It might because it has one of those drop-down staircases, or because I can’t stand up there, but I hate going into the attic. Of course, it might also be because the place is a total mess of half-done flooring covered by dozens of boxes with no rhyme or reason as to their organization.
Perhaps because she also dislikes it for similar reasons, my wife usually asks me to bring this or that up and take this or that down. I grumble and complain, but usually oblige. The evening in question was no different. We had just gotten back from a road trip with the kids and she wanted the suitcases back up there. After the job was completed and I was getting ready to descend, I heard a strange noise coming from the bathroom just below where I’d been moving things around. My wife, who was at the bottom of the attic stairs, right next to the bathroom, looked inside and started freaking out, screaming something about, “there’s water pouring through the ceiling!!!”
I climbed down the stairs as fast as I could and quickly looked into the bathroom as I passed it on my way to shut off the main water valve. When I did, the water immediately stopped. Unfortunately, that wasn’t before it started pouring through the next level of the house, finding passage through one of our smoke detectors and setting it off. So now we had water everywhere, the smoke alarm sounding, the phone ringing (it was the alarm company), the kids freaking out, and my wife getting ready to evacuate the three of them to our neighbors.
After being told by my wife about 15 times on her way out that I had to call the plumber (I said “okay” each time), I did so. As anyone who knows house construction better than me can expect, he commented, “This doesn’t make sense. There are no water pipes in the attic.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. I was in the attic doing stuff, the next thing I know there’s water pouring through the bathroom ceiling right below it.”
“Anthony,” he said getting frustrated. “This doesn’t make sense. The only pipes up there would be vent pipes to remove condensation from the bathrooms. They wouldn’t have enough water in them to do what you describe.”
“Mike. I don’t know what to tell you. I have a problem. Are you going to help me fix it or not?”
“Listen,” he said. “Before I come over there and charge you a lot of money, get your wife or a friend to help you, and do this: one of you turn the water back on to the house while the other one stands in the bathroom and looks for where it’s coming from. Then call me back.”
I called my neighbor Bill — to whose house my wife and children had fled. (We are good friends with them.) I positioned Bill in the bathroom and went down to turn the water on. As I did, I could hear him yelling something.
“Turn it off?” I asked.
“Yeah. Turn it off!” he yelled back.
I ran upstairs to see Bill coming out of the bathroom, a little wet and laughing hysterically.
“What. You got soaked?” I asked, assuming that was the reason for his good humor.
“A little, but what’s funnier is the water wasn’t coming through the ceiling,” he chuckled.
“What? What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Look behind your toilet,” he said.
I took a few steps across the wet tile and peered behind the toilet.
“Your pipe to the toilet disconnected,” he said, still laughing. “When it disconnected from the bowl, it was pointing up towards the ceiling.”
“Oh my God,” I said.
So when my wife had quickly looked into the bathroom, what she (and I) saw was water coming down from the ceiling, after it had first shot up.
“You should be thrilled,” Bill said. “This 12-inch piece of flexible pipe is a $4 fix.”
While trilled, and relieved beyond words, I did feel like a total moron. The next call, of course, would be to Mike, the plumber. As I related the story to Mike, he said he was happy it was resolved, though I think he found the situation much less amusing than we did. I had annoyed him repeatedly at around 9 PM and there was nothing billable that came from it.
After the incident, I thought how my powers of reasoning, my very senses, had failed me; how the premise that there are no coincidences sometimes takes us far from the truth. Though I swore that my moving around in the attic right before water rained down from it was cause and effect, that was totally incorrect. One had nothing to do with the other, as Mike had suspected.
This dynamic highlights how it is impossible to remedy a problem if our base assumptions are wrong. And for this reason, if we are struggling to make sense of things or find resolution, we need to go back the beginning and question them, even if it means asking whether we actually experienced what we thought we did. Because no matter how deeply you believe the water is coming from the attic, it simply isn’t if there are no pipes up there.