It’s been a long, exhausting week and my brain is dried up. Yes, this blog is another tainted water post, but it’ll be a tad shorter. I’m in conservation mode.
Even though our area’s water was restored on the seventh day of the crisis, we still used the licorice-smelling liquid with extreme caution. We flushed our taps, we stuck our noses to the stream and we inhaled…and then coughed. Perhaps it was the strong smell, or perhaps it was the cold/sinus/allergy crud that filtered through our house at the same time.
So, we’ve been sick and we’ve been sad. We also said farewell to my late aunt’s Corgi, Winston, which passed away last Sunday morning. We’ve been watching her Beagle mix, Mickey, for signs of grief and there are many to choose from. She paces through the house searching for her buddy, and then she panics when we leave the room for any reason. That reason includes washing twenty loads of laundry and making runs to the grocery store for meals that don’t have to be cooked with water.
We also locked up my aunt’s house for the last time. A lovely couple closed on the deal this week, and we couldn’t have asked for better neighbors. But, instead of leaving a bouquet of flowers on the mantle for them, we stocked their refrigerator with bottles of water. They’ll need it. They have a new baby. They’re changing routines, too.
We’re not brushing our teeth with tap water and we’re not drinking it, not that we ever did, really. We’ve always been bottle guzzlers, using the taps only for the 2:00 a.m. headache that required a slug of H2O from a Dixie cup to chase down Advil. But, when it came to laundry and dishes, I had to release my fears. We were out of essential undergarments, and paper products were filling recycling bags like Santa’s toy sack.
Like most kids, our daughters haven’t been to school in about a month counting Christmas vacation and a couple of dangerous weather days. I hope there’s a section on the 2014 Westest that covers complex patterns of Rainbow Looming. They’ll ace it.
As I count my blessings — for the ability to buy supplies and the comfort of working from home — I admit that life has changed. I don’t gaze at the Kanawha River with wonder anymore. I used to search for boats or something fun going on at Haddad Riverfront Park. Now, I look over to see if there’s a sheen of some sort floating on the water. When we take our daughters to their grandparents’ house for a visit, my nose flips in the air to detect signs of another leak. They live within waking distance of the Elk River, and a slightly longer walk to the actual site where the chemical spill occurred. I give strict orders not to give them tap water for any reason. I make them promise they won’t.
Our bathroom caddy used to be filled with various hairstyling products and tools. Now, it holds eight bottles of water and a sleeve of paper cups. My kitchen counter is decorated with jugs of distilled, spring and purified blends of water. I didn’t realize how often we boiled pastas, soup broths, marinades for Crockpot meals, and pots and pots of coffee.
I’ve reset the clothes washer on the shortest setting to cut the time our items sit in water. No more soaking white socks to make them brighter. No more extra long cycles for towels and sheets. We’ve become “knock-the-dirt-off-and-go” people.
Our dogs, cats, rabbit and guinea pig (leave me alone — I rescue) aren’t getting tap water, either. For the first few days, “Even my dog wouldn’t drink it” became a reoccurring post on social media sites. Our cat, Ringo, tried to cover up his water bowl with his paw. The odor was that foul.
Lastly, my sense of humor has become contaminated. I try to move through life lightheartedly, but the chemical spill has left a residue that affects how I feel about my city. When asked by a writer at the Daily Mail if this crisis had caused me to consider moving, I had to admit that I wouldn’t shoot down a transfer option as quickly as I would’ve six months ago. Are we house hunting? No. We’re here. We’re settled. If we’d move, we’d inherit that area’s problems, which might even be worse. I’ll take chemical valley over tornado valley any day. But, I don’t trust what goes on around me anymore. I want someone to give us a clear answer, since the water isn’t.
Yes, it’s safe. Drink it. Bathe in it.
No, it’s still a threat. Avoid it.
Instead, we’re advised to rely on our best judgment. Consume and use tap water at your own risk.
We’ll eventually stop talking about the #wvwatercrisis and #wvchemspill. We won’t forget it, but we’ll stop bringing it up in every conversation. Some morning, we’ll get up, travel to the bathroom vanity, turn on the faucet and apply a strip of toothpaste to a brush saturated with water we once feared. We’ll swish and spit with suspicion. But hopefully, in time, this too shall pass.
Katy Brown is the author of a children’s book, Sellie & Sam, and a book of essays, Kat Tales: Stories of a house…broken. She lives in Charleston with her husband and two daughters. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next time: Apps are a Snap. Literally.