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On The Flood...

Looking back and looking ahead.

Street flooding at the entrance to my neighborhood.
Billy Gomila

There wasn’t some big wave that just crashed in. No surge of water that pushed in a door or anything like that. I just looked down, and there was a rivulet of water lapping over threshold of my house and then running on inside. And then another. And another. And then it really dawned on me that my house was flooding.

My wife and I had been preparing since we awoke at around 4:30 a.m. and realized that the water level in our street was too deep to drive my Toyota 4Runner through. We put as much of our furniture as we could up on bricks and packed bags that were now in my car. My 22-month-old daughter was already strapped into her car seat, along with our two dogs and my neighbor, Miss Delores, who lived alone and called us in the commotion.

The next few hours were a blur of frantic pleas for help on social media, aborted attempts at trudging out through the water and reconnoitering with other neighbors to try and formulate a plan. Eventually, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputy made his way to our house and, with the help of a neighbor’s pirogue for my daughter and our dogs to sit in, we walked to a point where we could get on a boat. The rescuers had been cut off from my block due to a patch of high ground.

The water was a rich, muddy brown color. It’d look like chocolate milk if it hadn’t stank of sewage. Probably because it had come up through the storm drains on the street. Luckily, the journey didn’t feature the dangerous currents of the other evacuations you might have seen on TV or social media, or even much wildlife -- although did you know that in a flood ALL OF THE SPIDERS in your neighborhood will view you as their safe refuge? We walked carefully -- I used a mop handle to poke around for obstructions and move away the little floating islands of fire ants. We gathered more neighbors as we went, doing what we could to help the elderly.

As we boated out of my neighborhood and on to Millerville Dr., where the sheer magnitude of the flooding and just what everybody in this area was facing dawned on me. A television news report just isn’t the same as watching dozens of boat launch while you get dropped off in a random yard that just happens to be dry, where hundreds of others are waiting to evacuate to a shelter.

Billy Gomila

From there we were able to get to family, where we are now staying. After a week of work, our house is gutted. The lawn is piled high with dry-wall, baseboards, furniture, electronics and accessories. Now it’s just a matter of working with FEMA and contractors to see what our next move will be.

At first you feel helpless. Water’s one of the fundamental elements of this planet. If it really wants to go somewhere, nobody’s going to stop it. It’s the boot to your ant pile. It’s the Leonard Fournette to your Auburn safety. The plans you had for that next moment, next week, next month, even the next year, those all just kind of trickle away when you see that water come in.

And for most of us, that’s not a feeling we’re accustomed to. You meander through your life, and chances are even on your crappiest day, you still feel like you have enough power to exert some control over something that happens to you. Even when things spiral. There are only a handful of times that you’ll truly have some external force just come through and say “oh, those plans? Nah, you’re doing THIS now.”

That feeling has been a little less foreign in the last 13 months or so. In July of 2015, I lost my job. It was a Friday afternoon, a meeting about an office restructure that didn’t exactly go how I expected. It was a similarly jarring experience, but more out-of-body. Almost like I was watching somebody else get told that their services were no longer needed and then coldly escorted out of the building they’d spent the last nine years working in.

Watching the water come up was a much more visceral experience.

I did eventually find a new job (which started, coincidentally, was one year later to the day), but over those 12 months, virtually every activity that didn’t involve making money or looking for a job felt made me feel like I was letting my wife and daughter down. Just watching TV quietly brought on guilt that I just swallowed.

And just when I felt comfortable shedding all of that, suddenly my family was in real danger. A danger that could have maybe been avoided if I’d done something different. Either taken them to my sister’s the night before, just as a precaution once we saw water in the front of the neighborhood. Or later still, once we saw it begin to creep up in other parts of the subdivision.

But then the moment comes and you just have to act. You have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.

In the moment, Baton Rouge unified.

Hashtags about a Cajun Navy aside, the boats were there. Shiny bottom bass boats with huge mismatched motors. Airboats. Some people even fired up the party barge in areas where there was enough room. And alongside the military Humvees and amphibious vehicles you saw bros in jacked up trucks and soccer moms in Tahoes all doing whatever they could to get to people through the water or getting people to shelters and meeting points where they could find family.

After a summer that saw angry, near-violent protests and hundreds of arrests in the aftermath of the shooting of Alton Sterling. After a spring legislative session that saw politicians skip out of committee meetings rather than work together to resolve a state-wide budget crisis.

When push came to shove, people worked together to help one another. People kept moving.

I’m a cynic by nature, but as we all continue to seem more and more divided, I want to believe that means something.

As the days go by, you get the what-ifs out of your mind and that gets replaced by the fear of the unknown, because between FEMA, contractors, insurance companies and toxic mold, you’re stuck with a number of variables you can’t really control.

But mostly, you feel thankful.

Thankful that you and your family are safe and together, with people helping to take care of you.

Especially that last part.

I’m thankful that I have an amazing family and friends that helped us to get our house gutted within just a few days. My siblings, their husbands, my wife’s family, friends from all walks of life rallied to us. In a way that I will never forget nor ever be able to truly thank them for. Friends from all over the country, including one of my sister’s best friends, who drove in from Rome, Ga., with two U-Haul trucks full of supplies for families of BRPD members, and some special items set aside for my family. If there’s one feeling I haven’t had in all of this, it’s of being alone. And I’m blessed for that. Not in that phony #blessed way. Just blessed.

And from my SB Nation family -- other writers and editors, readers and commenters, including my EDSBS Commentariat friends, who have helped by giving to my family’s GoFundMe account or helping to publicize it. Dan and Ty at the Solid Verbal, Bill and Steven at Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody. People who have never met me gave of themselves, not only to me, but also my wife and daughter. We joke on here a lot about the Internet being an awful place, but when you see that capacity for good it’s a bit overwhelming. College football has given me a job, a career path and more entertainment than I can possibly recount over the last 25 years of my life. It’s also helped to give me a family that I never knew I had.

Thank you all.

We're still here. Life is still going on. Our house is going to be rebuilt one way or another. Stuff will be replaced. People talk about "new normal" in the aftermath of events like this, but I don't know if normal is ever new really, because change is just the nature of life. Second to second, hour to hour, week to week and on and on, whatever has already happened is gone and behind you. Everything is moving forward. You don't have a choice, so you move it. One day, my sister's house will just be where we're living. Where we drive to work from and go to the store from and all of that. And then we'll be back in our house. It won't look like our house, but it will be our house. And then one day we'll just be used to that.

Things keep moving.

So when I look forward to this coming season, it would be easy for me to just tell LSU to play for Louisiana, and dedicate everything they do to all of those people affected. And I’m sure they will, and that’s a great thing and people will care and Tom Rinaldi will absolutely make us all tear up on some Saturday really soon. But more than anything, I just want them -- honestly, just everybody in this great sport, regardless of what team they play for -- to just keep moving forward. If the pass is incomplete, throw the next one. If you miss a tackle, make the next one. Take every run one step at a time, and don’t worry about what happened on the play before.

Because that’s what I, and everybody that is dealing with everything that has happened here, need to keep doing. Rebuild. Put our lives back together. Put one foot in front of the other. The water is gone now. It’s in the past. The only thing that really matters is how we take the next step and the one after that and so on.

Keep moving.