m super worried about slipping and falling again and hurting more. I think when we are already in pain (physical or emotional), it’s extra hard to deal with inconvenience. I went out to get cat food and the cashier was kind of a ditz, which normally I wouldn’t care about especially on a weekend when I have plenty of time, but it ENRAGED me. I am standing here in throbbing back pain, so why can’t she hurry up?!?!

    Anyway, glad all is well with your water situation now 🙂

  2. Very good! That is pretty much my modus operandi. 😉

  3. Dealing with icky stuff and then getting mad at ourselves for not liking it is such a real thing.

  4. what a great post, rachel – I loved the running dog shot!

  5. I know where you are coming from. We live in the country and our water comes from a well. If the power goes out due to an ice storm in winter or thunderstorm in summer we cannot use the water as there is no power to pump the water from the well. No toilet flushing it s b deal for me. So you are not alone.

  6. But did you hear yourself? You described healing as an active — not passive — process. That’s a powerful and hard-won bit of wisdom right there. There’s strength in this observation. It’s a statement of self-determination. You should be proud of that.

  7. No thanks on the wee wee pads, Ellie. Or Cricket. Nice of you to offer though.

  8. It’s easier to prepare for no water than no power. Our power was unexpectedly out for a day last week.

  9. The periods of denial (like a period of no water), makes the return more joyful.

  10. Ugh! With all the pressure these days to wash our hands often, there must have been extra emotional weight on you that day! Hope you took two showers when the water came back on just for the joy of having water.

  11. I spend a lot of time defending my and others’ whining: letting off steam can make you feel better, somebody may be able to do something about your problem or have a helpful suggestion (although some suggestions are not so helpful, giving you something else to whine about). I have also gotten disproportionately (or was it?) annoyed at inconvenience (why is it so COLD in the morning and so HOT in the afternoon; how am I supposed to know how to dress?) (to give one example). Oh dear, what a long comment. Could this be because I have not posted myself in a few days? Anyways, good post. I honor you for working on your own healing, and I hope you are thoroughly enjoying your hot and cold running water.

  12. Water is an absolute, primary necessity for life. With its absence comes a normal, natural type of anxiety. Your concerns and thoughts about your water supply that day are understandable.

  13. Like you, I resent the disruption of having repairs done. There’s a waste water pipe in my kitchen that’s been leaking for years and I keep putting off the repair because I’m afraid they’ll have to take the cupboards apart and I’ll have to fork out for new ones, and the whole thing has been making me anxious and angry. Then I get angry with myself for getting angry. You’re right about the need to bring compassion to the angry feelings. Last night I dreamed a bull was about to attack me, but instead of flapping and screaming, I took the bull gently by one horn and stroked it with my free hand, and it lay down on its back like a submissive dog. I’m pretty sure the bull represented my anger. Would that I could be so calm and chilled in waking life!

  14. Rachel, when water returns, so do the smiles. I am glad your ordeal is behind you. Keith

  15. Most helpful, Rachel.
    Thanks particularly for this one.

  16. We sure learn to appreciate our conveniences when we have to do without them for a while.

  17. You’ ve never been camping, have you?

  18. I always wonder in those dreams where you can never find a useable bathroom, if you ever do find one before waking up if that is the point at which a person becomes incontinent.

  19. This was a great post, and I loved how you described time healing wounds, that we’re involved in it, and it’s very uncomfortable. I also loved the action shot of your dog!

  20. Don’t suffocate the parts of you that you find annoying. Don’t shut out the voices that want to complain or rant or in any other way make you uncomfortable, and don’t imagine that ignoring yourself will make you go away.

    YES. If i don’t bleed the valve, i’ll explode.
    Love this piece, love all the new pics.

  21. Your post is so honest. I know I have moments when I think oh if only I was a different person I could cope with this much better. I feel for you – yes that cycle of acknowledging and moving on … Again and again. Recently I heard a podcast that suggested greeting yourself when in that frame of mind and saying, ‘Oh hello, my tendency. Hello me.’ With LOVE for yourself. I have tried it and it works sometimes but ahem not always! Sometimes I can’t get off the horse that’s galloping away with me. Not yet anyway (practising a little more acceptance here). Maybe there’s hope. And things are much better with running water than without.

  22. I like the photographs. I’m especially drawn to the photo of the two dogs and then the photo that shows that Lambchop’s in the house plus the photo of the dog in action.

    I like the text as in appreciate. Suffering isn’t likable, after all. And as a child of the suburbs I can sympathize over lack of water and the consequences regarding lack of plumbing. I’m happy to hear that by the end of the day the water and the plumbing were back.

    And, yes, others have it worse and you know that and it’s good to know that. And in a flawed world, there will be suffering. Which means that suffering is not a preferable asset and an asset only after its inevitability. Maybe when the world is unflawed there will be no suffering. I shouldn’t think there will be.

    Whining–yeah, I think we need to do that. And it needs to be received and also appreciated, not as words seeking a solution but as words seeking comfort.

    Woof to the puppies.

  23. We have had no drink the water orders several times where I live. I just don’t bother anymore. Bottled it is.

  24. Haha! I live off grid so I only take a real shower at the Gym after I work out. Solar Generator, Propane and a water tank are good enough if you aren’t a spoiled baby! I planned it this way. And if there’s a black out and no internet, I have books to read, piano keyboard to play, dog and cat to walk with me and crafts to make, so I will never be affected.
    It’s always our choice!

  25. We just had some plumbing done and I don’t think it was four hours total and I was annoyed. The plumber was supposed to come between 10:00 and noon and at noon they contacted us and said he would be an hour late(r). And I had waited all day to do what I needed to do so I started just before he arrived and then he turned off the water and I was stuck with dirty/sticky hands (I was doing a craft project) and it was annoying. I don’t feel guilty missing the modern conveniences, I feel blessed that I have them and not-very-smart if I don’t use them, so I use them and miss them when they are suspended.


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