My first reaction at seeing the basement of my rental house fill with water was disbelief. What ran through my mind was, “I’m supposed to be going to dinner with friends, and all I wanted was to grab some freshly washed clothes from the dryer, but instead I see this?”

I grabbed my landlord’s business card out of my wallet and dialed the emergency number. “An emergency is a stopped-up toilet, loss of heating and air conditioning,” and some other thing I can’t recall at the moment that did not fit into the category of “torrents of water filling my basement.” Yeah, this would be an exception.

I left a message to the tune of, “I know this doesn’t fit the three categories of ’emergency’ on the voice mail greeting for the emergency line, but I think this really is an emergency. Please call back quickly! I don’t know what to do!”

I had been in the house at 1915 Martin Road in Ferndale, Michigan, all of five weeks. I still had about 15 cartons of books and 20 big boxes of collectible toys, Star Wars action figures, G.I. Joes and accessories from my childhood (and well, OK, my second childhood in the 1990s, when my brother and I bonded over our nostalgia for the great toys of the 1970s). I knew the bottom layer of boxes was a lost cause, so I worked on hauling the second and third layers of book boxes upstairs and putting them onto the upper shelves I had in the basement. Little did I know at the time that even that wouldn’t spare most of the contents. I thought that putting things on the third shelf and up should have done the trick. That put them about 33 inches up, and the water rose to 36 inches. Most of the papers, books and mint-in-package action figures, baseball cards, and comic books from my childhood in those boxes ended up ruined.

When my message was answered, the landlord asked if I could locate the source of the water. I walked through the main room, the water now five inches deep and opened the door to the laundry room. “The utility sink is overflowing, but not from the faucet, oh my God!” I said. “Let me get back to the bathroom.”

“Is the water clear?” he asked.

“It’s hard to see down here, but I don’t think it is,” I replied as I sloshed toward the bathroom.

What I saw stunned me.

Water rose from the shower drain. It flowed like a fountain from the toilet. And the bathroom sink was bubbling up and over onto the floor. It reminded me of a scene from “The Amityville Horror” or “The Shining,” only not red. My memory is not clear since I was certainly operating on adrenaline at that point, but I think I closed my description with, “I’m pretty sure it’s not safe for me to be walking around in this water. I have got to get out of here!”

While I waited to hear back, I had managed to get about a dozen cartons of books out. Of what was left downstairs, the pickings were slim.

A few more boxes of books. Two electric guitars. My art portfolio. A few boxes of baseball cards out of the dozens that had been in the collectibles stockpile. A few G.I. Joes, including the Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower commemorative that reminds me so much of my dad, along with Gen. George S. Patton and Audie Murphy. That cool “Quiet Deluxe” model Royal typewriter my brother, Dwayne, refurbished and gave me for Christmas a couple of years back.

What else?

A Buck Rogers spacecraft. My high school senior memory book (the yearbooks were ruined). A photo album that covered childhood through the early 1990s. The Fidel Castro bobblehead (showing the Cuban leader sitting inside a toilet bowl with the words “Viva Castro” at the base) that I had gotten into trouble from bringing to show-and-tell in sixth grade.

The property manager sent a contractor with fans to set up, and dry out the place after the water had all drained. The contractor pointed to the high-water mark, which was hip-deep on me and reached the fourth step from the bottom of the basement stairs.

In the bathroom, the 36-roll pack of Costco toilet paper proved its absorbency. Nothing was worth salvaging in there. A mass of leaves sat atop a skim of sewer sludge that coated the floors. The bulk of the toy stash is gone. So are binders full of printouts and syllabi from my M.A. program at the Missouri School of Journalism that I had planned to use in teaching master’s courses at Wayne State.

One of the many things that smarts is that after paying to have that stuff hauled up from Alabama, I had to pay again to have it hauled away.Insurance wouldn’t pay for it, you see. Sewage system backup is among the exclusions on my renters policy. I know. I should have read the fine print. But even if I had spent $900 for federal flood insurance, I would have found out that possessions stored in basements aren’t covered.

“It’s just stuff,” I keep trying to tell myself. “It’s just money.” If I repeat it enough, I’ll probably believe it.

I watched a Ferndale public works crew haul off a basement worth of mementos this afternoon.  The mementos are like a backup hard drive. Good times and loved ones are connected to them. But mementos are not memories. Those are still with me.

Maybe it is just stuff after all.