As I look around the apartment, I’m hard-pressed to find anything that wasn’t acquired here, that dates back to my life in New Orleans and other cities. When Sam and I arrived here, three years ago today, six weeks after our wedding, it was with just a few suitcases and boxes. We left most of our belongings at my parents’ house, with the idea that we’d be gone for only a couple of years. Every spring, I would think, “If we can just make it through this year’s hurricane/flooding season….” On this most recent visit there, I didn’t even bother to go through my things to see if there was anything I wanted to bring back, thinking I would be reunited with them soon enough. I guess the soon enough wasn’t soon enough.
But just now, as I got some ice from the freezer, my eyes fell upon a bag of coffee from PJ’s, a New Orleans business I grew up with. Even though I’m not drinking coffee these days, it’s comforting knowing it’s there. And it’s made all the more (bitter)sweet thinking about the fact that it was given to us by my brother when he was working at one of the cafes, which is likely now flooded.
My husband has a thing for comic books and superheroes. Within the past 48 hours, more than once, as we watched Katrina coverage on TV, he uttered, “I wish superheroes really existed.” I responded with my typical my-husband-is-so-weird-yet-so-endearing, “I love you! I love you so much!” I also added a, “Our kid is going to be lucky, having a dad who wishes superheroes really existed.”
Before Katrina hit Louisiana, we discussed how Superman could have just used his freeze-breath to cool the Gulf waters enough to reduce the force of the hurricane. After the levee break, it was easy to imagine that he, or someone with similar powers, could drop a long steel sheet across the gap, allowing mere humans the opportunity to make more permanent repairs.
And as I read that they’ve given up on trying to stop the flooding from the break, and that pumps are expected to fail soon, and that the entire east bank will be covered by at least nine feet of water in the next 15 hours, I’m with Sam: I wish there were superheroes.
Yesterday, I was feeling like we’d dodged something horrible. Now I’m not so sure.
Last night, I stayed up late watching CNN, hoping for more information on the break in the levee at the 17th street canal – two blocks long. Two blocks long of letting Lake Ponchartrain into the city. All reports pointed to water rising in New Orleans. I debated staying up until daylight hit New Orleans, in hopes of getting more accurate information and maybe some visual indications. But rationale won out and I went to sleep, only to dream of torrents of water sweeping through New Orleans.
Now, the next morning, I don’t feel significantly more informed. Except that the levee break has been confirmed, without the solution I was hoping to hear about. And I’ve heard the weariness and sadness in the Mayor’s voice as he lists all the issues going on.
And one of the scariest indications that virtually every belonging of my family’s (including those of Sam’s and mine, stored at my parent’s house) is destroyed is a headline from a local television station:
Jeff Parish* President. Residents will probably be allowed back in town in a week, with identification only, but only to get essentials and clothing. You will then be asked to leave and not come back for one month.
Yes, I know the important part is that my family and friends are okay. But how do you rebuild from such destruction?
The neighboring parish, or county, as the rest of the country calls them
So, if the reports are true, the worst case scenario did not come to fruition, and my Home exists. My parent’s house and its contents are another question, as they evacuated to a couple of hours away and have not yet been allowed to return. But, the city of New Orleans is still there, despite the flooding and broken bits. Thanks to all of you for your good thoughts.
Over the past six months, I’ve come to a greater recognition of the attachment I have to New Orleans. No matter how much I love my husband and the feeling of home we’ve created, New Orleans will always be Home. From the early days of my pregnancy, I felt homesick – it wasn’t just a longing to spend time with my parents, it was a longing to return Home, to New Orleans. I finally had an understanding of those stories I’d read in the past, of women who would place some dirt from their hometown under the bed while giving birth, so that their children would be born over southern soil. No, I’m not going to do that, I just have a greater understanding of that mentality now. Something about being pregnant has brought out my attachment to my primordial home.
It’s not an attachment that requires me to move there. (Which is good, because one thing we discovered on our recent visit is that we can’t afford to do that). It’s an attachment that makes me never want to go longer than a year between visits. It’s an attachment that makes me glad I got to see the city in its intact state a couple of weeks ago. It’s an attachment that makes me wish I could go there and help pick up the pieces. It’s an attachment that makes me glad the place I call Home dodged what could have been a lot worse.
Growing up in New Orleans, one of the messages I got from school was that my hometown would, at some point in the not-too-distant future, cease to exist. It would be a slow and steady process leading to its obliteration: continued sinking of a city that’s already six feet below sea level, in conjunction with continued erosion along the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps the process would be helped along by the Mississippi River finally jumping the bed in which we humans have forced it to flow by an extensive system of levees. As an elementary school student, I envisioned a time in the future when my parents would be forced to migrate from New Orleans. Somehow, big bottles of Kentwood water are tied into the memory, but I’m not sure how. Maybe I had the idea that part of the pressure to move would be lack of potable water? Thinking about it now, it’s also interesting to me that even from a young age, as much I loved (and continue to love) my hometown, I didn’t imagine myself living there as an adult.
More than twenty years have passed, and during that time my anticipations for the city have changed. A few years ago, I read something that indicated that I’m not alone – the experts that were responsible for shaping the message I got as a child also changed their tune: New Orleans was not slowly sinking into oblivion.
But now I’m sitting up in the early morning hours, watching forecasters talking about Hurrican Katrina and the flooding that will submerge the city of New Orleans. They say things like “the pumps will fail,” and “water will remain standing for six months.” They don’t speak in mights and maybes, except in relation to the integrity of the levees. And that scares me. It makes it hard for me to hold on to the belief I’ve held for the past 10 or so years – that there is something geographic or meteorologic that prevents New Orleans from recieving a direct hit from a major hurricane. That even when we think one is going to hit, this natural force that we’ve yet to understand causes the hurricane to shift directions.
I’d like to think that we’ll be able to take our children to New Orleans in the future, and that it will be a sightseeing adventure with many of my childhood haunts intact. And not akin to the sights I saw in my younger years – driving along the Gulf Coast, seeing years-old damage left behind by Hurricanes Camille and Betsy. I’d like to think that the future I’d envisioned as a child isn’t coming true in a more abrupt fashion. I’d like to think that all my family and friends, and their possessions (and ours, left in my parent’s house) will be okay. I guess the next 36 hours will tell.
Having grown up in New Orleans, where the French influence is definitely tasted and felt in breads and pastries, I am often disappointed when I bite into what looks like a yummy brioche, only to discover that the French influence did not reach all corners of the globe.
Last night, Sam and I spent lots of time staring at my belly. Bean was very active – not in a kick here, punch there kind of way. But in a slow, yet powerful, way. The experience of watching my belly roll and shudder so actively was so bizarre that I kept bursting into belly-shuddering laughter. Which seemed to chill Bean for a short time, but then s/he got busy again. Doing what, I don’t know, but busy.
The visible movement seemed out of proportion to the subtle sensations I could feel inside, but then I would look at my arm – Bean is now the length of my elbow to my fingertips – in relation to my belly , and it seemed understandable that any movement on Bean’s part translates into crazy wiggles of my belly.
Thanks to all of you who’ve got my (and my intestines’) back!