Friday, October 28, 2005

the last week in Hammond

Saturday. Yesterday Dave and I were talking about going to New Orleans and we got to talking about why it's important. And I said it's not to view the destruction. It's not. And I said it is perhaps to view what is not destroyed. But that isn't it really either. I can't really yet put my finger on why it was important to go though. Maybe it's just important to be home, to feel the physical of New Orleans. I keep saying to myself it's not destroyed but there's a part of me that doubts that. I think the only way it's going to be okay is if people go back. New Orleans is fragile now, and badly damaged, and it's like the aging (beautifully aging but aging) body of an extraordinary woman, and she got knocked around by something brutal, though it's not a malevolent something, just a natural brutal something, and she's hurt and bruised and broken a little, no, a lot, and sore and she needs to be nursed. And that's what is so hard about all the people being gone. Not only is there no one there to tend to her broken bones and gashes and to keep the poison at bay, there's no one there to calm her and commisserate with her and nurture her and nurse her. She's falling into lethargy because she's abandoned in her time of need. Injury, even brutality and abuse upon a person, can be healed with love. The problem victims face, the thing that hurts them, us, so much, is having to face it alone. Love is what can heal pain. Compassion. Tender soft-handedness, warmth, big wide strong healthy arms to hold the injured, unconditional love. That's what New Orleans needs right now. Maybe now that several areas of the city are officially opened and people go back, if only to rummage around, that will help. To let New Orleans have people again, the warm beating hearts and the emotions and energy of the people. That will begin to make New Orleans okay again. We were also talking about how when people are in proximity with each other they exchange not just energy but other physical things too, like sharing the air, taking something of each other into the self. So the answer to Dave and to anyone else who doesn't really know the point of going into New Orleans, it's not for us, it's for New Orleans. Breathe her and give her our breath. She has loved us and given us our lives, and now it's time for us to return the favor.

Monday. I've been having a hard time sleeping. I can even hear myself talking in my sleep. And I'm dreaming constantly, dreamed that the neutral ground was full of furniture and there were hundreds of blond puppies that all looked alike, dreamed a student begged me to help her, dreamed I was surrounded by Douglass students in uniforms and I wanted to help but didn't know how and I was searching their faces for those I knew and then some kid climbed on my car roof and I got out of the car and reprimanded him. Then boys and men with guns appeared and we were definitely in danger but I still told the boy to get off the car. I expected to be shot.
One of the things that has me anxious is a conversation I had with a woman who had to be evacuated out of the 9th ward. She told me about the water rising and rising and that she and her brother-in-law went into the attic and busted a hole in the wall or roof and stood on attic beams for two days with the water up to her waist, and that her brother-in-law died during that time and she could feel his body bumping against her sometimes and when the water receded some she could see him. She told me about having to move his stiff body away from her when the water receded so that she wouldn't be pinned by him. She told me she swallowed water three times. She said that someone took her to the St. Claude bridge over the Industrial Canal and she walked to the elementary school across the street from Douglass. She said all the "bad ones" went to Douglass. And then someone found an RTA bus and they drove it to Houston and that people kept getting on, wanting to go to Wal-Mart and such, and she told them no and she had had a dream the night of the storm that told her the route to Houston and during the drive on Wednesday or Thursday she kept insisting that the driver follow the directions she'd dreamed and he did and they got there.
After the woman told me the story of her ordeal she told me about some things that she was victim of in her past and I'm thinking, how can this woman still be on her feet? And she kept saying, "I don't know why I'm telling a total stranger this."

Tuesday. Bonnie called to tell me I HAVE LIGHTS! Now I can go home! Which raises new issues: how do I say goodbye? And how do I thank Dave? My God. I guess I didn't really ever believe this day would come. There's so much I want to say, so much packed up raw, undressed, inside me. Things frozen whole. Two months of unprocessed experience.

Saturday. Today I'm going home. I've been so anxious lately. I haven't been sleeping but I know that everyone in New Orleans suffers the same thing. Six weeks of huge and small changes, one after another, and not enough time between them to absorb them or even identify them or even fucking name them. Or even recognize them. Maybe my tendency is to live circularly (except when I'm done with a thing and then I march away in a straight line and don't look back). But about the circularity, it's like I go out and sweep through and come back to my solitude and reflect on what I saw, learned, etc. This has been a big wide sweep and now, today, I'm finally going to have the chance to go home and sit down and feel it, see it, name it, get some percpective on it. And in addition to that I have also to tie this part of it up, this six weeks in Hammond, that I'll never as long as I live be able to repay Dave for. And to say goodbye. He saved me. He took me and my also straggling boys in and didn't just give us shelter but lit candles in the shelter and had flowers in it. He has made this for me a life and not just a shelter in the storm. As much as it was possible he made this home for me. Always in the back of my mind (and most of the time right in the front middle of my mind) was the thought of my house that might have been damaged, might have been destroyed, might have been flooded or looted or lost a roof, and me this far away unable even to close its door or patch it so it could weather the time without me. Then to know it was okay, that was such a relief. But to remember it vacant of me and my life, and with that horrible refrigerator in it...and to sit here, tended to graciously and generously in Hammond, while my city rots. Not dead, not alive, but traumatized and badly badly damaged. Today I'm going home to help nurse it back to life.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

home for the first time week

After the second week, a few days after David and I brought Leonard Earl to Lafayette, my friend, Bonnie, came to Hammond from Cincinnati. She spent one night, then the next morning I followed her into New Orleans. However, the city had been closed again because of Hurricane Rita. So we had to get creative. We tried every regular passage and were turned around by national guardsmen. So we went through old Metairie, where I grew up, and actually down Aris Avenue, where I lived, and I stopped her and pointed out my house. We got onto Metairie Road and going toward the Palmetto Street overpass had to go the wrong way on a one way street for a while, but we made it to Carrollton and we were in. The overpass, like every other bridge I was to see in the city, was strewn with clothing and debris. That was my first glimpse of the city.
We wound our way through uptown toward her house. There were no working signal lights. St. Charles Avenue looked like a path through the woods. There was no electricity anywhere. Trees and signs and signal posts were strewn everywhere. Wires dangled in the street. There were few people. At her house we found the door wide open, but everything was okay inside, except for the fleas (now that her dog was gone).
Then I went to my house. I was the only person in the entire area, which was scary. The house, it was fine. It was fine. I turned the water on. It was brown. I watered my plants, which were also brown. I tried the toilet. I wandered around touching things, looking at things. I was amazed by my house because I always think of myself as such a slob and what I found when I opened the door was not the home of a slob but the home of someone who lived in a house, really lived in it. It was a revelation. And it didn't stink like I expect I and it stink. Except of course for the refrigerator. I stayed a few hours, locked the door, went to Molly's on Decatur Street (which was empty of cars) and had two of the coldest beers known to man, and got back to Hammond before dark. I was relieved and heartened by what I saw, and even though later, on my next several trips in, I became disheartened, I will never forget that I could finally exhale again.
At Molly's I saw a school board member with whom I'm acquainted and I told him about the photograph of the Oregon National Guardsmen in my classroom at Douglass and he told me Douglass is slated to be torn down.

Two days later. Hurricane Rita is about to hit the Galveston area. NPR said every person in Galveston has evacuated. I'm more stressed being away from New Orleans than I would be if I were there, even with another hurricane and even with the emptiness and scariness. It's raining there now and the city is so compromised that the levees could fail again and the city flood again. Of course, there are no people in the flooded areas, almost no one at all in the entire city actually, so that's a good thing. It's just that we've just begun to come out of the water and the chaos and I fear this could deal a psychological blow to us.
From here in Hammond I see a blustery sky and the cars outside sprinkled with some raindrops. It's gray and ominous. It's going to be a weird day, a weird two days. It's scary out there. Across the street the gardeners are cleaning up the park. Every so often the wind goes into the middle of the Pear trees and lifts leaves up and ruffles them. There's a woman and a dog across the street and the dog reminds me of Maggie in her looks and her movements. I think I'd like to get a dog again. I keep saying that and in the next thought I think I want to get rid of my belongings and run. Home. The issue crops up again and again. As long as I had Penny I had a home and she kept me stable. Then when she died I had Tim and he kept me stable. When he left I was so used to being stable that I just stayed where I was. Then I uprooted myself and moved home to New Orleans and stabilized myself there. And then Katrina strikes and I leave home and all behind and come to Hammond and that was almost four weeks ago. And now another hurricane comes around.

The 9th ward is flooded again. People are going to lose heart about New Orleans.
I'm feeling weepy again, and I feel dull, apathetic, weak, beat, even a little hopeless. I've been petty and stupid and whiny. Trying to make things be fine, worrying about how I look, feeling duller and duller and more stupid all the time. I have been coming apart and I didn't realize it. I've been trying to have a life here when my life, I don't know, it's only a shell of me here. I'm trying to make the most out of what's going on, being a survivor, instead of acknowledging what's real. Look at Bonnie. Look at Bruce. Look at Dave. What have I done? Buy skirts, drink, weep, whine, worry, argue. Nothing productive. I feel shallow. Four weeks I've been lost at sea. Four weeks I've been trying to make things smoothe, but inside me I've been anxious and stressed. I haven't been myself. I haven't been real. I've lost my connection. Wayne died, then the eight hour evacuation, the traffic, the brakes, the rain, Leonard, the cats, the lack of clothes, the imposition on David, all the little things to tend to like prescriptions and unemployment and FEMA, the fact that my job is over, that I won't have an income, the question of where all my students are, the horror stories about New Orleans trickling in, trickling in, the sadness in everyone, the kindnesses, the generosity, the warmth, then hearing that my friend Arne died, and then Jason's father who died at a shelter, worrying about Bonnie, the relief of talking to lost friends, then the new storm and the re-flooding, the thousand dead, the story in the paper about Bruce, the picture in the paper of my classroom, and the question of what are we going to do. It's amazing.

the next two weeks

I'm a person who has to drop out of the action of living every so often and reflect on it, to get perspective. I do that by writing in my journal. But in mid August, with the beginning of the 2005 school year, everything started moving too fast, boom boom boom, and I didn't get to write much and I didn't get perspective and suddenly I found myself, two weeks after the hurricane, trying to get a grip and feel my life. During the first two weeks there was FEMA to think about, and emails that I couldn't access except every so often, at PJ's, with the rest of the refugees. My brakes got ruined during the drive from New Orleans that Sunday so I had to have a brake job done (the man at the Texaco, Darryl, reattached my rearview mirror without even charging me for it). There were the neighbors, Patsy and her refugees and Ryan and his, and Kathy downstairs and the dog Greta who disappeared for a while after the hurricane, and all the drinking and partying on the stairs, and the Crescent Bar opening, even without electricity, so people could get booze, and waiting for the Mexican restaurant, La Carreta's, to open, like it was some kind of magic event, like when that happened somehow everything would be okay. And about how meanwhile, during this day to day attempt at normalcy and the human unfolding, New Orleans was desperate. The Superdome, the Convention Center, filled with people who'd not gotten out, and the desperation, the lack of food and water, lack of toilets, for days, and the talk of looting in the city and the burning of SAKS Fifth Avenue, and the talk of thugs with guns attempting to take the city over, commandeering vehicles. And the news was just trickling in and it was all dark, every day darker, and hearing about the city flooding and none of us knowing what was happening to our homes. And the low grade crying all the time. And having no clothes and driving to Dillards and telling the ladies what I needed and where I was from, and the sadness and compassion in their eyes, and the woman in the lingerie department fitting me for a brassiere (I hadn't brought one), which was the first time that had ever happened for me in my 52 years (and learning the little trick about leaning forward and holding the brassiere by the top edge and shaking to get the, um, flesh, in there right). And me trying to be a girl in the midst of all this, trying to live somehow normal in that sweet little town, knowing that the city was in chaos. It's like I was in two places at one time, the most tender and serious part of me in New Orleans, the survivor me in Hammond, trying to be fine.

This is from my journal:
It's the day after Labor Day. I signed up for unemployment insurance and must now look into food stamps and social security. But the main thing is I SPOKE TO TIM AND BONNIE! Tim said, "What are you going to do?" And finally, nine days after leaving New Orleans, I hear the question. And it blows my mind. What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do? Tim made this great point that if ever there was a time for my book about Douglass High School it's now. He made the point that all those people at the Superdome and Convention Center were from the 9th ward. And that I taught in the 9th ward at Douglass in what will probably turn out to be its last year. And I wrote a book about the experience. I wish I could find a way to get on the blog site so I can update it. I know there will be people who are concerned. Another thing is that people are talking about racism, that those people on the roofs, waiting for days to be rescued, were black, from the 9th ward, from poverty, probably almost all of them, and that they were left for days on roofs. Why were they left behind? I think maybe there's something in the story of Douglass that may help explain that, the disregard these children are treated with.
It's stunning how the hurricane called everything to a halt. Where's Tanya and Ms. Simmons and Julie and Monique and Whitney? Where's Raymond? Did he get out? Did Katrina disable him? Is he trying to take care of his mother? Where's Ms. Holliday? Where is Douglass? It's like this is a cleansing for New Orleans. The murder, the crime, the poverty, the ignorance, the destitution, the way the city let the black population slip. The disregard it had for protocol, much less propriety. Plain human protocol, just following a few of the rules that keep us decent, we did not do that in New Orleans. Our laissez faire attitude, our celebration of the playful and the outlandish and the extreme, our acceptance of, hell, everything.
I have to start smiling more. I think in the recent past I'd gotten way too serious and heavy. It's probably because of that job. Which I do not have anymore. I half jokingly said, aloud even, that I halfway hoped I'd get fired in the massive layoff frenzy that was occurring before the hurricane. And now I have been, but by a hurricane. And I don't want to jump into a teaching job outside of New Orleans.
I feel like a big drop of mercury that hits the surface and scatters. Or more, like a big drop of water that hits a hot sidewalk and sizzles. I feel like the world has popped open, like a shell, and I'm an emerging bird. Oh, and I heard that there are 45,000 national guard troops in New Orleans and that a new hurricane is in the gulf. Ophelia. I hope some of my students from last year will remember who Ophelia was in the Shakespeare we read.

There's a train, open car after open car, fifty maybe, more maybe, hauling nothing but chunks of concrete, heading east toward New Orleans, the sound of it over the gaps in the track like old men harumphing, a high explosive expression of a tone, a clearing of the throat as it were, landing an octave down in a kind of resolution, a being finished with the moment. It's that sound all the way down the tracks, yard after block after mile of the journey.

Listening to the radio. On Monday it looks like some people, uptown and in the quarter, will be allowed home. I guess we can't stay, but we can at least see. I fell asleep reading The Odyssey, which David brought me yesterday. I know there's a big perspective to gain. In the near distance I hear a church playing a fake bell rendition of Rock of Ages. There's of course nothing intrinsically wrong with the music but I don't like the fact that churches try to act like those are bells, like from the old world. The woman who sold me my cellphone today was angry and adamant about the New Orleans people here, talking about how they are different, crankier, more impatient, and that a lot of them "hang around doorways." I'd been thinking of how New Orleans people would change Hammond because of our differentness but wasn't thinking about the negative things. I guess that'll happen, yes. The influx of us. Things will be different everywhere New Orleanians have settled.

Looking at the fish in the bottle on Dave's table. The Tetra. It’s a gorgeous dark red billowy thing with big fins and a spectacular tail, but it sits or floats or lies or whatever it is fish do all day alone in a clear glass bottle about the shape and size of a vase that could hold a dozen roses, with a plant growing out of it and blue glass disks layered in the bottom. It has for its companions the blue glass at the bottom, the roots from the plant, the rope around the bottle, and its little surface of air which it sips sporadically. I think it’s the height of arrogance for humans to keep fish and birds in such cages, to keep such creatures in check like that. Why does it even occur to us to keep animals bound for our pleasure? Why is it a pleasure at all? I’m sure it could be said that, at least as far as the fish go, we bred them for it. I mean, does the Siamese Fighting Fish occur in the wild? The terrible idea of lovebirds kept caged for us. Why? Why do we need to witness the spectacle of love caged? Why does anyone find that attractive? It’s some perversity in us. I’m sitting here watching the creature react to various stimulants I touch onto the glass and I think he’s full of fear and bravado. But then I remember he’s a fish and I don’t think fish have either. The thing is, it’s not a cruelty toward the fish or the bird so much as it’s a cruelty in us towards ourselves, that we could derive pleasure or satisfaction from the manipulation of an animal. That’s the terrible thing. It’s how it harms us. It’s how we show ourselves feeding a mean streak in us, perhaps us trying to reconcile ourselves with how caged we are. If we were not in this society as we are, with rules and cages of our own, would we be able to derive any kind of pleasure from seeing others in that position? Maybe that’s it, it’s a way we can come to terms with being tamed as we are by taming other creatures. Maybe it’s a way we rationalize our own lives. This makes me question whether we were ever wild. Have we ever been the sort that succumbed to allowing ourselves to be tamed? Or were we born to be tamed? Organized? Forward thinking? Rational? It seems to me more like a curse than a gift. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be thoughtless and blind, so to speak, and to follow instincts through the world, follow the messages from a designer, follow the design without question? But it seems we weren’t made like that. It seems we were made to strive, to think, to reach, to attempt to rise. It seems we could never, can never, will never really rest, that we’re born to move toward understanding, that we have to question everything, that it’s only in the rising that we’re really alive. That’s probably one of the serious issues for the kids I used to teach. They’re as filled with the human need for movement as anyone else is, but the portals out and up are closed to them. How did that happen? Do we not all share in the same human need and desire, and therefore feel compassion for our brethren? It seems we don’t. Otherwise, why would we let the things happen that we let happen? Why would we allow the kids at Douglass, for example, to remain exempt from the wider world? Is the world not big enough? Is that what we fear?
When I get back into my world I'm going to understand something I didn't understand before. I don't know what. Which adds to the wonder of it all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

type the word

I activated the feature that causes posters to "type the word you see" in order to respond to a blog. That's because the spam factory machines that respond to blogs ("Great blog. I've got it bookmarked! Keep up the good work! I also have a great site in case you want to double the size of your penis.") cannot type the word. And I really don't need any more woodworking tools.

first week after

Then there's how we lived, all four of us loners who lived alone before this hurricane, on pads and cushions and a futon on the floor, and David's incredible generosity and kindness, and Orange in the cat carrier the first night and behind the washing machine for a week, and how worried I was because I didn't believe he was eating or drinking, and he'd panted, red-gummed tongue-curled panting, all the eight hours to Hammond, and I kept getting my fingers wet from the bottle of water and trying to get him to drink and he wouldn't. And then that magic day when I was in the bathroom with him, calling him, trying to coax him out, and he came on out, he just came on out.
LEJ awoke earliest every day and went out onto the porch with his little transistor radio, (because the electricity was out for four days), trying to get news, and then reporting the sketchy details of the worsening situation in New Orleans. On Tuesday, the day after the hurricane, we heard that the water was rising, but we didn't know where. They told us it would take a month to get electricity back in the city. We heard that one could not enter St. Tammany Parish. We heard that the CBD "blew up." We heard that the water would remain for three weeks in the city. And on Wednesday morning, we heard that Mayor Nagin said he woke up that morning saying he'd had a few hours sleep and was seeing more clearly and was ready to address the city. I wished I'd heard that address. I wished I were in the city. And I really believed I'd be back in a day or two.
By thursday the news was telling us that perhaps many thousands of people in new Orleans may be dead, that 80% of the city flooded. That there was lawlessness.
We could really only imagine.
I wrote in my journal that week:
I'm sitting on Dave's front porch. A guy just rode by for the second time on a bike with foil blue and red triangular flags on a mast behind his seat and a pile of Mardi Gras beads on his handlebars and baskets on the back full of found treasures. A New Orleans kind of nut. God, what happened to the homeless guy with the crazy eyes who sweeps our neighborhood? I saw him Sunday morning, walking down Marigny toward the river. And what has happened to my students? When will I see Valerie again, or Sharon or Rene or any of those friends at the Friendly? Maybe never. That's impossible. Usually it is me who decides what will be but this time what will be has been determined by a swirl of wind and rain as big as the Gulf of Mexico that has taken the something (I don't yet know what) out of New Orleans. I won't say the power is gone. I'll say it's this kind of thing that gives people power. And so we will rise. When? What will become of us? I can't know. I can't control it. It's way beyond anybody now. What will matter is that we exhibit what we're made of. It will require that we dig into ourselves and call upon the most real aspects of ourselves.
For now I'm not going after anything. I'm just going to try to live. That's been the hard thing, just living lately. This might be the biggest change in my life. I chose the others. I didn't choose this. This is the Universe wiping the slate clean and saying here you go Mel, here you go, what do you want and where do you want it? New Orleans and that life again? Hammond and this one? Lafayette? Paris? Mmmm, Paris. How could I make that work? Take a thousand dollars and go there. Apply for social security and unemployment and FEMA and take off until January when maybe school will start again and spend it writing in Paris? Four months. I could pay Tim's rent for him and stay there. Let the house go? Burn my bridges? Sell the piano and the cello, the furniture, stash the bikes somewhere, stash the writing and the pictures and my grandfather's letters somewhere, find something to do with the cats, and when I come back from Paris, if I come back, start over.
Saturday was the worry. Sunday morning was the decision. Sunday afternoon was the drive. Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday was the juxtaposing of people and cats and a dog and neighbors and need for gas and who has money and going to the grocery, the line at Winn-Dixie, the air conditioning there, me, George, the tears, the stories, the revelations, the love, the mess, the news, the radio, Leonard and George, David, the sweetnesses, the conflicts, the personalities, the loners. Then George left yesterday and things changed. It got obvious and serious. It's not a party.

Monday, October 24, 2005

unspoken goodbye/evacuation

This here, and the next few blogs, will be about what I've been doing these past eight weeks instead of teaching at Frederick Douglass High School.
I have to start, though, with the Wednesday before the storm. That was my last day at Douglass. This is what I wrote with my second period class:
Wednesday, 24 August 2005. Just read Stafford's poem with them, the line, "Fear will not go away: it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you." Fear. That's our subject. I step into things I'm afraid of all the time. But it makes me wonder if I'm stepping into the easy scary things or the things that I'm really afraid of. Like committment to another. I'm really afraid of that. I think every time I've stepped into it I've found it wanting, but maybe...agh.
I need to plan my class better. I need to write. I feel all scattered. Figure out class for tomorrow. I'll read chapter three from the Douglass narrative to them. And we will write. And talk.
I'm outa here.
I'd just found out a few days before that my brother-in-law had died and the funeral was going to be on Friday, out of town. On Wednesday after class I decided to go to the funeral a day early so I was absent from school Thursday and Friday. Katrina wasn't even an issue at that point so I didn't say goodbye or good luck or anything to anybody at school. And the storm hit Monday. And the 9th ward flooded and all my students evacuated, a lot of them through the Superdome.
So Wednesday was my last day at Douglass. And I don't know whether I went out with a bang or a whimper. You never know when you'll walk out a door for the last time, corny as that sounds.

On the Saturday after the funeral and before the storm, a good friend of mine and I had a parting of the ways, which was sad. That night I met two friends at a bar on Frenchmen Street and we had crazy conversation about dying in the hurricane and this could be the last time we see each other and such. The atmosphere was foreboding. Then I went to another place I frequent and danced and at midnight we all said see ya tomorrow, with hope and doubt. But I was still planning on staying at that point. A lot of people were. But at 7 Sunday morning Tim called to see what I was going to do. I told him I was staying, which is what he'd expected to hear. And he said what the heck mom, you could just go somewhere for a few days. It'll be an adventure no matter where you are. And I said I'd think on it. Then Leslie called from the road, on her way to Tampa, to see what I was intending. I think she was trying to plant the seed to get me to leave. Then I heard on the television that the mayor had called for a mandatory evacuation and it got me scared. The thing that decided me though was the fact that Tim was worried. So I called my friend David and accepted his gracious offer of refuge, and I called two older men in my neighborhood who didn't have anywhere to go and said let's go to Hammond. I packed a few things, for a few days -- about five items of clothing, the gin, the brandy, a box of wine, a pillow, all the non-perishable food I had, cat food, litter pan -- and we put all our stuff in the back of my little pickup truck, and I put my feral cat, Orange, in a plastic cat carrier (and he was hysterical and clawing and I told both of the old men with me that if I couldn't get the cats out I wasn't leaving) but he calmed down, and I put my other cat, Princess, in a pillow case, and LEJ and I and the two cats packed ourselves into the cab of the truck, George and his dog Panda in his car behind us, and we headed east to go west to Hammond. LEJ sat with Orange in the cat carrier on his lap and Princess in the bag, howling, between us, and George in my side view mirror. Princess ripped her way out of the pillow case about twenty minutes after we started and so was loose in the truck, panting and howling, trying to get under my feet, for the eight hours it took us to get to Hammond, five of which were in rain and one in a blinding storm that fogged my glass beyond the capability of my defroster to correct, so I had to drive and wipe the windshield constantly with the only dry thing in the truck, toilet paper. Poor Orange was terrified and overheated and curled up in the corner of the plastic box for eight hours. My air conditioner wasn't working so the windows were halfway down and it was hot and noisy and I kept cupping water in my hand and opening the cat carrier to try to give it to him (while I was also driving) but he wouldn't have any of it.
I don't remember the rest of the night except that we got to Dave's about 7 PM in a moderate condition of shock. The clothes I tried to put on (the ones I was wearing were soaked) were also wet from being in the back of the truck.
Eventually, George went to Boca Raton and LEJ went to Lafayette. Princess and Orange and I stayed with David for six weeks.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

paraders

A year and a month ago I wrote in this blog that my son, Tim, was moving to Paris. I haven't seen him since then. He's coming home tonight, to stay for two weeks.
But besides that, there are other things to think about. I've been wanting to write in this blog but because I haven't been teaching, I didn't know what to write. Cassandra telephoned me today and we talked about that and she made the point that the reason I'm not teaching right now is very significant and that perhaps I could write about that. And so I shall. Thank you, Cassandra.
Katrina struck eight weeks ago this coming Monday. All the students that Frederick Douglass High School served scattered. There is no more 9th ward or lower 9th ward, and there's only a partial 8th ward. I wonder what happens when the 9th ward students meet the 8th ward students in Dallas, for example? In New Orleans we'd call that a ward fight. I'm wondering if they're still fighting?
Today I spoke with Linda G, a student I wrote a lot about in last year's blog. She called and left a message for me yesterday from California. She gave me the skinny on a lot of my students. That's why she was calling. And also to check on me. She said she was worried about me. I found out that most of the kids she and I had in common with each other are in Texas. One of them had her baby, a girl. Several of them Linda saw on the news right after the storm, at the Superdome. One of those was a girl who gave me a hard time last year, about whom I wrote quite a bit. I can just imagine her being at the Superdome and some National Guardsman with an M16 and steel-toed boots telling her what to do. Wow! I KNOW those Oregonians never heard a girl speak like I do not doubt she spoke to them. I believe Linda said this girl was in the Superdome for five days, tending to her mother. This girl, EN, is the girl who cursed me out, threw her writings on the floor, and left my classroom, and I chased her down the hall. It was so explosive and out of control that I knew something else was going on with her and I tried to get her to come back and talk to me, or at least let me help her to someone else she could talk to. But I got another fuck you for that. Anyway, one of her friends told me there was a big problem with EN's mother, but that's all I ever knew. The other kids made remarks to EN about her mother's crack habit, so maybe it was that. Anyway, she was on the national news outside the Superdome.
A lot of people say they're never coming back to New Orleans, but I don't think that's possible. The world out there is not like New Orleans, which is good and bad. It's good for the people who needed to get unstuck and out of here, but it's bad for the people who love the city. Like Linda. She said there's no city like this on the planet.
I'm extremely scattered. For eight weeks now it has been one emergency after another, in a city that is much worse off than the news is able to show. Life here is nothing but emergency. And everyone is in shock. And most people are deeply sad. Personally, my life (I'm home, have been for two weeks. Before returning to stay I snuck in five times, just to be here.) my life is easy, but lonely. I haven't been able to make words of my feelings or of anything. Yesterday I bought a new refrigerator (the old one is down the block, duct-taped, full of food that has been in it for eight weeks without coolness...
nine people, two of them drumming, just paraded down Royal Street past my house, right past all the refrigerators...
Where was I? About to get maudlin. And then comes a parade.
We are going to have the most unbelievable Mardi Gras this year. Pass the word.

Melanie