Monday, December 26, 2005

Part 9: Storm me once, shame on you. Storm me twice, shame on me.

Recap: Mark was living in Baton Rouge in an RV for work, my parents moved back home, Geoff was staying with Calie's family in River Ridge, and I was living with my in-laws in Morgan City. School was calling me back on Sept. 26, but Hurricane Rita was headed straight for Texas and southwestern Louisiana.....Morgan City included.

The winds of Rita from the outer bands of the storm were teasing Morgan City early in the afternoon. I gassed up my car while waiting for Mark to come in. I was truly a nervous wreck. Katrina had changed a lot of things, and apparently, I was also changed. We'd had no rain in the almost month since the storm had hit, and the thoughts of wind, rain, darkness, thunder, lightning, and a possible hit by another hurricane were not doing anything for my mental state. I was in an extremely frenzied state, made worse by everyone telling me to leave. When I think back to that point, which was about 3 months ago, I am still uncomfortable. We've had some rains since then, and it is very unsettling. Luckily, it's only rained maybe 2 or 3 more times.

I told my parents that the outer bands were hitting us, and my father said that that was probably not true. But when I got out the car to fill it up, a big gust came through and caught the door, ripping it from my hands as I went to shut it, and slammed it into my arm. I had a bruise for about a week. I grimaced, I guess, when that happened, because an old man made a beeline for me. He evidently thought I grimaced because I didn't know how to pump my own gas. He came to demonstrate where to put my card, to tell it I want a reciept, how to put the nozzle in the car, how to select my gas...all after I politely declined his assistance by telling him, with a twinge of pain behind my heart, that my father owns a service station, and that I could handle it. He even called me sweetheart or something else patronizing. He stayed there explaining it all to me until I was done, then left. Sigh.

I drove to my in-laws' in sporadic rains, feeling better about the car, but worse about the weather. Around 7 that evening, Mark made it back to Morgan City, and we settled in for what was, to me, a very long evening.

While she was no picnic, Rita was not as bad as she could have been. She spared Houston, which made us happy. My grandmother's assisted living center originally evacuated to a hotel in Alexandria, but when the do-not-return orders were issued, they moved to other ALC's in their chain. My 86-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer's ended up in Houston. As Rita loomed, my family worried. My mother called Houston, only to find out that they had decided that they had enough staff prepared to stay, and that they would. Rita looked to be as bad, if not worse, than Katrina. The thousands of evacuees who ended up in Houston had to evacuate for a second time. A JCC kid I've known since she was 4, who will be 15 in March, called my cell phone panicking, because she was in Houston and was packing up to leave again. I tried to comfort her, but could not, I am afraid, because I had enough on my mind. They ended up in Dallas until after the storm, if I'm not mistaken, then moved back.

So anyway, we were all Very Concerned about my grandmother. We would not have time to make that 6 hour drive to get her, plus do it again on the way back, to ensure her safety. In addition, none of the family could provide for her needs, especially if New Orleans caught any of Rita. All we could do was worry. There were two ALC’s run by this company in Houston. Hers decided to stay. The other loaded up the residents and evacuated them. But they never reached their destination, as the bus caught fire and killed all of the passengers inside. My uncle in Philadelphia called very upset because he’d heard about one of them. My parents hadn’t heard yet, and there was brief panic until we found out that it was the other ALC. My grandmother was safe. However, Kurt, my cousin Alicia’s husband, knew someone who was on that bus. It seemed that the tragedies would keep arising for our city.

Instead of slamming Houston, Rita wobbled a little more easterly and did a number on…southwest Louisiana. We had probably category 2 winds in Morgan City. Morgan City found more than half its residents without power. A storm surge drove salty waters into the drinking water. A tree across the street fell. Leaves were everywhere. Small branches were everywhere. The fence broke. Shingles were in the street. We never did lose electricity, but it blinked on and off all night. To take our minds off what was going on around us, we played poker, microwaved popcorn, and ate ice cream, since we figured we would lose electricity and would therefore also lose the ice cream. But all that happened was a lot of flickering. And serious wind damage. My in-laws said Rita was worse for them than Katrina was, if that tells you anything.

That night, as the storm raged on (WHY do they only strike at night????), I had even more trouble sleeping than usual. As I mentioned earlier, sleeping was, and, occasionally, still is, an issue for me. I did not get much that night. The sounds of the fence breaking, the wind slapping the house, the rain beating down, and things slamming into the house, were a bit much for me. I had vowed I would never stay for a storm again, and there I was. But where could I have gone?

The next morning, as things slowed down, we watched as the Industrial Canal breached again. The Lower 9th Ward was in even more trouble. We heard that the patch in the 17th Street Canal levee appeared to mostly hold up, but that the area by our house was flooding again. I believe I posted a picture of that from my father. But most troubling were the shots of lower Terrebonne Parish and lower Lafourche Parish and the areas around New Iberia. They looked like my neighborhood. Luckily, many had learned from New Orleans and left, but there were, of course, the old sticklers who never leave and refused to leave. I felt for those people. We were joined by an unspeakable bond.

I was supposed to go to Metairie on Saturday, but with the winds and some road closures due to the standing water on the highways, we were unable to leave until Sunday. Mark was off all weekend, and so he was able to help.

For having nothing, we sure had a lot to bring to Metairie. We had been shopping, so we had more clothes than we left with. People sent care packages, so that was all extra. We brought the two plastic drawer carts that were bought for us to store our clothing in with us, as well as a wire rack for the couple pairs of shoes I’d acquired, through hand-me-downs and Houma trips. On top of that, we had the things we’d evacuated with, cats included. Junior and Menou, my in-laws’ cats, were not very sorry to see my Lily and Shazzy leave. However, poor Nala and Icarus, my parents’ cats, had a lot in store for them. They were already resettling into their now carpetless, mildly funky-smelling home, and now we were bringing our two cats to disrupt their routines. What fun would await that introduction?

It took Mark to take the cats and the things he was bringing back to his RV that night, plus a trunk-load, plus me and a trunkload and a back-seat-load, plus Mr. Loy and the plastic “furniture” they were lending us, to get everything to Metairie.

Just as we were leaving, my cell phone rang. It was the insurance adjuster for my car. For having a good driving record and low mileage, I got some additional money. Four years ago, my father paid $4,000 for my used Toyota Corolla. I had a $500 deductible, but got $200 for contents. So before the deductible, they were going to give me $4,100 for it. Something went our way! We technically turned a profit on an 11-year-old second-hand car!

We made it back to Metairie that Sunday afternoon. When I moved out, my parents figured that I was gone for good. So they hurried me along to get my belongings out, and turned my room into an office. That’s where I am now. Sitting where my cedar chest once stood. That’s still here…but it’s been converted into a wrapping paper holder. Where my bed once stood, there is a desk. A file cabinet replaced my dresser. What makes this even sadder is that those pieces, save for my old cedar chest (this one is the one from when I was a kid, not the one Mark’s uncle built for our wedding), is all gone. Saturated and hacked and rusted and peeling and disgusting. Even the ugly old carpet, which tormented me for most of my life, was gone, save for a square under the big file cabinet that didn’t get very wet.

Geoff moved into his apartment in March or so. He left because he wanted to. I left because I was married. So while they figured I wouldn’t come back, there was a possibility that he could some day. So his room sat empty, except for a TV and the exercise bike…a sad attempt at an exercise room. They left the TV for us and put the bike back in the garage. We unloaded the cars, then Mark had to go back to Baton Rouge while Mr. Loy had to get back to Morgan City. Sitting in the windowsill were some of Geoff’s He-Man figures. He’d found his Foo Fighters poster and hung that on the wall, then tacked an old issue of The Nicholls Worth (sadly and ironically enough, it was the first issue in full-color, which I’d done for….9/11.) and a He-Man thing on the wall to make it have some of our personalities in it. He taped a note to the door, which reads, “Mae and Mark -- It ain’t much, but I did what I could to make my old home your new home.” It touched us. It really did.

He and Calie stopped by later. They helped me sort through our belongings. Geoff’s old mirror still hung on the wall, so we put the two plastic carts under it like a dresser. I took the shoe cart and put it in the closet. We stacked some things along the walls and in the corners. Geoff found my dad’s little workbench in the garage and put the TV on it, then got the old Nintendo out of our parents’ room and hooked it up. My dad bought an “elevated air mattress,” which was double the thickness of a standard one, and we inflated it and put sheets on it. My mom washed Geoff’s old comforter and we threw it on top. Then, I made a nightstand by stacking the photo albums and the huge Tupperware bin of the smaller albums and loose pictures next to the bed. I hung the clothes up, and set up the litter box, some food, and some water for the cats, then let them explore. Poor little things.

I don’t think I discussed Lily’s cold. A week or so after we were in Morgan City, Lily’s eyes started running. It looked like she was crying. I looked up “Do cats cry?” on the Internet, and discovered that cats do feel sad and depression, but that it is manifested in behavioral changes, not tears. If a cat is “crying,” then it’s because of allergies, something getting in the eyes, or an illness. That night, while we were in bed, we heard a tiny little, “Achoo!” We made an appointment with the vet. I asked if it had anything to do with our rough evacuation and current situation, and the vet said it was possible. Some cats get a form of herpes, which causes them to get colds. The colds come out when they are stressed out. We were given an eye cream, which she did not want to take and she fought us every time, and an antibiotic, to be given orally. The first few doses were given while Mark was still in Morgan City, but then he had to go to Baton Rouge that week. I had to administer her medication all by myself twice a day for the rest of those two weeks. I gave up on her eye cream, because she was too rebellious and it was too hard to do on my own. But she finished her antibiotics the day before we came home. That was a good thing, because Nala and Icarus would not catch her illness. Shazzy, Menou, and Junior all made it without catching it, so we were very relieved. We paid for the vet and the medicine with a donation sent to us by one of my fellow forumers. It had come in the mail the night we discovered she was sick. How lucky we were!

That first night sleeping on an air mattress in Geoff’s old room was strange. It was nice having dinner with my parents. It was nice being with my own family for a change. But things were so very different. The most obvious, of course, being that I was living in Geoff’s room, with clothes I didn’t recognize, on fake furniture, in a house that no longer held carpet. We have to walk with something on our feet, because the foam backing on the carpet would not all come up, but it flakes off when you walk on it. When the weather started to change, it was going to be very cold to walk on. We have to be careful, because the carpet tacks along the walls and in the doorways where the carpets either changed or became tile floors are still there. Plus, several little things had changed. Minor things, like my mom changing the kitchen drawers and cabinets a little. And big things, like Geoff being gone. I was now only an hour away from Mark instead of two, but I still would only see him if he had a couple of days off. Entercom’s return to New Orleans was indefinite. So while my situation was sometimes improving, it was also hitting brick walls. Luckily, I would have work the next morning. Not class, but the beginning of moving campuses.

Stay tuned for Part 10: Moving week begins

Friday, November 18, 2005

Part 8: Mark and Loy's Bogus Journey.

Ok...I'm out on Thanksgiving Break, so even though I have to make an exam, grade an exam, and make classroom Christmas decorations, I am probably going to update more regularly. A lot has happened, and I feel I'm getting further and further behind.

Recap: We went back to Metairie for a day to check on my parents' house, which suffered mild damage (We would later learn that mild means $25,000 to the insurance company...) and my brother's, which almost flooded, had it not been raised 3-4 feet above the street, which had 3-4 feet of water in it.

That weekend, Mark and Mr. Loy, his dad, decided to rescue Mark's car from the parking garage. We had no transportation, so if his job called him back, what were we going to do? When we went to Metairie, we got my mom's car, which had water in the back footwells. But that was going to be for me to go back and forth to Nicholls for school. Mark spoke with his bosses, who said that they had set up in Baton Rouge, and as soon as he could get there, he had a job. So on Saturday morning, Mark and Mr. Loy got in the white pick-up, which could blend in with rescue workers, grabbed Mark's press pass, and decided to try their luck. When they got to the first military checkpoint, the guy told them, "If you have a press pass, you can go pretty much anywhere." They drove on. It got increasingly hard to get into the city. The second checkpoint, the guys leaned in to savor some of the truck's air conditioning. South Louisiana is so humid and miserable, especially in the summer. These poor, wonderful men were standing in the blazing heat and humidity in fatigues, working so hard to help us, and my F-I-L was more than happy to do them that small courtesy.

Detour after detour cropped up. Streets were blocked by trees, water, and houses knocked off foundations. It took them a lot longer than it should have to reach the garage. We got phone calls every now and then updating us on their progress. We got increasingly anxious. Finally, the phone rang again. It was Mark.

"We're in the garage, and the car is fine. The tires have air, the gas tank is full, the windows are intact, and all of our stuff is inside."

I was overjoyed. That meant our wedding album, our photo albums, my childhood favorite stuffed animals, one of Mark's guitars, my bound copies of The Nicholls Worth and Mark's KNSU tapes, plus our yearbooks, were safe. I cried.

When they went to leave, there was a convoy of mail trucks, presumably bringing local mail to safer places. We later learned everything went to Houston until Hurricane Rita came, then it was bounced to Baton Rouge, then BACK to Houston, and was finally forwarded slowly. Anyway, the convoy was huge. Mr. Loy cut into line, with Mark following. There was only one way out of the city, so they were stuck in the convoy for quite some time. They stopped for a little while, and the guy in the mail truck behind them got out to stretch his legs. He came up to the window and said, "Man, if I'd known you were U.S. Mail, I'd have let you in line easier!" Mr. Loy laughed. "Well, we aren't. We're just trying to get the hell out of here." "I hear you!"

When they pulled up at the house, I was so relieved. We started unloading the car. Then, it hit me: we were unloading everything we owned. That was it. All of our worldly belongings fit into the one car. That was a harsh reality I wasn't entirely prepared to face. Mr. Loy doesn't say much about the trip, other than that "It's way worse than they show on TV."

A new thought occurred to me around this point. We are the new face of homeless. Thanks to FEMA, the Red Cross, my forumers, and my uncle, we were able to buy a lot of clothing. To see us walking down the street, there were no indications that we were homeless. Unless you count the blank stares and the hangdog looks.

I don't think I addressed the blank stares. But, even today, almost three months after Katrina, it happens. If you haven't spoken to one of us, you can't possibly understand the look. It's a far off stare used only when thinking about or talking about what happened to the city or yourself or friends or family. It involves staring stoically into space, focusing on nothing, speaking in a strange, almost monotone voice frought with bewilderment, melancholy, fear, and confusion. I caught myself doing it one day, then noticed that almost everyone I spoke to did the same thing. It's a haunting, ghostly sight to behold. And even now, I see it and catch myself doing it.

On Wednesday, we sat outside the Bayou Vista Wal-Mart in an Allstate tent. We waited for about an hour, then found out that I would get my full coverage on my 1994 Toyota Corolla, because I had comprehensive coverage. However, we only had renter's insurance. Flood insurance was not offered to us. In fact, we thought we couldn't get it as renters. We have discovered, too little too late, though, that flood IS available to renters. Good to keep in mind for whenever we get our own place. However, as we only had renter's insurance, we learned that unless the house collapses on us, will will get nothing. I have never before wished so hard that my house would collapse. Unbelievable.

Thursday, my parents and Geoff went back to rip out the carpeting in my parents' house. I was unable to help because I had class, and I would not have made it back in time. This time, I had a horrible night at school. The teacher said, "No one wants to do special ed anymore, so we aren't going to cover that." She also said, "Schools use technology for the sake of using technology. It doesn't help the students. Instead, it's a crutch." So I raised my hand and talked about the special needs school where I teach, how we allow dyslexic and dysgraphic students to use a personal word processor called an AlphaSmart in order to get their words across. It's a brilliant tool...even for kids who can write hooks up to the computers and transfers there is no waiting in line for the two computers in our classroom. The teacher's reaction? "Well, that's just a Band-Aid approach. That won't help them in the real world." Then she moved on and didn't talk to me again.


A man in my class, who is a preacher, and a teacher at a public high school down there, brought up that the New Orleans children were not socializing with the other kids. That they were not mingling. He couldn't understand it. He walked up to a group of them and asked if they had all known each other before transferring there. They said no. They had gone to McMain, Archbishop Rummel, O. Perry Walker, Newman, and some other schools. If you know ANYTHING about New Orleans-area schools and neighborhoods, you would know that ordinarily, kids from these schools would NEVER be caught dead talking to each other. He went on for a few more minutes. Other people in the class voiced their assent. I raised my hand and waited patiently. Eventually, the professor called on me.

I addressed that conversation. I said, "Actually, you need to let these kids be alone. Right now, they need each other. Because if Katrina didn't happen to you, then you don't get it. Yes. You all evacuated. Yes, some of you have damage to your homes. But look at where you are and what your damage was. You complained about your uprooted tree. You complained about missing shingles from your roof. Yes. That is inconvenient. Yes, that is an expensive thing to fix. However, these kids have lost their homes. Their posessions. Their transportation. Their schools. Their friends and family, either to our new diaspora or to storm-related deaths. Their parents' jobs. Their way of life. Their sense of security. And none of you get it. Yes, everyone here is this region has been accommodating. Usually warm, friendly, and welcoming. But you all don't get it. You're back at work. Back at school. You maybe lost electricity for a few hours. It may be months before we have electricity again. You have minor damage to your homes, but you're living there. We dont't know when we will be allowed back home. My home near the 17th St. Canal is still flooded to the roof. They've only just finished damming it; now they have to pump it. It is supposed to take months. Be thankful that these kids have each other. Right now, they're all they have. And kids from the schools you listed normally would not socialize with each other. This is amazing that they'er even standing near each other without fighting. Give them time. Right now, they need to be with other people who understand what they're thinking, feeling, and experiencing. Because none of you understand what it's like to have your whole life stolen from you. You think you do, but you aren't even close. Let them be aloof with each other. In time, they will socialize. But right now, they need each other."

I was never called on again.

Geoff went to River Ridge to stay with Calie and her family around this point. I don't totally blame him for wanting to do that. I was suffocating in Morgan City. But I had nowhere to go. I had to stay. I wished he would have stayed. It was someone close to my age I could socialize with. I alienated the people in that one class just by speaking up for the children. But someone had to. I didn't want him to leave. Mark was going to go work in Baton Rouge a few days at a time. I would be all alone. I spent my days with my parents. We made day trips to Houma and Thibodaux to buy clothes and generators and pressure washers and the like. He intended to come back after a week, but that enver happened, because....

...The next week, while I was in class, my mother texted me saying that Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard had announced that people could begin returning to the parish according to zip codes that weekend. My parents were elligible for return that weekend. But I was going to stay in Morgan City a little longer.

The day my parents returned to Metairie was very sad. Mark came home for a couple of days after that, but then he went back to Baton Rouge. I was alone in Morgan City with my in-laws. My parents suggested moving in with them the next weekend. I was going to commute the hour to Thibodaux twice a week for school. Then Mark pointed out to me that the JP curfew was 8 p.m. My class ended at 7:30 p.m. I wouldn't get to the parish until 8:30, if I left on time. And I didn't have a JP I.D. I had an Orleans Parish one. I would not be able to enter the Parish. I resigned from Nicholls the next Monday. On Tuesday, we went to Patterson to visit the aunt who raised my father-in-law. She'd had a mild stroke, and we went to visit her. She looked okay, but was very run down. On the way back, they announced on the radio that the JP curfew was being extended to midnight. I dropped out for no reason.

But UNO was going to offer off-campus and online courses. I could enroll in those! The list came out, and only one of my four classes was offered. I would not be able to afford school next semester if I had to pay tuition again next semester, and my father, whose business met the same fate as my home, would not be able to pay for it again. So I made the executive decision to wait until the Spring semester to reenroll. That's very frustrating. It puts me further away from finishing.

That week, Hurricane Rita raged into the Gulf. She appeared to be making a beeline for either Texas or New Orleans. I panicked. I wanted my parents out of Metairie. My dad was convinced that the storm wasn't coming. It didn't, as you know, hit New Orleans. But suddenly, they added Morgan City to the cone of probability. I found out when Geoff texted me, asking me, "Are you wearing a T-shirt that says "I heart hurricanes" or something?" Mark was in Baton Rouge. People IMed me and e-mailed me, texted me and called me, all telling me to evacuate. My in-laws did not think we needed to evacuate. I called Mark in hysterics, begging him to come home. I didn't know where we could go. If I went to Baton Rouge to be with him, then we'd have to stay in the RV he was sleeping in. I didn't want to be there if the storm moved more easternly. I know what happens to mobile homes and campers in storms and tornados. I didn't want to go to Metairie. If the remaining levees were weakened any by Katrina, I was afraid Rita would do them in. I had a major panic attack. I had nowhere to go. I gassed up my mom's car, which my dad had finished cleaning and was now smelling sweet. As the outer bands of Rita blew ashore, I was pumping gas. The wind caught the door and slammed it shut on my arm, leaving a huge bruise. Mark asked his bosses about Rita, and what did they think he should do. They asked if his family was staying in Morgan City, and they told him, "Go be with them."

I forgot to mention my job and why I was moving back to be with my parents. My school opened a high school in a former elementary school in Metairie this year. My school, which was located in Mid-City, miraculously survived the storm. The priest stayed at the Church, taking in elderly parishoners who stayed. They were forced to leave....the parishoners climbed the bell tower to manually ring the church bells, then father celebrated Mass the Saturday after the storm. The National Guard came in and told them they had 15 minutes to get to the nearby bridge, or they would be arrested. Evacuation was mandatory. Father asked them to give him a few minutes to finish Mass and grab a bag. They told him okay. They were airlifted to the airport and wound up on a plane chartered by and containing Al Gore. They flew to Tennessee and were taken to a Catholic church there, where everyone was just wonderful to them. But although the school was not damaged, there was no electricity or running water, and the rest of the neighborhood was inaccessible. So, to get our children back where they belonged, they decided to move the elementary school to the high school in Metairie. It's about 3 miles from my parents house. The Archdiocese of New Orleans was laying off most of the teachers. But with us being a special needs school, as well as the darling of the head of the Catholic schools, plus having such a wonderful administration, they were able to keep all of the 80 percent returning faculty and staff. We were to report to work on Monday the 26th, then would caravan to Mid-City to move everything. We were vacating for a full year, and we would allow a damaged school to use our facility during our absence. I can't believe how lucky I was to end up at this school. Something was actually going my way for once since this whole ordeal began. I would be one of the lucky few to continue receiving my salary and insurance. For the rest of the Archdiocesan teachers, most of them would be let go October 1. I felt guilt and relief at this thought. I mean, I could have found a dinky job on my own to get money, but health insurance? That was not necessarily a given.

However, with Rita looming, was this in the bag? Stay tuned for Part 9: Battling a storm, Round 2.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Part 7: Post-Katrina Blues set in

Recap: So now my family is safely ensconced in the sleepy town of Morgan City. Mark is working for his grandparents, and I've applied for, but not recieved, a job as a babysitter at the local health club. I've also registered at Nicholls.

My first night of school, my parents dropped me off. I didn't have a car, Mark didn't have a car, and I had no other way to get the half hour ride to Thibodaux accomplished. It was strange being back on campus. I'd visited a couple of times, but hadn't really explored anything. Things were very different. The Union looked nice. The people were different. There was a mural in the Union that wasn't there before. They built student apartments on campus. The Red Cross set up a shelter in one of the gyms and a distribution center in one of the parking lots. The nursing building was being used as a hospital. In fact, Phil's girlfriend, who is also a Callie, if you can believe it, is a nursing major there, and she had to start taking classes in Houma because of the triage center. MP vehicles were everywhere. Students, faculty, and staff were wearing their "Colonel Card" IDs around their necks.

I went into the class, feeling very alone. I had spent almost $300 on books for UNO. I evacuated with some of them because I was doing homework. I was supposed to return to classes on Tuesday. I was now taking two classes at Nicholls, for a total of six hours. At UNO, I was taking 4 classes for a total of seven hours. I was feeling gypped and disgruntled, and I wondered and worried about buying new text books. I got to the classroom and recognized no one. Of course I wouldn't. December will be four years since I've graduated. Plus, I was in a new department. But a familiar face would have been nice.

People strolled in, and all of them seemed to know each other. They talked, they laughed, they complained. About what? About the tree down in the front yard. About the missing shingles. About the evacuation traffic. That's fine. To them, that was tragedy. While it made me feel even worse, it wasn't done on purpose. That was what Katrina brought them.

But then...

"I'm so annoyed. My class is growing daily. I'm already up to 25 kids in my class. I just can't take any more of the evacuee kids. I can't deal with that."

HELLO! YOU can't deal with the KIDS? These are kids who may have lost everything, who had their lives disrupted. You can't deal with the situation? This is an ugly reality you have to face. But did anyone correct her? NO. They JOINED IN. You are in school to be a teacher. In fact, you're already a teacher. Maybe, if this is your attitude, you should rethink your vocation, people.

Plus, didn't they notice that there was one person in the class they didn't recognize? Someone who had never been in their classes before? Someone who wasn't in class the previous weeks before the storm? Someone wearing borrowed clothing and shoes? Someone who looked very depressed? Wouldn't you have figured maybe this person was an "evacuee kid?"

They went on to say how they now have to "undo" what the New Orleans schools have done to these kids, to "catch them up" to their own classes.

Being my first day in class, I decided to let it go. I didn't want to start off with a room full of enemies.

The teacher came in and made no notice of me. That's ok. I kind of wanted it that way. She called roll, and because I was a former student, for some stupid reason, the school wouldn't let me use my married name. I popped up under my maiden name in both classes, and for my ID card. They told me I'd have to do paperwork to fix it. I'd FILLED OUT paperwork saying I had a new name when I enrolled that weekend. The teacher was not nice about it, either. I didn't respond to the role, because I didn't think it was me until she called out the full name. Then I was looked upon as stupid, I think.

We had to give examples of challenges we face as teachers. Being the only person in the row I was sitting in on the edge of the room, I was asked to go first. I took a deep breath.

"My challenge as a teacher is that I don't have my job anymore from the storm. Before the storm, I was teaching third- and fourth-graders with special needs at the only school in the Archdiocese that offers that sort of attention. Before the storm, getting these kids to learn was my challenge, as was getting them to stay focused. Now, my challenge is a flooded school on a bayou in New Orleans, a flooded house near the 17th Street Canal, a flooded car at that house, a flooded graduate school, and a possibly flooded parents' house in Metairie."


The professor spoke. "Well, what will your challenges be when you return to school?"

"My challenges will be to 'undo' what happens to them in the schools they've scattered to. To be there for them physically, as I don't have a house or a car any more. To be there for them emotionally, as I am an emotional wreck already. And to help them ease back into life, as many of them will also be without homes, transportation, parents with jobs, some family members, and everything else."

Not one more word was mentioned that night about the "evacuee kids."

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard announced that night that JP residents could have a three-day window to visit home. You had to be out of the parish by 6 p.m. each night. We would be able to see my parents' home in Metairie. Mom texted me about it while I was in class. That's another thing this storm did. It made kids teach their parents to do things. My brother taught my parents to text. Yeesh.

We left Morgan City at 7 a.m. the Tuesday after Labor Day. time-line is off. School must have started after this. It had to. was on Thursday, and we went in on Tuesday. Mom texted me at a later point in the story. I don't feel like fixing this, as I have to make a reading test tonight.

Anyway, on that Tuesday, we left at 7 a.m. We thought we'd have to sit in a horrendous line to enter the Parish. But by some miracle, we breezed right through. They'd quit checking IDs and were letting people come in.

As we drove further and further along, the destruction-level increased. It went from mildly bent trees in Morgan City to flipped-over canopies at service stations in Boutte, to large steel billboard signs snapped in half in Kenner, to collapsed garages at the airport, to destroyed homes in Metairie. We drove in on Airline Hwy. past the airport. The military had set up base on the runways. It was a sea of green army tents. MPs guarded every intersection, as no traffic lights were working. There wasn't much power anywhere.

We turned onto Williams Blvd. Brick buildings crumbled. Signs were damaged or missing. Roofs were blown off. Street signs were twisted so that if you didn't know where you were, you'd get lost easily. MPs and police and fire fighters from many different states patrolled the streets. The Red Cross had some places set up to pick up MREs and bottled water. Every car drove slowly down the street: sometimes to avoid debris, sometimes to gawk at the atrocities around them.

We pulled onto West Esplanade. The old brick apartment complex had caved in walls. Brick walls. Trees impaled most of the houses. Driving in, we fell silent. People who made it to their homes before we did were found standing outside of their homes. Crying. Hugging. Staring.

As we drove towards my parents' subdivision, the tension mounted. What would it look like? We had seen that the oak tree out front was still standing, from the aerial photos of every neighborhood, but that the tree across the street was laying on its owners' house and their neighbors' house. We'd heard mixed reports of that neighborhood....that it was flooded like mine, that it was fine, that it had some water...the aerial shots looked dry, but all of the swimming pools in the area were filled with a murky blackness. We had no idea what we were driving up to.

We passed my parents' street. There were huge trees blocking the road. We went down to a different street, which looked mostly clear. We were prepared to park and walk if we had to. We turned down a side street to get to my parents' house. We dodged fallen trees. We eased over broken glass and shingles. After what seemed like hours, we found their street. We turned the corner. The tree was still standing. But that's not what caught our attention. What grabbed us was the sight of the gigantic tree across the street. It had crushed their porch, their Ford Probe, and their neighbor's roof. The cement from the driveway was still attached to the roots. Go to to see a picture of it. That's my brother's site.

We turned our attentions to my parents' house. From the front, it lokoed fine. The oak was leaning a little, and it pulled the sidewalk up. When we moved in when I was 11 months old, it was so little, I could fit my baby hand around the trunk. My mom has a picture of me doing that. As I grew, so did the oak. When I left on my wedding day, my mom asked the photographer to do a new picture of me by the tree. So we have one of me in my wedding dress, resting a hand against it. It broke my heart to see that it nearly fell, and would have taken out all of our electrical wires, probably starting a fire, and that it tried to take the sidewalks with it.

The windows on my mom's Camry were intact. It appeared fine. We opened the front door to the house and were met with a strong musky odor with a little something extra. It was dark; but we felt the air conditioning running. We had electricity! We turned on some lights and found some mold on the floor in the den. This meant we took on water. There were no water lines on the walls, so we realized that it was water that shot down the chimney, even though the flue was closed. There was water on the floor by the backdoor. Stepping into the carpeted hallway, we realized that the floor was wet. It was wet in the hall, my parents' bedroom, my old bedroom, and Geoff's old bedroom. His closet and my closet appeared fine, but my parents' was wet. The garage definitely took on water. You could see a slight line on some of the things near the front. We decided that the carpeting was all wet because we have a brick house, and the water blew in through the weep holes. We went around the house to the backyard, as the back door was still boarded up.

On the way there, I saw a pile of dog mess next to the house. Then a few more. Then we noticed that it was awfully large to be a dog. It was either a human or a bear. We don't have bears in that neighborhood. In fact, we didn't have ANY wildlife any more. Birds and squirrels, which are usually prevalent, were non-existant. It was deathly quiet in the neighborhood. You don't realize how much background noise there is in a suburban neighborhood until it's not there any more.

The guy next door to my parents is a very savory character. We call them the trailer trash. That's what their lifestyle is. They leave stuff on the lawn, they never mow the lawn, they get in high-volume cursing matches at each other, they raised pitbulls for a while, and they've had child protective services called on them a few times. How they ended up in this neighborhood, we'll never know. They're mean and nasty, to boot. Come to find out, he'd stayed through the storm and had no intention of leaving. He'd been using the side of my parents' house as his toilet. You could see the smear down the side of the house where he must have leaned against the wall and released. He was the only person in the neighborhood the whole time. It could only have been him.

A few nice neighbors stopped by to check on their homes. The people whose neighbor's tree fell on their house came home and cried. Our nice nextdoor neighbors stopped by. We mentioned the feces. We saw more neighbors. Everyone knew. Word had spread. We never mentioned a suspect, but everyone figured it out. The nice neighbor actually confronted him about it a few days later, and he told my parents he'd "cleaned up their yard." About half of the feces piles were gone. So what does that tell you?

The fence was down in most of the backyard. The neighbors behind us lost their gazebo. My brother climbed on the roof and took pictures of the missing shingles.

After we'd satisfied ourselves with a walk-through, we started the clean-up. We had to leave the wet carpet for the insurance guy. But the fridges...those were our immediate problems. My dad and Geoff set out to clean the one in the garage first. They said it smelled, but they would be okay with it. We learned from CSI: that you are supposed to wear a face mask with Vick's VapoRub in it to mask the decomp smells. Never thought that random trivia would come in handy.

The Parish asked everyone to unwrap the food and bury it in the yard. Had they not had to unwrap it, everything would have been okay. I was on the phone with Carol, letting her know how traffic was so that her parents could decide whether or not to come in, when Geoff suddenly came tearing out of the garage. He doubled over in the yard, screaming "I'm gonna fucking vomit!" over and over again. With my mom standing right next to him. My dad lumbered out of the garage after him, dry heaving into his face mask. Neither actually vomited. It wasn't funny at the time, but it's pretty hysterical, in retrospect.

When they composed themselves, they explained that they'd found some venison sausage my dad's mechanic had made the last time he'd been hunting. The venison did them in. Geoff refused to do any more fridge work on the basis that his stomach was churning. Mom went in and helped Dad with the kitchen fridge while we bleached the garage fridge. Dad dry heaved several more times. The green chicken did him in. He decided to go vegetarian right then and there. He reneged on that proclamation later on.

We went into the yard and dug a second back hole. Dad and Geoff dug the first food grave, then I dug the second by myself. I was very proud of myself for that one. We buried the last of the food and finished the fridge.

Satisfied that we had done all we could, Geoff and I went to Mom's car. We were heading over to check on Geoff's house in Old Metairie. We opened the car. Have you ever smelled a flood car? That's a pleasant odor. There was about 3 inches of water in the back footwells. Dad ripped up the back of the carpet and pulled the drain. Back in '95, there was a random flood on May 8, and he took care of 100 flood cars at work. The man is a pro. Geoff and I drove with the windows down.

After a hurricane, the weather is usually cooler. Noticeably so. So this was fine. It was odd, though. It was September. Early September. And most of the vegetation was missing or dead. Trees were bare. It looked like mid-November in New Orleans.

We gawked at the broken buildings, the shattered lives, the crippled landscape. We went down Bonnabel to Metairie Road. It seemed okay. We turned on his street. Trees were down everywhere. A large one broke a brick fence at the entrance to the street. We drove in as far as we could. Geoff donned his waders and walked down the street. He ran into my mom's cousin Timmy, who was unloading pirogues at his father-in-law's house. We didn't know it, but he lived down the street from Geoff. They were planning on paddling across the railroad tracks to check on Timmy's house. They unloaded the boats and found a red kayak floating by. They snagged it, Timmy leant Geoff an oar, and Geoff paddled up his street to check on his house. He came back in decent spirits. Despite the smelly water that was between 3 and 4 feet deep, flooding every house on his block, his house was fine. It's an old shotgun double, and it was raised about 4 feet off the ground. They lost some things in their garage, his roommate Alex lost his car, and their neighbor, our cousin-in-law, Kurt, lost his car as well. But everything in it, save for the fridge, was fine. A miracle. When they went back for good, they were the only people on their block for a good long while.

That weekend, Mark and his father decided to journey into New Orleans using his press pass from WWL to rescue his car from the New Orleans Center parking garage. They got up early in the morning. I didn't hear from them for a while.

Stay tuned for Part 8: Mark and Loy's Bogus Journey.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

More pictures...a real post will come soon...

Went back to Lakeview to begin the arduous task of emptying the house. We have to throw everything on the curb so the landlord may gut and sell the property. Even if we wanted to go back, we can't. In the meantime, here are pictures of 2 months after Katrina hit.

This is my new car. They took mine the other day. Notice I opted for mini-SUV in order to make it through flood waters and to pack more stuff to evacuate next year.

The trash heap on the beautiful walking track a block from my house between Pontchartrain Blvd. and West End Blvd. It's about 4 stories high.

More of the heap.


I think the look on Mom's face says it all.

This was in the parking lot of my dad's BP station. Must have floated out of MeMe's Market or B&B Pharmacy. It says "Warm wishes to the whole family at Thanksgiving..."

The estimate to clear out MeMe's is $140,000. They deemed it too expensive. The food and other groceries are still rotting inside. Nothing has been removed. The flies are atrocious, and the stench....ugh.

Inside Dad's station, which they have finished gutting. They've put up the new studs and are rolling along. Estimate on electricity returning to Lakeview? 6-8 months. Estimate on Dad being ready to reopen? 2 months.

This is a door hidden by a pegboard. Amazing what you discover when you gut an old building.

The bay. They towed the Yukon out, but the Porsche remains.

Poor Porsche.

A hole in the wall reveals the gutted Ace Hardware Store next to the station.

From the storage area to the front. See how slimy the windows are? They cleaned them today, but you can't even tell that's Geoff's red Corolla out there.

These clipboards stayed in place.

View from the storage area into the bay.

Mom and Alicia walking towards the storage and office area from the C-store area.

Alicia in awe of my dad's progress.

On Fleur de Lis, near where the levee breached.

Looking from Fleur de Lis to Bellaire near the breach. It's a small shot, but in either this picture or the next, there is a house in the middle of the road at the end of the block where the breach shoved it.

See above caption

The little park on Fleur de Lis, also near the breach.

More of the park.

The last photo of The Mirthmobile.

Broken front window of my house.

Broken bedroom window.

Broken guest room window.

Broken den window.

The fuse box cover is missing, and everythign is rusted through.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Part 6: Everything starts sinking in in Morgan City

Recap: We just made it out of New Orleans to Baton Rouge, thanks to John "Spud" McConnell and were picked up by my in-laws, who had no damage in Morgan City to speak of.

We arrived in Morgan City that afternoon feeling exhausted. But, even though we hadn't slept since we woke up around 6:30 p.m. Monday night, and it was now Tuesday night, we were beyond sleep. We were brought to the shop Mark's family owns and saw some of his family. They were very happy to see us. While I would have rather seen my own family, I was grateful to see them. It was some people we knew, who were safe and fine and had electricity and were going about their everyday lives. But at the same time, it was very upsetting, because here were people, some of whom never even lost electricity, going about their daily lives as though nothing had happened. We told bits and pieces of our story, and we were finally taken to his parents' house.

We were due to visit them the following weekend for the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. We arrived early. They had purchased some king sized sheets, an egg crate, and a bed bridge to turn the two pushed together twin beds into a king sized bed. When we eventually went to bed, it was a true luxury. We'd been sleeping on my unzipped sleeping bag under a little fleece blanket on the floors of WWL for a while.

I say for a while because it's reflective of our bodily clocks at the time. We had been catching sleep in cat naps whenever the chance arose, and it was very rare that we had such a chance. As a result, we had no idea of what day or time it was. That went on until about the weekend, when we fit into a schedule of sorts.

Once we got to Morgan City, our cell phones shut down again. But we had Internet access. We got online for the first time in what seemed like months, judging by the way our bodies felt. The e-mails, the blog messages, the MySpace Forum my group of friends and I have, and my other forum: all were jumping with questions regarding everyone's safety. But one question that kept popping up was, "Has anyone heard from Aimée and Mark? Are they okay?" We typed up brief notes letting people know we'd made it out of the rapidly declining conditions of our (once) fair city. We promised more in-depth messages later. We were too close to the tragedy, and more than likely suffering from shock. We need to decompress.

We ate our second real meal since Saturday night. I couldn't tell you what it was, to be honest. But I once again ate as I never had before. I'd lost a few pounds, which surprised me since we hadn't really moved around. But then I remembered we weren't really eating anything, and it made sense. I continued until I'd lost between 5-7 pounds by the time I got where I am now. I've been eating a lot better here, and so some of those have come back. But oh well. At least it's because I'm eating, as opposed to not.

The main role people seemed to adopt was to tell us that everything was going to be okay, that we didn't know anything for sure, and that our stuff was just stuff that could be replaced.

I'll be brutally honest here. If I can't get it out, then it will fester inside me and so I have to say it all. Just remember that these are thoughts I was having at the immediate moment, not thoughts that popped up after the fact. I just feel that if I'm not honest, then why do this? I am not writing this for entertainment purposes; I am writing this blog to get it out of me, and to have it for posterity, and to let people in on how things were and, eventually as I catch up on my blog, how I'm doing. If you don't like what I have to say in this place, well, no one is forcing you to read.

The running theme the entire time we were in Morgan City and Thibodaux was as I said before. At one point, I told Mark, through tear-laden eyes and snot-dripping nose, that if one more person said "It'll be okay," "Cheer up," or "It's just stuff," that I was NOT responsible for my words and actions. I did not want to be placated. I did not want to be told to cheer up. I did not want to be told that everything will be fine. Because, yeah, some day, it may be. But it will take a VERY long time for that to happen. And the worst of all was that every person who told me, "It's just stuff" was someone who had lost NOTHING, usually including electricity. Yeah. It may just be stuff. But it's OUR stuff. It's stuff we got as wedding presents. Stuff from our childhoods. Stuff we'd saved up for and bought during the last three and a half years of financial struggle in our marriage. We were just turning our lives around, finally.

Our marriage has been frought with trouble: Right after we were married, Mark was laid off when his temporary job at Toys R Us ended. He went to work for my father at his service station: a job he hated and knew nothing about that had him out in all extreme temperatures, which he kept until the storm ended. A week or so after that, I was laid off from that Newspaper Which Shall Not Be Named. That day, Lily escaped for the first time but was under the house. Three months later, I got the Kids Konnection gig for a grand total of 14 hours a week. I bounced a check the week before I got the first paycheck. Not because I bought frivolous stuff, but because I'd been helping Mark with the bills all along. A couple months later, I mentioned that I wasn't making enough money and would probably have to look for another job, and then I got more hours and a pay raise. Mark started working that summer on Sunday mornings at Entercom. The following spring, when my more hours kicked in, that included me working on Sundays. For three years, roughly, we worked 6-day work-weeks. Neither of us was paid much. We had a lot of financial problems because of this. I went through a lot of heart-ache getting into grad school. Then, things were starting to look great for us. Mark was getting more hours at Entercom and less at my dad's. I finally got my job, and we made plans all summer long. I would be making almost twice what I'd been making. Mark was possibly getting a raise to go with a sort of promotion he'd gotten. We both were losing our Sunday hours, but it wasn't going to impact us financially. I started my teaching job, and I fell immediately in love with the job, the administration, the kids, and the cameraderie of the staff at my grade-level. I was planning on keeping up with Travel Camp and helping with birthday parties at the J for extra that we would put towards the vacation we've been dying to have since...well, since our honeymoon ended....but have never been able to afford. Two weeks after school started, Katrina took everything from us.

I just feel we'll never get ahead.

So anyway, every time someone who was sitting comfortably in his or her own home, or car, going to work, or school, used electricity, saw family and friends regularly, and didn't have to worry about what would happen in the near future said, "It's just stuff," I wanted to bash in his or her head. I tried to be polite. I tried to be nice. But there's only so much a person can stand when she's in the depths of despair and feels alone.

The worst was when we went to a football game at Mark's alma mater and someone turned around with an "It's just stuff." She then went on to say that, "Water damage is not as bad as fire damage. We had a fire one time, and we never got the smoke out. But we got a couple inches (try EXACTLY a couple, at most) in the apartment when Allison came through, and all we did was turn everything upside-down and it dried. Everything's going to be okay. At least it wasn't fire."

I will not say who said that, as it is not fair. I gritted my teeth, stared at the game, and tried to grin, but I'm sure it came off as a grimace. I almost hope it did. The mild damage from Allison was not a levee breaching a few blocks from her home...this was the condo they owned but did not live in. It cannot be compared. If it was an attempt to make me feel better, it had the opposite effect.

I know each comment was made in an attempt to console or placate us, and the effort is appreciated. But no one was allowing me to grieve the way I needed to grieve. The constant news watching was making things worse. The few times the TV was not on a news station, it was on Discovery and the History Channel, where specials about hurricanes and the levee system and the Causeway aired almost 'round the clock. Other than that, we only saw "Big Brother" and "Rock Star: INXS." At least we enjoyed INXS until the final episode.

Anyway, that first night, around 9 p.m., my cell phone went crazy. Eighteen voice mails and 22 texts came through all at once. Apparently, I would have cell service at night. I scribbled down strange long distance numbers and returned a few calls. I made some more to other people, and a texting war waged on through the next few nights. We went to bed around midnight or so, and did not wake up until 2 p.m. Wednesday.

But did we feel rested? Not really. There was a split second of feeling mild curiosity over where I was and how did I get there. Then I realized it. And remembered why. And cried again. I did not have a restful night of sleep. I woke up all night long, sometimes in tears, sometimes feeling panic. Always feeling horrible. It was what I was afraid of. As I slept, I kept seeing everything and reliving everything again. It got to the point where I didn't want to sleep anymore. I wanted everything to stop and to go away. I wanted everythign to return to normal. The nightmares, or reliving sessions, as I call them, went on in full force for about two weeks. Then, they slowly tapered off. I still get them; I wake in panic, in fear, in confusion, in tears. It's not as often, 6 weeks (has it really been that long?) later, but it still happens. And more than likely will keep happening. And that is why I write.

On Wednesday night, I was able to get in touch with Kate. I think this was my lowest point. When I heard her voice, which was full of fear because she hadn't heard from her parents since the storm, with Lance's last sentence to his sister being, "Oh shit, a tree just fell on the shed, I have to go" from across the lake in Folsom at our mothers' sister's house. The two of us lost it. I'd cried on the phone every time I spoke to someone. But for some reason, when Kate and I spoke, the two of us were inconsolable. We finally hung up the phone because neither of us could understand the other very well. After I hung up, I went into hysterics. No one knew what to do with me. My in-laws watched news programs almost 24 hours a day. They get the Morgan City, Houma, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Lafayette news stations. They also get the cable news networks. They did not stop watching it. For a while, neither could I. But then it became a grim reminder of what we'd been through and what we'd lost.

We found out that there were suicides and rapes and murders in the Superdome Tuesday night. We were almost subjected to taking shelter there. Remember what they had been doing Monday night? They were singing Gospel music. What had happened to turn hopefulness and joy over survival into the basest of human behavior? Things were bad for my hometown; they were deteriorating rapidly. Later, it would come out that only one person leapt to his death. And only a couple of rapes happened. And murder? Allegedly, only 2 people were killed by violence once the Dome was evacuated. Allegedly.

Looting was taken to a new level. We were not the only sanctioned looters. Calie's dad is a Jefferson Parish cop. He was living in the Landmark Hotel with their tiny precious dog. Sheriff Harry Lee sanctioned their looting of the Whole Foods Market across the street. People started out looting for, white, yellow, brown, purple plaid....all looted for survival. Police stood at the doorways, watching, keeping the peace. Then some got greedy. They moved to electronics, tennis shoes, non-essential items. Riots broke out. Things were even worse than imagined.

But amidst this unimaginable ugliness, there was some beauty. I belong to an Internet forum. I will protect the people there by not naming it. But they knew I was at the Hyatt, and that I was staying for the storm. I joined it at Danielle's request in 2001, posted a lot at the beginning, then slowly tapered off. I had slowed down a lot in posting...maybe making a comment once every week. But I popped into the Hurricane Season topic and posted what we were doing. We recieved a lot of well-wishes. When I logged in on Thursday, Wednesday, whatever, after the storm, a frenzy of worry broke out. It seems that one person organized a care package relief effort. People were pledging to send stuff to us as soon as I could post my address. I was amazed at what I saw. I sent my address to the leader, Misti, and in a few hours, I started getting e-mails and private messages like you would not believe. Days later, I got my first package. I will reserve some tact and not say what was in each package, but we've gotten money orders, checks, gift cards, nice-smelling lotions, CDs, cat toys, cash, puzzle books, candles, and homemade cookies, to name a few items. And each was accompanied by a beautiful note. Some simply snet notes, and each note has meant more to me than anything else. These are some of the most beautiful people in the world. People whose real names I did not know until I opened the mail. People I've never laid eyes on or heard speak. People from all over the U.S., Canada, London, and Wales. Messages sent from Israel, Australia, and more. Each time a letter or package arrived, I cried. If people were around, I usually held it together. But if I was alone, or as soon as I could be, I cried. These are debts I can never repay. I hope I never have to. I will always love these kindred spirits of mine.

Also happening in that first week, it was arranged to get my parents from Auburn to Morgan City, where they would live rent-free in Mark's great-grandparents' home, next door to his grandparents. The house had been empty since 1993, but his grandparents still own it. They were, as you may recall, getting kicked out in favor of the Auburn football fans and had nowhere else to go. That week, Mark and Phil helped Pops with some maintenance, and Maw Maw made sure the house was clean. My in-laws brought me to Rouse's to stock the fridge with things they like. The house was made as homey as possible, with a sunporch for the cats to live. When I called my dad to tell him they had a place to go, he had to hand the phone to my mom. He was rendered speechless. Just physically speechless. My mom sounded scared when I handed the phone to her. When I told her what I'd just told my dad, she cried. I had to tell Geoff, because she couldn't. I think we all cried that night. We had to send them around the state in a round-about way, because there were reports of horrendous traffic in big cities like Baton Rouge, and they also couldn't get there through New Orleans, as a total evacuation was in order. Phil and Mr. Loy plotted out a perfect route. It took them about 15 hours to get to Morgan City, including a couple of hours waiting in line for gas along the way. But they made it safely, and I don't think I've ever been happier to see my family or hug them in my whole life. Happy tears were shed for the first time since the storm.

I spent as much time as I could with my parents. For fun, we went across the street to watch two football games...including Homecoming...for Mark's high school. Mark went to work at the family shop. I applied for a job as a babysitter at the health club, a job I was overqualified for, I believe, as I never heard back from them. We went to Thibodaux and registered me at my alma mater, Nicholls State, as a visiting student. Colleges were accepting displaced students on "good faith credit." I was losing my mind sitting around doing nothing all day. I had to do something. I took charge of my life and tried to get some normalcy to return. Maw Maw and Pops brought us to Houma and bought us some clothes. Devon mailed us some clothes. Emi sent us some clothes. Karen and Anne brought over some shoes and clothes they didn't need any more. Kate sent me things. Female Blake sent stuff. I was too numb to everything. Too overwhelmed. I never thought I'd have to accept charity.

Accepting and learning to accept charity was hard. I felt like I was taking things without needing them. I felt guilty because I hadn't done anything to deserve this stuff. It was hard to accept. I had to keep reminding myself that I had nothing left. I'm still not comfortable with it. When people ask, "What do you need? Is there anything I can do?" I clam up. I don't know how to answer that. People have enough stuff to do without having to take care of us. And where do I begin with what we need? This is worse than a wedding registry list. This is a living registry. I usually try to change to subject or shrug cluelessly. How DO you answer that?

Back to female Blake, I told you she would come into play eventually, and now she does. We found out on MySpace that she rode out the storm in Covington. About a week or so went by before anyone heard from her. Matt got a text from someone saying she was making her way to St. Louis to see her mom. She was alive!!!! We couldn't be happier!

Except for the Keith situation. Keith stayed home in River Ridge for the storm. No one heard from him. No one could contact him. We sent frantic texts. I can't imagine how Caroline felt. He finally got in touch with her. But his family never did leave. They went to Houma one day out of boredom and a search for food. They had plenty sotckpiled, and they had a generator, so they were fine. But the looting was spreading into the suburbs. We worried. He's fine today, don't worry. But he never once left the city. We heard about him, we thought, from Calie's dad, who was now staying in their house in Harahan. Some guy rode his bike over, asked about all of us, accepted a drink from Mr. Frank, and left. He thought the guy's name was Kevin. He was just delerious from 16-hour shifts.

Finally, our group was all accounted for. But what about our homes? Would we ever all be together again?

Stay tuned for part 7: Post-Katrina blues set in.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Part 5F: F Katrina.

Got back through the checkpoint using Mark's press pass again today. We were going to rescue CDs, DVDs, china, and crystal.

CDs were impossible to get to, as you'll see. Mild hope for the DVDs. Got my fridge magnets, too. China and crystal were so full of water and muck. I emptied all glasses and most plates of their delicious smelling cocktails, but got overcome by the smell and gave up. Those we had to leave for another day.

Took some more pictures. Here you go.

That brown stuff is one of my cloest doors and the face-down dresser in our bedroom. That's the bedspread on top.

We had seperate closets. Mine was in our room, Mark's was in the computer room. This is a prime example of why this is my mantra: "NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!!!" Look at the rust. Plastic will be a rule in my house. Not that it would matter anyway. Our clothes are condemmed. Mark's B.C. Rich Warlock guitar is on the shelf, suffering the same fate mine did. That board? That's a part of the bookshelves in the room.

Part of the reason why my Simpsons figures and the CDs are not salvageable: the pile of rubble. That's Castle Greyskull on top of our bookcases. Luckily, mine fell face down and was buried, so I did not see my book carnage. See my Chief Wiggum on the windowsill?

More of why we couldn't rescue stuff: That dresser had most of Mark's massive CD collection in it. The door leading to the backyard was rusted/swollen shut. CDs are everywhere. That orange thing was a white oldschool computer monitor. Something inside reacted with the chemicals in the toxic water that filled our home and turned it orange, according to Geoff.

More of the computer room. The file cabinets are there in the upper left. That's Jon Stewart's Daily Show book "America." That paper-looking substance on the left is part of Mark's closet door.

The panelled walls in the computer room are bulging. That's where the two bookcases stood.

From now on, no more do-it-yourself furniture. That stuff is too cheaply made.

A shot of the bathroom. That's the dirty clothes hamper on the ground.

That's a shot over the sofa. That big blank wall is where it used to be. "Napoleon Dynamite" is under the window. That black thing is my photo ladder. The silver thing is one of our DVD racks. The coffee table is almost where we left it. Dane Cook's "Harmful if Swallowed" is on the coffee table.

Here's a close-up of it. We call it, "Harmful if Flooded." That pretty much sums up our house.

Part 5E: Katrina ate my life

Got back through the checkpoint using Mark's press pass again today. We were going to rescue CDs, DVDs, china, and crystal.

CDs were impossible to get to, as you'll see. Mild hope for the DVDs. Got my fridge magnets, too. China and crystal were so full of water and muck. I emptied all glasses and most plates of their delicious smelling cocktails, but got overcome by the smell and gave up. Those we had to leave for another day.

Took some more pictures. Here you go.

This is our Halloween skeleton, Warren G. He's dapper. And now full of mold. We hung him on the door last week. Happy Halloween, kids.

That's the lunchkit I've used since 8th grade on that piece in the corner. It was on the table. The placemats and stuff are stuck to the table. There are newspapers, which were used as dams around our doors "just in case" on top of our rusted-out trashcan, which WAS on the other side of our fridge across the kitchen.

That's a ketchup packet stuck to the glass on the china cabinet.

That's one of my overly cute new shoes....they were blue and precious and I loved them. It was in my bedroom and is now on the island in the kitchen.

This is the breakfast room near the side door. The broom was on the other side of the fridge. The dutch oven (that rusted water-filled pot) was in the cabinets with the rest of the post on the other side of the kitchen. Those hats are/were on the hat rack (Thank WHOMEVER we no longer have that tacky, trashy piece of furniture any more..I will BURN any new ones we get). The paper plates were in an upper cabinet.

That's one of our Homer coasters on the China cabinet. It was on the coffee table in the den.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Part 5D: Katrina ate my life (in pictures)

Using Mark's press pass, we got through the Orleans Parish Checkpoint to Lakeview on Wednesday. This is what we found. WARNING: None of this is easy to look at. If you thought the other photos were bad, keep going.
This is Tony Angelo's Restaurant, located cattycorner from my house, on Harrison Ave. and Fleur de Lis. Delicious. It will be sadly missed.

We hung Warren G., our dapper Halloween skeleton, on the door. See how the National Guard busted it in?

The markings on the roof indicate that the attic was searched, no bodies found, by Florida's National Guard on September 11. That means they still had water too high to write on the front of the house that day, as they would later on, and had to reach the house by boat and spray paint the roof.

The screen door was marked for searching on September 25, no bodies found, presumably by Missouri National Guard group 1.

Mark in front of our headboard, which did not move. The mattress and boxspring are across the room on my dresser and his nightstand.

Taken through the broken bedroom window.

The coffee table stayed in place, the end table moved, the sofa floated over the coffee table, the TV is on the ground, the entertainment center is warped and leaning, and the sofa is sitting in the recliner. Taken through the broken den window.

The window Lily jumped out of, broken again. The cover to the fuse box is on the ground. Everything is rusted out.

These pictures stayed on the wall but are all ruined.

A bit of humor: This is the Canal Blvd. Super Market up by the cemeteries. But that's not what it says....