Red alert at midnight

Written June 11, 2014
To earn my keep in this merciless world, where the bills flow unrelentingly, one after the other, just as surely as day follows night, I took a little side job house-sitting for a student who lives high in the hills, a twenty-minute drive from downtown Ojai. It’s a big spread on several acres, both wild and cultivated, with a wonderful range of plants, flowers, organic vegetable beds, and all kinds of fruit trees. She left me a long list of pleasant tasks—watering indoor/outdoor plants, care of the cat, getting the mail, etc. Her very old dog had recently passed away, so she assured me that I didn’t have to stay over every night, in case I wanted to be in my own house in town on the days I teach early-morning classes.
Of all the jobs on the list, the one that jumped out at me from the very beginning of my three-week stint was the instruction to check the level of the water in the swimming pool, because, she explained while pointing to the side of the pool, “if the water level drops below this line, the pump will break.”Those words, “the pump will break,” haunted me. So, especially on hot days, I was super-vigilant about checking the water level.If the level looked at all low, I turned on the faucet that sits behind a gate near the pool, then dragged the hose to the pool and dropped it deep into the water so it wouldn’t pop out, exactly as I’d been instructed to do.

Yesterday, after feeding the cat, wandering all over the property with my dogs, checking plants, watering some of the younger trees, and picking zucchinis that were getting too big for their britches, just to be on the safe side, since the mistress of the house is due home in two days, I went over to the pool to get the water level back up.

On hot days in past weeks, I always filled the pool while swimming and sunning. But yesterday, by early evening it was overcast and drizzly, so I simply stuck the hose deep into the water and decided to do a few other chores before heading home. I turned the faucet on more than usual, as I was eager to get home before dark.

Just before midnight back at my own house, while I was washing dishes and winding down from the day, the thought that I had not turned off the water suddenly burst into my consciousness like a bolt of lightning.  A red alert– like the voice of God warning me that I had forgotten to do something very important!

I stopped dead in my tracks and tried to remember whether or not I had turned it off. I stood still and racked my brain, but try as I might there was no recollection of opening the gate near the pool where the faucet was located and turning the faucet off. I did remember being on my way to the faucet–so maybe I was worrying for nothing. By now five hours had passed, so I fervently hoped that I’d turned off the water, but I just couldn’t remember.

But if I had indeed turned the water off, then why suddenly, out of the blue, would the thought have popped into my head that the water was still running?

There was enough doubt in my mind that it was possible the water was still on full blast. Maybe by now the pool was flooding, and I didn’t know what sort of safety mechanism was in place, plus I’d never ever filled up a pool with a hose . . . What if by now the water was seeping toward the house?

So I thought maybe I’d better get dressed and drive back, check everything out, and just spend the night there. I gathered up my purse and a few toiletries. The dogs were sound asleep, but I couldn’t risk leaving them as they would surely wake up and bark. Then I began to feel that it was all too much . . . the house seemed so far away to be driving to so late . . . plus, a good portion of the drive is up a winding hill.

By now it was past midnight. When I threw my stuff in the car, I remembered that I was dangerously low on gas. What if I ran out of gas while driving up that dark, winding road? Then I’d have more problems: a flooding pool plus I’d be stuck in the dark with my dogs . . .

But, worst of all, what if I was just overly tired and imagining all this? What if after all the trouble of packing up the dogs, and the stress of possibly running out of gas, I arrived and discovered that I did turn the water off after all? And so went the workings of my late-night monkey mind.

I sat still and quieted my mind. I asked myself what, besides wasting water, was the worst that could happen if the pool flooded, and decided that my life and sleep were more important. It wasn’t like I’d left the stove on. How much damage could an overflowing pool do? So I slipped under the covers next to a nice warm dog and slept like a baby.

When I woke up at dawn, the possible flooding of the pool no longer seemed like a calamity. After all, the house has tile and brick floors; I’d mop up the water if it did seep under the doors near the pool, and the owner would come home to a nice clean house.

I headed for the gas station as soon as it opened. As I opened the gate to the estate and drove up to the house, I was relieved to see no water seeping down the driveway. But, as the dogs and I headed toward the pool, I could see that the entire cement area in the vicinity of the pool was dark. Wet cement! As we got closer, the dogs refused to walk through the puddles collecting on the path . . .

I don’t recall ever before seeing a swimming pool filled to the brim and spilling onto the patio, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

To my relief, I could see that the house was fine.

I quickly pulled out the running hose, aimed it toward the plants, and turned off the faucet, hidden behind that gate near the pool. The moment that I stood by the swimming pool in the same spot where I’d headed for the faucet last night, everything that I couldn’t drag out of my memory at midnight came flooding into the front lobes of my brain.

I had indeed been on my way to turn off the water, but just then I’d noticed that the bed of pepper plants near the pool looked dry. So, instead of turning off the water, I was first going to pull the hose out of the pool and water those plants. But just then I’d seen a bug struggling in the water near the hose. The bug was surely about to drown, so I turned around and grabbed the pool-cleaning net. After I saved the bug, I noticed some clumps of leaves floating about, so I started using the net to clean the surface of the pool. A few minutes later, the early-evening drizzle was feeling like it might turn into rain, so I gathered up all the hanging laundry and walked over to a covered area on the other side of the house . . .

Suddenly I remembered that I needed to check to see if any ants had crossed the moat I’d created for the bowl of cat food (a large baking dish filled with water). In the first two weeks, no ants had crossed the moat, but—alas–tonight the cat kibbles were black with ants! I didn’t want my dogs to chase the cat, so before dumping the ants outside and making sure the cat had a fresh batch of ant-free food, I scooted the dogs into the car.

Is it any wonder that it took till almost midnight for my subconscious to penetrate the walls of busyness and project the thought that I needed to go back to the house on the hill and turn off the water?

Had I not listened to that thought, the hose would still be running, and the owner of the house would have come home to find her swimming pool flooding by the light of the full moon . . .

* * *
Photo note: Little did I dream that this pool would soon be overflowing!

— in Ojai, CA.

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