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.


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