Saturday, November 05, 2005

sea change

From my journal, eight weeks after the storm.

Sunday. I had two dreams in which I was naked and not embarrassed.
A NY Times article today (10/23) said 30,000-50,000 houses may have to be demolished.
Several of the neighbors are outside cleaning up the curbs. It's nice. Chava and David are home and there's jazz coming from their house. It's a beautiful, cool morning. Gail is chuckling with an old man walking by. The old man is talking about the house he built himself in Gentilly that got destroyed. It's hard enough for me, who lost nothing but a job and a school. But to imagine everything gone? My writings, my cello my piano? My city?
A guy just emerged from a car wearing a styrofoam pith helmet, a Hawaiian print shirt, flip flops, and shorts, and his legs are tanned. He went to the car in front of him and reached in and hugged the driver and said, Haaay Honey. And they've been talking ever since, right in the middle of the street. And we've got a new guy in the neighborhood temporarily.
I feel something like hope this morning.
Everyone outside is friendly and working, walking to the newspaper box, sweeping. Life here is going on. The #5 bus just rolled down Royal. Empty, but rolling. I just cleaned my truck on the inside. Someone stole George's hose so I can't wash the outside.
I feel good, actually good, practically normal, like I've had a pleasant Sunday and life is proceeding and all is as it should be. And all that is exactly true. I did have a pleasant Sunday and life is proceeding and all is as it should be. This might be the first day I've recognized that this is my life, just as it is, since Katrina. I am grateful. And Tim is home which makes me feel more connected and real. The anchor. Like Penny. I let myself stay still and love him rather than run around as was more my wont.
I'm thinking about that Sunday morning we left and how very different the house is now. The place was a mess with clothes strewn across the bed (including the periwinkle princess dress) and some cut lemons, an empty wine box, and half a pot of coffee and the grinds. Stuff like that. Newspapers. The first time I came back I just gawked and watered my plants. I'd brought clorox and gloves and bags and vinegar to clean the refrigerator and I left all that piled, along with all my other damned crap, on the table. All I really did that day was say hello again to my house and connect myself back to New Orleans. One of the other times I came in I cleaned. I threw away a bunch of things, including my whole damned coffee maker, and I cleaned the counter. The chaos of that Sunday morning we left is not discernible in this house anymore. That hurricane really changed me. I am disgusted by meat. I cannot bear to leave any food on the counter. I wash the dishes all the time. Or rather, every day, which is all the time to me. I've collected a pickup truck load of stuff for the Bridge House. I bought a new broom. I feel the strong need to only have that which I have a need or desire to be conscious of and then to be conscious of it. I don't want any forgotten obscure niches of treasures that mean so little to me I don't even remember their existence. I want to put all my rocks and sticks and bones out on a shelf so I can look at them. I don't want things that don't matter to me taking up my space. Space, physical reminiscences, these are precious now. A lot of people lost everything, everything, everything they owned. Every single thing. Knowing about the state of their houses makes me crazy to keep my stuff clean and together, and I don't want meaningless stuff around me. The world has changed. I have changed. I have had a sea change.

It's almost nine weeks since the storm and I'm writing the last few pages of this notebook that I've been keeping since 28 August. It's Thursday and I still have not gotten "cleaned up' and gone out to find a job. But it's hard to get cleaned up when it's so cold and there's no hot water. And it's strange because on the surface things seem to be moving along in new Orleans, but I sense that things are not really moving along.
Dammit. Two gas company guys were just here (they were driving down the street and I flagged them down) and they said I have a LOCK on my meter. Other people in the neighborhood have gas because they turned it on themselves but I have A LOCK on mine so I cannot do that, and now the gas men have noted that so I don't think it's a good idea to apply the bolt cutters to it. They said we have to wait until the water is pumped out of the gas lines then someone would come unlock the meter and turn me on. Meanwhile, I think I should just sit here on the stoop and wait for the gas men to come by again.

Friday. Yesterday was a pretty lost day. Today the FEMA guy came to "inspect" me. And Tim and I took a ride so I could see, for the first time, the 9th ward where all my students lived. And we saw Lakeview. Where the levee broke in Lakeview the ground is torn up like it had been bombed or like something came and dug new roads. Houses are in the street, whole houses. Windows and doors of all the houses are open and rags of curtains are fluttering in the breeze going through the houses. Oily water lines range from halfway up the piers to to roof eaves. There is unbelievable destruction. I'm stricken. I cannot articulate what I've seen.
It's time to begin anew, and starting a new notebook is a good way to start, especially now that I've seen New Orleans. 80% flooded and I now understand what that means. It's not an inconvenience or a bump in the road. 80% of the city was catastrophically affected. I cannot imagine much of that or actually any of that rising again. Still, I cannot make words. Things like what I saw happen in other places, not in New Orleans. They happen in Pakistan and Indonesia, but not here.

Saturday. My knees hurt and my teeth hurt and I'm achey. I feel funny. I think I'm ill. I'm going to have to get busy on this getting a job business. A few schools are opening in November. It's going to be hard going back, in a way, but on the other hand everything has changed and I will not again have the experience of Frederick Douglass High School. I was there at its end. It's amazing to me to see how things happen. I never knew when I was thinking about leaving Mandeville High that this would be the story. I thought I'd go in and participate in the change, not sing its swan song. But I don't think change (not much change) was in the cards for Douglass, even had there not been Katrina. This might be the best thing that could have befallen those children, even though their lives and families are scattered and lost. But their lives were going nowhere, and I say that not forgetting that they loved their lives. But it's all they knew and most of them would never have gathered the wherewithal to change, much less get out. Yesterday showed me the darkness of Katrina, so I'm glad I had the chance to see the light of Katrina first, so that could settle in my head.
The Times-Picayune's obituary page has no more pictures of young black men who died of gunshot wounds.


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