Without a Compass

Kristy came to me with a problem: there was water dripping into the basement from the floorboards above – not exactly what a homeowner wants to see, especially from a section of flooring that looks as if it might be next to the pedestal sink in the first floor bathroom.

I went upstairs and inspected the sink; there was not a leak that I could see or find. Bad news: it might be coming behind the wall.

At this point, I am stressing out. What is wrong? How much is this going to cost me? How long will it take for me to earn that money back?

I asked Kristy to stand on a chair/stool beneath the drip. My plan was to start at the pedestal sink and knock on the floor above her; she would direct me toward the section of flooring where the water was coming from. Knock by knock, I would eventually be able to find the offending area/structure.

I walked upstairs, knelt on the hardwood and knocked to the left of the sink. “No, not there,” she yelled, helpfully.

I knocked to the right of the sink. “No that is farther away,” she yelled again.

“Where should I go from here?” I shouted as I knocked again to the left of the sink.

“Left,” she replied.

.     .     .     .

My wife is a great mother and a lovely woman, but directionality is not her strong suit. She was underground and had no way to communicate with me in a way that was beneficial for either of us. She struggles to discern which wall in the basement corresponds to which wall on the outside of the home (the stairs turn 90 degrees on the way down and portions of the basement are notched as crawl spaces) and even if she knew which wall were which, she doesn’t know East from West or North from South. She had no idea of how I was positioned above her, only how she was positioned below. “Left” was the best answer she had at the moment.

.     .     .     .

What I should have done in response is clear, in retrospect. But hind-sight is 20/20 (as they say) and I was freaking out about the mounting bills for fixing this leak behind the wall – I snapped. “What the hell do you mean left?! [as I run down the stairs] How am I supposed to know how you are standing?! Left?! Really?! Jesus! Come on! Help me out, will ya?! [pointing to the south wall] That wall is towards John’s, that one [pointing to the east wall] towards Dave’s and that one [pointing to the west wall] toward Amy’s. When I knock, tell me whose house I need to move to.”

After I got upstairs, we were able to find the source…a steam mop in the closet adjacent to the bathroom wall. A little bit of water had dripped out between the hardwood. Upon closer inspection, the floor board beneath was only wet in a small little spot; the board was not wet enough to consider it a leak of epic proportions, as I had initially feared. I emptied the mop and placed a cup on the basement floor to catch the one single remaining drop of water overnight.

In the end, all that stress  that I was experiencing about what might be wrong was all for not, but that wasn’t how I felt in the moment.

I am still thinking, too, about how I communicated with Kristy in that moment. Sure, we found the source of the water, but we didn’t find a leak. I could have just as easily walked down the stairs, looked where she was standing and walked back upstairs again.

Even though I can’t fit in her shoes, I could have at least taken a moment to step out of mine to see which direction she was facing. If I had done so, ‘Left’ would have made perfect sense.


One thought on “Without a Compass

  1. My wife and I had a similar fight when I was trying to teach her how to shift gears on a mountain bike. She wanted to know which way to go for the easier gears. My reply; “Choose any freaking direction, if it’s easier, that way. If it’s harder, the other way!” Gotta say it was a proud moment. It’s funny how stress messes with our tolerance. Similar to the need to turn down a radio when reading street signs.

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