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."

Silence.

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. Wait...my time-line is off. School must have started after this. It had to. Yeah...school 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 www.frobba.com 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.

1 comment:

Misti said...

Good for you to stand up to all the others in the class!

And I can't believe that neighbor! UGH!