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

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