When The Ceiling Comes Tumbling Down

Last week started out tough. I was recovering from an asthma attack, trying to schedule carpal tunnel surgery, gearing up for the chaos of our roof being replaced and it was 89 bazillion degrees. That was Tuesday.

Thursday night at 8:30 pm, I got a wake-up call about the challenges of the slow-moving state of crisis that comes with living in an old house. Earlier in the day, my #PSL frappucino spilled over in the car and I thought *that* was the worst thing that would happen. Ha.

The ceiling in our second bedroom collapsed over the course of 3 or 4 minutes. It had been weakened by water damage, but the vibration of the roof removal phase pushed the remaining drywall too far and so BAM.

No one was hurt. But our two feral kitties were in that room, crouched under a sturdy chair as piles of debris and detritus wafted around them. We had to act fast.

We were not particularly gracious under stress as we struggled to craft a plan and tried not to breathe. We had no masks, no bandanas, no house industrial PITA gear at all. I wrapped a sundress around my mouth and nose to rush in to find the cats. Ledcat called for reinforcements. I was standing ankle-deep in rubble saying “I can’t breathe” (remember the asthma) and “I need shoes” in an alternating pattern. Our friend came rushing down with two nets and gloves. Laura was tossing our domesticated pets into available rooms of which there was exactly one.

One of the ferals (Maylee) skittered out of the room in fear and ended up under our sofa in the downstairs living room. The other cat (Mamma Mia) climbed the wall, wedging herself beside our tall bureau and had to be pulled by the tail out of the room and into the bathroom. Then she went into the bathroom chimney and up, up, and up.

That’s when we realized the roof work had dislodged the insulation in the nonfunctional chimney along with pieces of mortar and a very large hunk of concrete. All of that came down around Mamma and into the bathroom. We were quite concerned that Mamma was going to head out of the chimney (cats have done that) but she eventually settled into a wary crouch amidst the debris and stared at us.

So we lost our cat containment room for the time being. I lost access to about 89% of my clothing which is stored in that room, now either covered in a layer of dusty grit or simply inaccessible due to huge amounts of stuff piled around it. The roofing company did a preliminary cleaning of the room which was very helpful, but clean-minus-grit is definitely a feeling I can’t remember right now.

As per usual with contractor types, we had a dozen promises to swing by, check it out, etc and exactly one person showed up. Hopefully, his bid is solid.

Collapsed ceiling
A temporary skylight?

Over the course of the day on Friday and Saturday, we slowly established a new rhythm to our family movements. Maylee is still under the sofa, but nanny cam shows us that she is coming out at night to eat and dance on the sofa. She also climbs the cat tree where the nanny cam is positioned, making it shake about like its been pounced upon by a vicious 5 lb predator. Mamma Mia now has a cat tree, a tent, a box, and a paper bag along with her food and litter in the bathroom. Everything that could be relocated from that space to another has been. Of course, Mamma has opted to remain in the chimney opening on a comfy comforter and glare. Deductive reasoning and science (volume) tells us that she is eating, drinking, and using the litter box. So there’s that.

Cat tree
Our cat tree had better days.

Our already domesticated crew of 3 cats plus a chihuahua have been relocated to night duty in our bedroom with the door fimly shut. Ana, Simon, and Precious can mingle around Maylee without too much concern (Ana is terrified of Maylee), but Coco is another story. Sleep has become an elusive friend, compromised by paws in my eyesocket, hairball ejections, general mayhem, and very poor circulation of somewhat cooled off dusty air.

Collapsed ceiling
There’s a scared Mamma Mia cat in that chimney

It hasn’t been fun, but it hasn’t calamitous either. We didn’t know exactly how we’d sort out the mess and the repairs and the critters, but we knew that slowing down to one-day-at-a-time was our best approach. And asking for help and support. The erosion of my grasp on a healthy mind was stymied by acknowledging how I felt and identifying what I actually needed. It also helped immensely that our new housecleaning company was scheduled to start this week so we got a sort of full cleanse of about 80% of our living space. You can almost see the half circle around Mamma Mia’s fireplace habitat where Chris navigated a boundary for what could be cleaned and what must remain undisturbed for now. Plus, he admitted taking a quick peep at the sweet baby eyeing him warily as he cleaned. Then she redecorated the entire room with tiny sooty pawprints.

Feral cat
Maylee peering at me from under the sofa. She decided I wasn’t worth the risk.

So here we are on the other end of a pretty cruddy week – literally, I might say without any hesitation. Thankfully, we are fortunate to have good people in our lives to come to our aide – the wildlife and cat ladies who helped us with immediate needs and planning chats over Facebook Messenger, neighbors offering everything from masks to assundry tools and freeing up parking spaces for the work folx, friends checking in and cheering up, handy friends helping navigate the literal (twice!) in-between space of our ceiling and our roof, and some lovely people who sent me some clothing in a pinch as mine is currently under dust and behind piles of other dusty stuff.

One friend even converted her Discover reward points into an Amazon gift card which sent to us to use for replacement clothing (and cat toys!) I had no idea that was a way to help people, but I’m quite grateful. Something to keep in mind for people who need help. 

Just a week ago this very hour, it felt and sounded like the world collapsed. Fortunately, I have been reminded that when things feel the most overwhelming, reaching out for help is the best way to turn a ceiling hole into a new perspective on how much gratitude I have for this life and this house. It is a sturdy beast, built in 1872. Now that it has been gussied up on the roof, hopefully, it will continue to house people like us for many years to come.

Now I’m off to read up on insulation options and cajole some teenagers into toting our stuff up to the attic while the repair commences. And to try to catch that darn cat …


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