My water heater reached it's expiration date. I never think about my water heater. I don't go down in the basement, look at it, pat it, and think, ah, here's my water heater. I had forgotten it was eleven years old, and had over-reached its ten year warranty. But then I took a shower and there was no hot water, and it was a necessary shower, so I soldiered on, and of the many life lessons I learned that morning, this was the first: A frigid shower is an excellent way to cut back on caffeine.
So, after my heart rate had returned to normal, I called my husband at work, who had showered earlier than me, and I asked him if he'd had hot water. Yes. Go into the basement, he said, and check it. Well, you know, I'm grateful for machines of all kinds, but I don't really know how to check them. But I went down and there was water all over the basement floor because the water heater that I had ignored for years was now acting out, so I knew enough to call the plumber, Joe, and while I was waiting for Joe to come I thought about leaks and how we can't always know they're about to spurt out, but sometimes we can if we pay attention. I wondered what else was about to leak in my life, I wasn't sure, because leaks don't always announce themselves. But then Joe came. Truly, I like Joe, he gets right to it, which is what you want in a plumber, but my old plumber back in Connecticut was a philosopher. He saw that a leak wasn't just a leak, a clogged toilet was so much more than disgusting. He had a theory on everything including why children throw toys in the toilet — it's a call for help, he told me, they have unmet needs. I'd always thought it was because they were sick of the toy, but this man had five kids, whereas I only had one who had always respected the boundaries of indoor plumbing.
I needed a new water heater, and for it to get into the basement I had to find a key, which caused me to search through three drawers and find earrings and people's phone numbers and many other old keys. The key I was looking for was right there where my husband had said, the last place I looked, because I was sure he was wrong. But the padlock had gotten rusty, so the door was harder to open, and then I wondered what other things in my life had gotten rusty, and several things came to mind. I did get the lock to open, I did get a new water heater. I scratched this down on an envelope, I suppose, in the end, leaks remind us to pay attention…and remember the if…
We all have those ifs: If I hadn't showered early, if I hadn't called my husband at work, if we'd been out of town, if Joe hadn't come right away. And then I thought about the bigger Ifs: If I hadn't seen that growth on my grandmother's back. If I hadn't called my friend when she was sick and needed help. If I hadn't gone on a last minute vacation with my friend, I never would have met my husband. If I hadn't gotten nauseous, absolutely nauseous, when a well-known pediatrician said my daughter needed serious surgery, and if we hadn't gotten that second opinion that said she didn't…well…there are too many to mention. There's so much to be grateful for in this good, complicated life.