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.

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