My plumber, Bear, says I have water issues, and she says this while covered in mud she dug up from my front yard in order to access the broken pipe that is the reason my water bill was bigger than my mortgage last month. She actually has the piece of pipe in her hand, with the little pinhole in it where the rust had finally corroded through after 40 years. "Major water issues," Bear reiterates.
"All that water leaked out of that tiny little pinhole?" I ask incredulously.
"That's all it takes," she says.
I would marry Bear if it didn't promise to be such a complicated union, the biggest obstacles being that she already has a wife and I'm not gay. So I'll have to thank her with actual payment for her services instead. But this is not the end of my water issues. Both of my other properties have sprung leaks as well. The house where I actually reside is the worst, all of a sudden. For some reason, whenever I run the washing machine, the bathroom floor gets flooded.
"What the hell is happening?" I gripe.
"Issues," Bear says, shaking her head as she hands me my receipt.
My daughter says I have angered the water gods, but everything is an angered god to her these days because of the Japanese anime-inspired cartoon marathon she watched with her cousin over Thanksgiving. I really don't think I have angered any gods any more than normal lately, but it does seem weird these water issues have popped up at all my addresses, all at once and all of a sudden.
I'm really starting to think it was easier when I didn't even have any addresses at all to call my own. When I was growing up my parents always rented our houses, and if there was ever a water issue, we'd just move. We moved four times in one year once. It's funny, but we always lived near water, come to think of it, on either the California or Florida coast. Now the closest ocean to me is four hours away. The last time I drove there, I heard Shirley MacLaine on NPR talking about her own leaky pipes — I swear this is true — and how she went to an Indian shaman and was told that, because she had been refusing to cry lately, her house had begun to cry for her.
"Jesus God, what a bionic nutball," I said to myself, even though I love Shirley MacLaine and thought she kicked ass as Aurora in Terms of Endearment. In fact, I remember I saw that movie just as I was about to move abroad to study in Oxford, England. I watched it with my favorite boyfriend of all time, Jeff, who was a surfer and practically lived in the water. At the end of the movie I turned and saw that he'd been crying and I, like, laughed, because this was Jeff here; Jeff doesn't cry.
"Pussy," I teased him, and finally he did laugh, but weakly, because in a few days I would leave him like an imprint in the sand. I was off to commence the whole life I had before me and move away again, this time to England, which is surrounded by water, only you can't really surf there like you can in California and Florida, and you'd be surprised at how homesick an unsurfable ocean makes you when you're used to the other kind.
Up until then I had never even owned a coat, all I had was one pair of jeans and 20 pairs of shorts, and it was rare when I wore shoes. I'd even be shoeless while fishing for blowfish off the Melbourne Beach pier. I keep thinking about that these days, about how I hardly ever wore shoes when I lived in Florida even though the concrete they used to lay the pavement was mixed with broken seashells. That pavement reminded me of the terrazzo floors my mother was so proud of in our home at the time, which, of course, was rented. My mother always said when she finally got around to buying her own home she would have those floors installed, and I never understood the appeal of terrazzo floors because they looked like they were made from melted bowling balls. I wish I had paid more attention to them before we moved again.
My mother never got around to owning her own home, let alone one with her own terrazzo floors, but she did die in a modest cottage surrounded by water right there next to a fishing pier in San Diego. Here she was, a Southern girl who couldn't swim, dying by the ocean after having raised a surfer girl who in turn would give birth to a Southern girl. I'd laugh at the full circle, except I don't have a lot of time to reflect these days, and if I did I would not laugh at that but at how I became a girl who went from never having a home of her own to one who had too many, none of them near water, yet all of them crying.
Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (www.hollisgillespie.com).