Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Part 20: It was a day

"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, when that's where you left your heart?... The moonlight on the bayou.......a creole tune.... that fills the air...I dream... about magnolias in bloom......and I’m wishin’ I was there" - Louis Armstrong

Yesterday was a rough, rough day. But it was a day. As our school president said at our staff meeting, "People keep saying, 'Do you remember what you were doing a year ago at this time?' And I do. It's all so clear." Here, everyone in the group nodded and murmured noises of assent. "And it raised my anxiety levels. And really, it's just another day."

Yes, my anxieties were raised. But the difference is, it's like what I imagine acid flashbacks and 'Nam flashbacks are like. Most of the people who say these things are not the ones who were here on the front lines. Most of these people don't have to drive through their rotted shell of a neighborhood to and from work every day. Most of these people left the city before, not after, the storm, and did it of their own accord.

This drive is killing part of me every day. It's bad enough that it takes half an hour to get to work in the morning. It's even worse that it takes an hour in the evening to get home. But to have to pass through my neighborhood.... and City Park.... retracing the route I used to take a year ago... and there's no way around it. At the very least, I'd have to pass through the Park or around the Park. My school is on the other side of it. City Park is a ghost of what it was. It looks like undeveloped land. It's not really grass -- it's the rough, nasty weeds that sprouted once things started growing again. The trees, the ones that remain, at least, are brownish. They all have missing limbs. The golf courses are a wreck, and you can see the New Orleans Museum of Art a lot easier than you could before.

The houses in my school's neighborhood are all tainted with X's. The same type of X that appears on my own home: the top bears the date the hosue was searched; the right bears the number of hazards found...or survivors, in some cases; the left bears the squadron which conducted the search; the bottom bears the number of found bodies.

I have not found one of those. I hear of them. I try not to look, but I also do look. My parents know where some are in Lakeview. Apparently, on Canal Blvd., near I-10, there's a house with a 2.

Several of the houses on my block have holes in the rooftops. Rescue holes? Holes people made from inside? Some look like they were from the inside. Others look like they were done with a tool from the outside.

I pass so near to my home, and if I am in the region, I cannot help but pass it. It's not ours any more. We got our deposit back. We pulled everything out. It has been gutted. We do not own the property. It is our landlord's house once more. But if I am driving nearby and I don't pass it, I HAVE to pass it. I cannot miss it. If I do, I get panicky. I have to schedule in a stop.

You know, I keep hearing from people how they admire me and my strengths. They tell me how strong I am. But I don't see it. I can't understand it. If I were stronger, I would be able to avoid the house. I would be able to drive to work without a "happy CD." I had Mark make me a CD of fun songs to listen to so that I can't get caught listening to something sad while I take the misery tour. He offered "Good Life" by Weezer. I love that song and said okay, but then panicked and told him he wasn't allowed to put it on.

"Excuse the bitchin', I shouldn't complain/I should have no feeling, 'cause feeling is pain/As everything I need, is denied me/And everything I want, is taken away from me/But who do I got to blame? Nobody but me...

"…And I don't wanna be an old man anymore/It's been a year or two since I was out on the floor/Shakin' booty, makin' sweet love all the night/It's time I got back to the Good Life/It's time I got back, it's time I got back/And I don't even know how I got off the track/I wanna go back…Yeah!

"Screw this crap, I've had it! I ain't no Mr. Cool/I'm a pig, I'm a dog, so 'scuse me if I drool/I ain't gonna hurt nobody, ain't gonna 'cause a scene/I just need to admit that I want sugar in my tea/Hear me? Hear me? I want sugar in my tea!"

If I am so strong, then why do I feel so down all of the time? Why do I break down in the shower where no one can hear me? Why do I have panic attacks? Why can't I sleep any more? Why do I lash out at everyone? Why can't I just feel happy for one day? That's all I ask.

I am no hero. Those with the boats who rescued even just one person, or as many as 200, those are heroes. The doctors and nurses who walked around on IVs so their patients could eat and drink are heroes. Those who stayed home and climbed into their attics or onto their rooftops, waiting in heat beyond heat for help that wasn't coming? They are brave. Those who stood up to looters are brave. Those who boldly came down here to help, be it gutting a home or serving food or patrolling our streets are brave and heroic.

I sat in a building with power thanks to a generator. I had to have help carrying a cat carrier down pitch black stairs. I had to seek a ride to safety from someone. I had to stand in lines for FEMA and Red Cross money. I had to live with my in-laws. I still have to live with my parents. I had to accept gifts and money from virtual strangers. I had to wear donated clothes. I had to argue with the Insurance people just to get a piddling amount on our renter's insurance. I am no hero. I am not brave.

"You've probably heard that many of us stayed behind. As bad as it is, many of us cannot fathom a life outside of our border, out in that place we call Elsewhere. The only way you could understand that is if you have been there, and so many of you have. So you realize that when you strip away the craziness and bars and parades and music and architecture and all that hooey, really, the best thing about where we come from is us" --Chris Rose, The Times-Picayune

I stayed because I had to. I came back because I had to. It is too scary to go somewhere else. Away from the family and friends who returned. Away from the food and the culture that I know. I cannot imagine a world with white gravy and bland crabs. I cannot imagine a parade where you just watch a float roll by, never interacting with the riders. I cannot imagine a state without politicians named "Junior" and "T-Boy." I am too afraid to meet normal. And so I stay.

We were instructed to keep the day as normal as possible for the students. We had a list of assigned journal topics, all with positive slants. The only special thing that happened was that we had a prayer service at school. It's a Catholic school, so it's almost required of us. We met in our Church at 2 p.m. They sang "Our God is an Awesome God." They read the parable of Jesus calming a storm (or something, I don't know. I'm not a practicing Catholic.). Children got up to read special thank yous in place of their intentions. Some thanked cities that helped them. Some thanked God that they were alive. They sang "Sing a New Song." They had another reading. They ended with some closing thoughts from the high school religion teacher. They closed with "I've Got That Joy." They sent us to the cafeteria for snacks. They gave 200 kids, most with ADHD, cookies and Coke. I don't know whose bright idea that was, but we had 20 minutes left to the day after that, and it was rough.

And that was it.

I went home. Traffic was easy. Many people may have stayed home. I wanted to, but I knew I couldn't. I would sit in front of the TV all day and relive it.

One local station aired 18 hours of continuous coverage. At our staff meeting, one of the teachers said that she thought it was wrong: OTHER STATES should have shown that much coverage. We have daily reminders. We don't need to be reminded.

I'm going to keep chronicling life in the New New Orleans. If I stop, you'll think we've stopped and that everything is okay. But it's not. We have so far to go. In Jefferson Parish, life is almost back to normal. My parents, for example, got their new roof, their bedroom sheetrock, the molding in their bedroom, the walls freshly painted, the den ceiling crack repaired, the fence restabilized, and their sidewalk and driveway replaced. We're pretty much down to waiting on carpet. It took 11 months to get that far, but it happened. Stores are staying open later, and restaurants are bringing back more of their pre-hurricane menus. You may remember I discussed how restaurants have been operating on shorter "hurricane menus."

But east of the 17th Street Canal, it's a whole other warzone. My dad is still pretty much the only game in town. The houses are still pretty much empty. My friend's parents just knocked down his childhood home in Lakeview last week. I can't imagine what that was like. They went to watch it. He said he overheard someone say, "I bet there are a lot of memories in those bedrooms." Dammit. How can you only think of that as you are watching a family's hopes and dreams get bulldozed into oblivion? I bet there were a lot of memories in those bedrooms...and front yard...and porch...and hallway...and kitchen...and den...and bathrooms...and back yard....and shed....and each and every spot of land.

You try watching the sum of your married life pile up on your front lawn, where curious people stop to stare and see what you had. It's all a big soggy pile, taller than you and as long as your house, then wraps around to the front of the hosue. And this is after it's already been picked up once. You find the dress you wore when your husband proposed to you discolored and moldy beyond recognition. You find that book that was your favorite as a child, that is now a soggy cover filled with brown pulp in the muck that was your office/guest room. You find that picture of your brother and brother-in-law still hanging on the wall somehow, but that now looks like a swirl art painting. You find your childhood stuffed animals in a puddle of God knows what. And then you stand there and say "I bet there are a lot of memories in those bedrooms." And then you throw yourself into the lake because you have no soul, so why bother living, scumbag.

We watched, or tried to watch, Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke" last night. We were recroding it. Forty minutes into the first hour, we lost electricity. No reason. Was Entergy trying to commemmorate the day all of the lights went out? Cruel joke if they were. I made Mark bring me to get ice cream. It was one of those days.

But they're all one of those days. I lost 5 pounds immediately after the storm. Then I gained about 25. I don't look like me. I don't like it. I could work out at the JCC. But I can't motivate myself. I am too tired, mentally and physically, and too upset over my long drive home. We get off duty at 4:15, and then I have to drive an hour home. At that point, I just want to be home.

And I turn to food.

I don't want Katrina to define my life. I want to move on. But it is so hard. I want a happy day. I want a blog that's zany. But my life is defined by her, and try as I might, I can't separate from her. I am reminded every morning that it happened from the moment I open my eyes, and I keep it up all day. Sometimes, when I sleep, I move on. Sometimes, she still haunts my dreams. She will be with me forever. My albatross.

I want to go home.

"She is a New Orleans girl and New Orleans girls never live anywhere else and even if they do, they always come back. That's just the way it is." -Chris Rose


shelly said...

Wow. *hugs*

misti said...

So many thoughts and feelings. It's ok not to be able to move on yet. It's ok to feel lost still, to need to drive by the house and see it. Eventually that will fade. It'll be a twice a week thing, once a month, once a year and then you won't need it. How long will that take? Who knows? But it's ok now because that is how you are coping. You aren't the only one, I'm sure, feeling this way. Keep on writing and letting things out.