Sunday, October 22, 2006

And the walls come tumbling down

And when they tumble, they tumble hard.

I never, when I started up with Blogger a year and a half ago....which seems like an entire lifetime ago..... intended it to be a real-live blog. I never wanted to be all emo and sad and sorry on this. It was something I could write goofy observations on, and maybe share what Kate once called my "windbreaker" stories in one place without having to tell the stories orally.

But I feel that it had to take a serious detour less than 14 months ago. It served a purpose: a place to put down all of the bad thoughts and memories in order to get them out. A therapist's couch, if you will. A place where, if people didn't want to hear about it, they could just close, instead of feigning uncomfortable interest in what I had to say.

I finally catalogued all of the horror plus the small triumphs. It's all here; from the fear of facing death in the eyes to the reopening of my father's business in May, I've chronicled it.

And now, I don't know what to do. I suppose I need to keep it open. Because no one wants to hear what I have to say. It's too uncomfortable. I have a new gift in life: bringing people down.

At one point in my life, I'd venture to say that I was a fun person to be with. I am not that any more. And on the occasions when I try to talk about it, no one wants to hear it. Or they cut in with their own miseries. Or they get uncomfortable and change the subject. So I have shut down. They don't want to hear it, so I don't say it. Not even my family wants it any more. My mother loses patience and snaps at me, my father comes up with all of his trials and tribulations of the day, my husband is at a loss for what to say or do and goes to his computer while i sit and cry, and my of the last things I heard him say, just before he tried to slam my fingers in his car door and Mark tried to throw him from his car was, "I will not set foot in this house until they are out of it."

The amount of loss experienced in the last 14 months in this area is astounding. People try to say we're moving on, that things are improving, that things are looking up, that we'll all be okay once we settle down. And I just want to scream.

I face a new antsy these days. Antsy for me before was waiting in line to see a concert, hoping to see a test grade, wondering what my Christmas presents will be, hoping to get a job I applied for. But now antsy is different. I feel antsy at night. Like I have to do something, but am unable to. Like I want to run a million miles without stopping or looking back. I can't sit still, but it's all I want.

I may have developed reflux in the past year. If I am hungry, I get heartburn. I find that I must eat something every 4-5 hours. If I eat, I get heartburn. Fried, spicy, bland, raw, homecooked, makes no difference. But if I don't eat, things are worse. And so I carry Pepcid AC at all times and eat and eat and eat, and I have added more than 30 pounds in all of this time. I don't know what I'll wear this winter. My pants do not fit. I bought one pair of jeans and one pair of pants. The rest do not even button. I saw a picture of myself taken about 3 weeks ago. I didn't realize it was me. My face is so round, and my body is distorted. I dont' know who I am any more. My shirts are tight, my underweart is uncomfortable, and I can't button my pants. Shopping makes me sad.

A friend said to me the other day that "We'll all do better once things settle down for us." For us. Us? I know not of whom she speaks. Yes, she has some very serious money issues going on. But she has all of her stuff and a place of her own. I have things I dont' recognize and am still living with my parents.

I go to bridal showers and feel angry and sad. I leave in tears. Sometimes, it's because it's a relative of Mark's, who was untouched and lost three, maybe four days of work after the storm. Nothing else. And I see things given to them that were given to us 4 years ago. And I ache, because I do not have them any more. I didn't even have to like the item. But I see it, and I ache. Sometimes, it's just because here is someone living out life, batting a single eye at the storm, if that, getting all of these items, dreaming, hoping, anticipating. And I realize that here are people who, four years after receiving this items, will still have these items. And if not, then it will have been a matter of choice, not a matter of necessity, to throw it to the curb. These people will not have to carry out every item they ever owned and throw it for the neighborhood and the tourists to see.

And what hurts even more is that when we were first married, we had nothing. We were dumb kids fresh out of college playing grown-up. People helped us. We had showers and a wedding. We were given almost everything and started our married life with a fully-stocked kitchen. Bedroom. Office. Bathroom. My God...people gave us everything from Tums to sheets, from Mr. Clean to sofas. And who will do this this time? This time, when we're starting out with even less than we had before? It's not a greed issue. It's an "Oh my God how will we survive without so much as a whisk?" issue.

Logistically, how will we? We got a whopping $9,000+ for more than $56,000 worth of belongings. It is nto possible to replace it.

People say, "Well, you ought to have a good bit stocked up, what with not having to pay rent and all." Easier said than done. Where has my year's salary gone? Breakfast and lunch items. Clothing and shoes and underwear and socks and pajamas and pantyhose and toiletries and everythign else you use in your daily life but take for granted. Do you know what it is like to stand there, owning a trunk full of photo albums and four days worth of clothes and your two cats? No, you don't. You go to shower, and you have nothing to put on. You have nothing to get clean with. You have to replace it all. More money went into my classroom. It went straight from school back into school. It went to four doctor's visits and tons of medicine each time. It went to gasoline, especially now that I have such a long commute to and from work. It went to having something to do.

My parents, I love. I can never repay them for these past almost 13 months that I have been here. And like 11 that Mark has been here. But we are not at home here. It may sound silly, but it's true. We have nowhere to go. We cannot do anything without being in the way. If we want to watch TV, we have to do it in the den, as we don't have a big enough stand for the tiny TV in our room. There's nowhere to sit and comfortably watch it. My father, who owns the house and the TV in the den, does and should take control of it. But even if we don't want to watch TV, we can't go in there and talk, because he is watching something. We can't sit at the kitchen table, because it connects to the den, and we also hear, "I don't know where you think we're going to eat dinner." My old room is an office, and has nowhere to sit. I wouldn't dream of going in their room. The dining room is full of things from my now-deceased grandmother's place, while the living room is full of the junk we've somehow accumulated this year. There is nowhere to go but this tiny, cramped, progressively dirty room that was my brother's. And the only places to sit are this hard chair at the computer and the bed. Neither is conducive to long-term sitting. But if we want anything to do, this is where we must be.

Go for a walk or do something physical, you say? No. I've tried. I want nothing more than to lose this horrible weight, but there is no way to do it. I leave home at 7 a.m. and get home about 11 hours later. And work doesn't end when I leave. I have things to prepare, things to grade, things to think about. A teacher's work is never done until summer vacation. And even then, it's not done. I spent my summer thinking about school-related things. I am physically tired when I get home. And then I am mentally tired, as I have to be on my feet (figuratively as well as literally) all day. And then I am emotionally drained, as I drive through Mid-City, City Park, and Lakeview, as I drive past FEMA trailers, as I drive home to this sorry little existence we've had to take up. Physical activity, of ALL types, is not an option for me.

As it is, I do not even socialize with people who A. dont live with me and B. don't work with me any more. We have nowhere to bring people. What do you want? " Sorry, mom and dad, but you can't be in your own home tonight. We're having friends over. Hope you can find something to do, especially after a long, hard day at work." We've lost touch with so many people.

Our other friends only ever hang out at "The Cabin" anyway. And they all seem happy and well-adjusted. Even the ones whose parents lost everything. Maybe they just conceal better than I do. I don't know. But it's like life never changed for them. And I am tired of both that and of the "same-old, same-old." As it is, that's my brother's house. I cannot go over there any more. I went when my cousin Kate was in town last weekend, but it was very hard for me. But since it's my brother's house, and that's where all of our friends hang out, I have essentially lost them as well.

All of this has left me feeling so very alone.

And so we go out to eat on weekends, we go to the mall on weekends, we go to Target and Best Buy and Wal-Mart and Halloween stores and the French Quarter, and all it leads us to is nothing. False happiness.

Some people will ask what's wrong, and I can't even verbalize it. Because I get told to cheer up. To just try harder. To wait it out, and it'll all settle. That I'm not the only one who lost something. That everyone has lost something. That things will be better. That things are looking up. That things will get back to normal. But it won't. As I think I wrote before, every time we try to get ahead, something happens to throw us backwards. One of us is laid off. A grandparent gets sick. A killer hurricane comes up and body slams the city, leaving us homeless and with nothing but, literally, the clothes on our backs.

I just finished the 13th and finally installment of Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events." And this passage struck me deeply:

"There is a kind of crying I hope you have not experienced, and it is not just crying about something terrible that has happened, but a crying for all of the terrible things that have happened, not just to you but to everyone you know and to everyone you don't know and even the people that you don't want to know, a crying that cannot be diluted by a brave deed or a kind word, but only by someone holding you as your shoulders shake and your tears run down your face."

There were actually a great many passages in these books which made me upset. Mostly, they involved the Baudelaires missing some part of their lives from before the Series began, and generally they involved Klaus looking at destroyed books. But usually, they were about extreme sadness.

But sometimes, not even someone holding you is enough.

I cry still. I cry often. I usually cry in the safety and solitude of the shower. Sometimes it spills into less solitary and safe places.

I still do not sleep well. I stay up later than I should because of this. But why not be productive in these hours instead of lying awake, staring at the ceiling?

I have no drive. I bought jewelry-making things, with the intent of making Christmas gifts for people. I am not interested. Mark offers to play chess or checkers, and I am not interested. I made a students give me homework, because I can feel myself losing my desire to read one again. I have nowhere to go. And I feel the urge to run, but cannot. I want to go out with friends but cannot. I want to do something spontaneous and fun, but don't want the effort. I feel urges to eat, and I do that. I want to sleep for a minimum of 8 solid hours, but do not. Six interrupted is the most I can hope for. Even this is a struggle. But if I dont' put this down here, I will not get it out.

Now for one metaphor-less translation of the heading of this post: A while back, I said that I hoped that our house would be torn down. I would not be able to handle seeing another family move in and have fun, because my closure was false and forced. People reacted strangely to hearing this, but if we can't have it, then no one can.

About three weeks ago, the day after we applied for a home loan, I drove home on my normal route, and there was a huge pile of rubble where our house was. The cranes were still there, but the men had gone home. I circled around, tears burning the backs of my eyes, my breath somewhere other than inside me, and drove up to the wreckage. I had my moment. I cried. I had my camera and took pictrues of it. I stopped my tears, turned off the car, and grabbed a brick. A souvenier of what was.

Today, it is a vacant lot filled with mud. And I am okay with that. No one else will have our house. No one else will throw a party and wonder A. where the guests will park or B. how to fit the guests inside once they have found parking spaces. No one else will haul laundry to the carport and have to balance the heavy basket while trying to unlock the laundry room door. No one else will sit in lawn chairs out front, dirty and sweaty from working in the yard, sipping on snowballs from Fireman Phil's. We were the last to do those things. No one can move into our place.

And I can almost pass without looking now. But I have to pass that way. If I don't, I panic. But at least I don't have to look at it.

We haven't heard back on that loan yet. I don't think we'll get it. SOMEONE has very low credit, and I think that will hurt us in the long run. I will let you know, though.

I need to be held, so that I can cry. But I can't do it without an audience.

I want my life back. I want my body back. I want myself back.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Dome Reopening

On Monday, September 25, 2006, the Superdome was scheduled to reopen, with the Saints playing a Monday Night Football game. Southern's band was to do the halftime show, Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint were to do the National Anthem, and Green Day and U2 were to sing some songs pre-game. Businesses were shutting down, schools were closing early (ours didn't, but we all got to wear black and gold or Saints clothes). It was a special day.

We tried to get free tickets through WWL. We wouldn't find out about them until a few days before the game.

The game was sold out. The only way to get seats this year is through buying season tickets. Unless we got tickets through Mark's job, we would not be going.

The weekend before, we waited. We heard nothing. Monday came. Mark went to work. He heard nothing. I wanted to go only to BE there. And to see U2. And since Reggie Bush is singlehandedly keeping me employed, I felt I should be there for him. I'm no football fan. I hate that sport. I'm a Saints fan in the sense that I feel happy for them when they win, and sad for them when they lose, but other than that, I know nothing about them. But I wanted "to be in that number when the Saints came marching in."

It would be an experience to remember for eternity, I thought. I was there, watching the roof of the Dome fly off during Katrina. I saw the lines of people snaking around the stadium, before the mists began. I saw them desperately trying to get in as the mists and outer bands started coating the city. I saw the people strolling around outside after the storm had passed. I saw the truckloads of people being carted through the early stages of flooding to the refuge of the Dome. I almost was stranded in the floodwaters between the Dome and the New Orleans Arena. The Dome was one of my last glimpses of the city as Spud drove us to the safety of Baton Rouge. And I wanted to be there as it reopened.

People all over the world criticized us for putting football high on our list of priorities. There are other authors more eloquent than I am, so I won't say much on that subject. I will include links to them at the end of this post if you think that what I say is unsatisfactory.

But first, we have been criticized for using millions of dollars to restore it. Most of that money came from FEMA and insurance. All of you critics in other states -- if a tornado ripped through your town, or a mudslide, or a hurricane, or an avalanche...I don't know what your specific potential natural disaster is, but imagine it happening to your home and your business. Now imagine applying for FEMA and collecting your insurance check. What are you supposed to use it on? Your next door neighbor's house? The grocery store down the street that you don't own? A cruise? (Put aside those who falsely applied for funding after the storm and who were caught..they are scum and do not count.) No. You HAVE to use that money to repair or restore your property. Same applies to the Dome.

Also, we need something for tourism. Our blossoming movie industry is non-existent now. Our convention center has a tainted scar from Katrina, too, and people are afraid to plan conventions here now, especially from June 1 to November 30. We have lost a lot of revenue from tourists and from residents who are too afraid and have packed up and moved on. Many companies have also deserted us in our hour of need. Some, like IHOP and MAC cosmetics have come to us, have appeared since the storm, have put faith in us. But many have left, including the headquarters of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, which originated here. We need money. Desperately. And if we can get some tourists here for the games, then we'll take it. In addition, these tourists, these football teams with their entourages, can come here and see everything first-hand. They can see and they can go back and share.

And while this may seem even more superficial, we need something to DO. The parks are a mess. The Lakefront is a mess. Stores close early. Restaurants are still on the post-storm limited menus. The Hornets are in Oklahoma. The Voodoo haven't come back yet, but are about to. I have now been to two Saints games this season. I am a football hater. But being there was exciting, and it gave me something to DO. You don't know how important that is.

We also need a unity item. And if a bunch of overpaid athletes can give us something to talk about besides sheetrock, demolition, insurance, FEMA trailers, and places that have closed and friends that are gone, then goddammit, don't take them from us.

I've just given away the fact that we did, indeed, get tickets to that homecoming, er, DOMEcoming game. At 3 p.m. that Monday, I had a text from Mark. He just found out we had tickets. My friend Jen, who teaches down the hall from me, was going. She lives two minutes from school. I parked my car at her house, and the P.E. teacher picked us up there and dropped us off a few blocks from the Dome. We walked to it, then waited for Mark. He left the house at three. He did not get to the Dome and into a parking spot until 2 1/2 hours later. Jen and I met up with Over, who was recording Cowboy Mouth's set before the game. With no Mark in sight, and no other things to do, Jen and I accompanied Over to his car, which was all the way over at St. Patrick's Church, to put away his recording equipment. On the way back, Mark called to say he was there.

I tell you, it was more Mardi Gras than Mardi Gras downtown. People were everywhere. Everyone was in a good mood. Jazz musicians were on several corners. Block party ran into block party ran into block party. Booths were set up all over. Merchandise, contests, media broadcasts, food, the GooGoo Dolls, Cowboy Mouth... it was a madhouse.

At 5:30, they opened to doors and started letting people in. But not before they dropped a big black cloth off the Dome, revealing a sign that says, "Our home. Our team. Be a Saint." There was a huge countdown clock above the banner. It was like New Year's Eve, the way the huge crowd counted down together.

The pat-downs at the entrance were dragging, so by the time we got up there, the frisking before entry stopped.

Waiting in line to walk in was nerve-wracking. The anxiety levels and fear levels and sadness levels were high, but then, as soon as I walked in, it was like a triumph. Reopening the Dome is such a milestone. A small one, but one nonetheless. And I got teary-eyed. It was triumph, sadness, joy, fear, and awe all rolled into one.

We climbed to our free nose-bleed seats. We sat down in chairs that had (possibly) never been sat in before. We took in the view. It was still about half an hour before showtime, and the stadium was quickly filling up. The last Dome game I'd attended was when the Colts handed the Saints their rear ends on a silver platter. It was a dismal season, anyway, and it was so empty.

We saw them wheel out all of the stage pieces. The excitement level in the room was only rising. A voice came over the brand-new soundsystem. The noise level in the room dropped slightly so we could hear what was being said. Suddenly, on the new screens in the end zones, reporter Robin Roberts appeared. She is from the Gulf South, and has made it nationally. When her face appeared, the crowd erupted. If you saw the game on TV, you may have noticed she smiled wide while talking and then started yelling into the mic. This was because the crowd was so loud, you couldn't hear her at all. She introduced U2 and Green Day.

They played "Wake Me Up When September Ends," a song I can't ever hear anyway. Ever since we were evacuating and the song was stuck in my head, I haven't been able to hear it without crying. So, naturally, I did. Then they played their new joint effort, "The Saints Are Coming," which was raucous. Even the old people sitting around us were nodding their heads. They followed that with "Beautiful Day." Then Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint played the national anthem.

And then, after clearing the stage, the Saints arrived. They ran out of an inflatable Saints tunnel and down a line of first-responders from the storm. Again, I cried. And the game got off to an amazing start, staying amazing the entire time. I never thought I'd enjoy a football game. But the mob mentality of enthusiasm was too infectious. It was so loud in there, I was holding my cell phone, which was on vibrate, and I couldn't hear it when I got texts. You could barely hear anything but a roar.

I will spare details of the game. Those can be found anywhere. And you already know they won.

In more ways than one.

For further opinions on the game, go to these articles by columnist Chris Rose. He is amazing.