Monday, August 29, 2011


Don’t rebuild.

Those two simple words were heard ‘round the world six years ago. But I’m not hearing them today, the day after Hurricane Irene flooded parts of the northeast.

Vermont, oh Vermont. My heart goes out to you. I know all too well the pain you went through and will go through as you slog through your lives and realize there’s nothing left.

New Yorkers who were not able to evacuate due to some decisions of Nagin proportions, our neighbors hear your frustrations.

People of the Virginia and DC area, I know what it is to have a one-two punch. You could consider Katrina and Rita, or Katrina and the oil spill… your choice… our one-two punch(es). Counterparts to the earthquake and Irene.

And while I empathize with you on levels that no human should ever have to empathize with, I am also filled with self-loathing.

Why is it that, knowing full-well what you all are going through, in many cases on a grander scale, I sat there watching some footage and thought to myself, “Good!”?

How can I, as one of the countless number of people whose lives were unexpectedly changed forever, sit there and think cold thoughts?

There’s a sick satisfaction running through me. And I hate it. I hate it, but I can’t seem to stop it.

Maybe it’s because Washington had two back-to-back natural disasters, and those were the people who spit on us, turned their backs on us, and said we shouldn’t rebuild.

Maybe it’s because people sat there, and said, “I’m so tired of hearing about this coverage.” Well, I’m sick of seeing you whine about a Cat 1 storm, people. Unless you live in one of those hard-hit areas. You can complain all you want. You’ve earned that right.

Maybe it’s because so many people claimed we were worthless and that we were hit for being a den of sin. New York comes to mind. DC. And every other major city that got so much as a drop of rain, for that matter.

Maybe it’s because anyone who sat there and said, “Well, New Orleans is below sea level, and it’s a hurricane prone area, so what did they expect?” might be getting just a taste of “it can happen to anyone.” I mean, a pretty big earthquake on the east coast? A 500-mile-diameter hurricane hitting North Caroline, New Jersey, Boston, New York City, and everything in between? All impossible to imagine, yet in the span of about a week, both happened.

We may be below sea level, and it may be a hurricane prone area, but that doesn’t mean we deserved what we got. And, I was here. On Monday, August 29, my house was fine. Early Tuesday, August 30, the inferior levees broke. And boom. Homeless. Thanks, Corps.

My mother told me that a coworker of hers was on vacation and got to talking to a couple. It came out that she was from New Orleans and had lost everything. For the sake of the story, this woman is white and lived in one of the more affluent areas that was destroyed. The wife turned to the husband and pointed her out like an oddity in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum and said, “Look, honey. She’s from New Orleans, and she lost everything in Katrina.” The husband sized her up and said, “Really? I thought only Ward 9 flooded.”

So many things wrong there. First, it’s 9th Ward, but that isn’t the worst of what you said. You looked at this white woman and assumed that she wasn’t from there. I have an uncle from the upper 9th. He’s pretty white. You also seemed surprised that she was middle class. And most of all, you had your facts wrong. How did you miss that so many areas were flooded? Downtown isn’t the 9th Ward. Old Metairie isn’t the 9th Ward. Mid-City isn’t the 9th Ward. Lakeview isn’t the 9th Ward. Chalmette isn’t the 9th Ward.

Katrina didn’t discriminate. Everyone was affected, no matter the color, the gender, the age, the religion, the education level, the financial status. Mother Nature doesn’t care.

Mark told me a great quote: If life was a sport, Mother Nature would be undefeated.

I’m sitting here with clogged sinuses and itchy eyes. Not from tears, but from a marsh fire in New Orleans East which is being left to burn. They are waiting for the surrounding waters to extinguish it. The winds shifted, and the smoke is all out here now. It’s a bitter reminder of today’s date. It is simultaneously a reminder that Mother Nature doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from (since the winds shifted and the smell has wafted all over the place) and a trigger for memories of smells I hope to never smell again. That Katrina smell. If there wasn’t smoky air irritating my allergies (and if I think it’s bad in my classroom, I just have to walk down the hallway to the gym to be completely unable to breathe), I would have smelled and tasted that smell again. They say smell is the sense with the closest ties to memory. That’s the truth. Aryanna and I went to Greek Fest in May, which was more than 5 ½ years since the flood, and while walking through the Gentilly neighborhood where we parked, there were patches of the smell. You never forget it once you smell it. All I have to do sometimes is think about it for a few minutes. I can do it with the scent of my house, as well as the scent of my parents’ refrigerator.

I can’t help this, and I hate it. I hate it, hate it, hate it. How could I become so bitter and still be so angry? I have always said that I would never wish this upon even my worst enemy, and here I am, smiling smugly. I can’t stop. I’m trying to push these feelings out of my head, and I can’t.

Every time the news shows an area where shingles are missing from rooftops, or the raging floodwaters, or people who evacuated, I can’t help but think of two little words.

Don’t rebuild.

And then I hate myself. But they keep creeping up.

Don’t rebuild.

You said we couldn’t. You said it was pointless. You said we were stupid to try.

Maybe we are all a little mad. Maybe we all went off the deep end 6 years ago. But we had something worth fighting for.

We had to rebuild to keep busy and stop the downward spirals.

We had to rebuild to pick up the pieces.

We had to rebuild because we love this state, flaws and all.

We had to rebuild because that’s what we do.

We had to rebuild because we had to prove those naysayers wrong.

We had to rebuild to prove to ourselves that we weren’t ruined.

Louisiana has been populated with rejects since its inception. The Islenos were sent here to give the Spanish some allies when they took over. The casket girls came over to find husbands. The prisoners, loose women, and convicts were sent here because no one else wanted them. The slaves were sent here to do the white man’s dirty work. The free people of color flocked here for better opportunities. The privateers came here because they were chased out of other ports. The Irish were sent here because their parents needed them to make money for the family during the potato famine. Jews escaped the Holocaust. Natives settled here after being run off by the settlers back east. Italians and Germans and Croats all came here for a chance at a better life. Hispanics came here for a better life and to find work. And the Acadians. Oh, the Acadians. Kicked out of Acadia in Canada because they refused to swear allegiance to Britain, to speak English, and to become Protestant.

Our people have a history of staring down adversity. We don’t laugh in its face (at least, not any more), but it’s what we do. Are we crazy? Probably. But, rest of the world, that’s what you get for casting out your less desirables.

Sure, we had French nobility, explorers, pioneers, Natives, military, “Americans,” and more nuns and priests than you can count. They’re probably the ones who kept the state from going completely off the deep end. Maybe they were voodooed into assimilation and became as mad as the rest of them. I don’t know. Either way, we should have been named Phoenix, for we rise from the ashes (sometimes literally) over and over and over again.

The flood of 1927. Getting traded between France and Spain, then getting sold to America. Yellow fever. The oil spill. The two great fires. The Battle of New Orleans. The Civil War. Camille and Betsy and Andrew and Katrina and Rita and Gustav and…

The list goes on and on.

And we, possibly admirably, possibly stupidly, will continue to rise each time something new is thrown in our direction.

So let me motivate you to do as we did, northeast. Let me give you two little words that lit the fires in our bellies:

Don’t rebuild.

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