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.


Misti said...

Hi there! Just catching up on your story. Hope you are well.

DevS said...

Every time I read this, my heart breaks all over again. I am coming down in February...and I cannot wait!