Photo by David Rae Morris, part of his gallery “Mr.G. and the Rev.”
Posted on the Lagniappe page at his site.
â€¢ The beloved heard this commentary, “Dear New Orleans: I’m Leaving You,” by Eve Troeh on NPR the other day. Eve said,
Now I’m a jilted lover of the city. I’m angry and confused. Which is the real New Orleans? The one that’s violent and desperate? Or the one that coos softly, and caresses me? The answer, of course, is both.
Here’s the rest of it in print form.
â€¢ This morning our daughter wanted to wear her Uma Rae pants, which may, or may not, have been worn by my dear friend’s daughter the day they hauled all their most precious belongings out of the city in advance of Katrina. They only had room for one of their two cats; the one who stayed survived the storm, but wandered away to die with dignity on her own, of old age, about a year later. The other was killed by a dog some half a year after that. Both seem like apt stories of the Upper Ninth Ward, their home.
Uma Rae has grown out of the pants, two years later. Today they fit our girl like a glove.
â€¢ That same friend packed up her New Orleans life a few weeks back and moved North to Ohio, to a new job and a new life with her family. The irony is bittersweet, given her partner’s dad, native son of the south, wrote a legendary book with the title North Toward Home. She sent us a box of hand-me-downs before they left town for about the same exact reasons as Eve Troeh left, thankfully minus the personal attack. I can’t imagine the mix of feelings in her heart today. Relief/sorrow/relief.
â€¢ Meanwhile, far to the west of the Mississippi delta, my sister’s son had his first day of school at my elementary school alma mater. Same as any first day of school, perhaps, with one stark exception: the last time he was at that school, it was weeks after his ten-year-old older brother’s death from brain and spinal cord cancer. I escorted him to his classroom as my sister stood in the playground, standing with her arms folded across her chest, talking to other mothers.
Her going to school that day — the epicenter of support for her family during her eldest son’s cancer battle — was one of the most courageous acts I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Most every other breathtaking act of courage I’ve seen took place in her home or sometimes our local Children’s Hospital during the previous ten months. Usually it was her. Her hair is nearly all white now; she’s forty-six.
Since that time, for just over two years, the family has been in Scandanavia, where both boys and their father were born. This summer they have finally come back to resume their lives in the house I grew up in, in the town my sister and her surviving son call home.
On the phone last night, I asked my nephew about his first day of school. He said he recognized some of the faces from Kindergarten. He said that his best friend from the old neighborhood is in his class. He said they ate together at lunch, and jogged together at P.E.
“But we didn’t talk much,” he said. “We needed to catch our breath.”
6 thoughts on “Dispatches two years out: leaving and coming home.”
Some further reading, about Katrina at two.
â€¢ Ari Kelman, in AlterNet: Hurricane Katrina: Who’s to Blame for this Unnatural Disaster (book reviews).
â€¢ Walter Mosley, in The Nation: Shouting Underwater (heartfelt commentary).
â€¢ Katrina: Two Years Later, coverage by the Pulitzer Prizewinning New Orleans Times-Picayune. [added the next day]
Thank you for the picture, links and stories. I’m heading home to New Orleans tomorrow, 9 months after the last trip back. Many places are looking good again, but that only serves to make the punch in the gut even more severe when you round *that* corner and see that nothing has changed, or search for *that* favorite haunt that is long gone, or hear the about fighting that people still have to do, just to get by. Worse than that? Hearing that same fight go out of their tone and seeing the flicker go out of their eyes. Needing to catch our breath, indeed.
Vaya con dios, Alicia. My sister’s family’s battle (or the first chapter of it) took place so far away from the Mississippi Delta, and was just closing as Katrina made landfall. But I’ve tried many times to imagine what it would feel like, to extend the feeling of our family’s trauma and loss outward across an entire city and geographical region, and couple it with widespread physical devastation and a sense of betrayal by the government. I can’t imagine.
This morning, I was sent the link to this video:
I’m sure you have probably seen it but it is a powerful little piece. A powerful little piece to add to your powerful little piece here…
Thank you, Vikki. I hadn’t. Just posted it for today as an All Points Bulletin. After I signed the petition.
Thank you for the rememberence of Katrina. We get so desensitized by the constant travesty that such once heavy losses become muted background noise. But it’s still there – the pain, the destruction, the rebirth. I lived in New Orleans for 4 years, 2 years of grad school, and 2 years thereafter. Many friends lost everything. SEveral left and never came back. Several have stayed and are moving on with their lives. All, including those survivors whom I had the blessing of tending to at the Convention center in Houston as a volunteer post-evacuation, are “family” to me, held close to my heart.