Monday, August 31, 2009
My City...My Soul - by DMoe
It was once said that time heals all wounds. Well, time has elapsed as a span of four years (or 1,460 days) and many of Hurricane Katrina's wounds are still visible in the lives of so many New Orleanians. I am one of them.
These wounds make me a steward of retrospect. I live life with vivid glimpses of past experiences, and relive many of the traverses of my world in real-time, long afterwards. I am just that way. Color me a glutton for the punishment of my life's earth-shattering moments being replayed in my mind in HD, with an almost habitual consumption for any and all discovered details of the "thing" as it unfolded. While I don't consider this an always "great thing", I believe this concept affords me the opportunity to never lose sight of the sheer fragility and importance of each day I live beyond the earth-shattering event.
I've come to understand that concept more and more in each of the 1,460 days since the levees broke.
Each day, I remember the days. As I spoke earlier of reliving things in real-time, the day Katrina "officially" threatened my hometown and the stark reality of the dire situation, was one day. The day she made landfall, and the hopes and prayers as we watched, was yet another. As I recall, there was actually relief (though short-lived) as she strayed away from the direct hit.
In comparison, the fateful day the levees began to fail, and pour destruction into the "Big Easy's" landscape, was indeed THE day. As we New Orleans' people are so intricately woven with French culture, it was Katrina's "Coup de grace," or so some thought.
I asked to guest blog on this particular day because exorcising these ideas and sharing them in this forum is as therapeutic as it is emancipating. While I will never be completely free, it makes this particular day an easier one by giving you a glimpse of the things that live on within me. Essentially, for many years I have resided in other cities physically, but I have always lived in New Orleans spiritually. That matters now more than ever.
The thoughts I have on the subject are simply too immense for this format. There is just too much data downloaded on my mental hard drive to pour forth on this blog. However, there are things you should know based on my experience as Katrina and her wake changed me and New Orleans forever.
Here are but a few of the things I will never forget:
-I remember the dozens of phone calls from friends who knew I worked in the media. My work/cell phones rang incessantly with "my grandmother/mother/cousin/son/daughter/aunt is at the convention center. Can you send word there?" The challenge then became the balancing act of witnessing New Orleans be destroyed piece-by-piece on the news all day while trying to work, hosting my childhood friends and family at home while continuing to witness the devastation all night, and trying to assist in the searches of friends who had lost their loved ones. Maintenance of my sanity was paramount, but a strange sense of focus seemed to hold me. Thank God.
-I remember knowing exactly where every levee breach, every incident of unrest, every horrible image of human suffering, and every house with water up to its roof was precisely located. I knew to the street corner where everything you saw on the news was happening. I also remembered the proximity to all of my life's personal landmarks and what that would mean later.
-I remember the despondent look on my boyhood friend's mother's face as my good friend evacuated his family and came to stay with me. This same loving woman who took pictures of us before our high school prom, who made us sandwiches in record time before we left the house growing up, had suddenly undergone a startling metamorphosis. She would stare out the window for hours on end. The devastation was shaking her, and her world was being flooded literally and figuratively. She rarely spoke for the 17 days she spent in my home.
-I remember the red tape involved with merely getting back into New Orleans. This was not Canada, and not Guatemala. This was neither the Ukraine nor Iraq. This was New Orleans, Louisiana - in this country.
-As we made our way back home, I remember the camera simply not having enough memory for the hundreds of pictures I snapped. I made the trip with my grandfather and aunt to see what blow Katrina had dealt to our family's home and the city. By the time we were through Mississippi crossing into Louisiana, I had to start deleting photos I'd taken only moments before. There was just too much to see, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
-I remember the 'sepia tone' of the landscape. For those unfamiliar, this is the trick photographers use to tint photos, giving them a stylized look that makes everything a varied shade of brown. Katrina's winds swept so many things away, and the waters killed anything natural that was still in place. For every tree, every patch of land, and every open space, New Orleans just looked brown. Not like the fall, when leaves turn and branches become bare, but it was as if the city had actually "died" in wide swaths.
-I remember as we drove around, taking inventory of personal landmarks. The results were maddening. Every school I attended, every relative's home I spent family dinners at, every friend's home I kicked it at growing up, every park I played in, and every weekend hang-out - were all decimated.
-I remember the smell. A distinct permeation of the air cut through our normal, tropically-humid conditions. It was as if the entire city had mildewed and the feeling everywhere was like living things (people, animals and plants) were rotting. There were so many smells. Another example was the stench from refrigerators. As people cleaned up their homes, the fridges became a running "laugh to keep from crying" joke in New Orleans. The smell from those alone was a unique, ungodly thing.
-I remember the eerie feeling of nightfall in the ghost town New Orleans became with little electricity and life period. While parts of downtown and portions of uptown had returned to a normal way of life, there were other parts largely dormant, and they were frightening. It felt like evil roamed freely at night, and had a perfect dark, desolate environment in which to thrive.
-I remember admiring my grandfather's ability to stomach the things we witnessed upon our return. Nothing really shook him as we drove around. With houses he built with his own hands destroyed, he was the best at keeping OUR spirits up. The one of us who had undoubtedly lost the most was the one who cracked the most jokes.
With these ideals in mind, there's one more thing: There is the memory of the spirit of New Orleans in relation to mine. If you know my city, you know the souls of its people are what fuels that spirit and provides its unique magnificence. As I have struggled with the memories, I am graced by New Orleans' majesty, and its determination to never let that spirit die. That spirit may have been blighted, but it endures. It simply refuses to die, "coup de grace" not withstanding.
In particular, I remember "my city" and its unique kinship to "my soul..."
Here are the things I've seen, heard, felt, hoped for, known, loved and still believe about New Orleans in the 1,460 days since Hurricane Katrina.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share.