I’ve been slightly agitated all week long, with “something” gnawing just beneath the surface. I couldn’t figure the cause of my mental discomfort till late last night when the date “August 29th” hit me. August 29th. August 29th. Nine years ago, I woke up in my sister’s home in Lithonia, Georgia to discover that just as we all breathed a sigh of relief thinking NOLA had been spared the worst of Hurricane Katrina, the flood protection walls breached. With that break, so many things in my life changed all at once, and I found myself vacillating between moments of hopefulness and moments of helplessness. My husband and I did not lose our home, but we lost so much more than that, and in some ways, I am still dealing with those losses today.
I realized recently that I’m a slow griever. Grief ekes out slowly, laboriously, as I feel I have time to “handle” unpleasant and difficult emotions or the feeling of being out of control.
Typically, I turn away from Katrina and Post-Katrina pictures, but I bought the books and documentaries and captured photos for the time when I will be able to look without turning away. So today, in an effort to face “head on” some of the raw emotions associated with Hurricane Katrina, I forced myself to look at pictures of homes that I shot a few months after Katrina. In so doing, I peered into that moment when nature shook everything out of control. Perhaps, now I can begin to deal with discontinuity and change, not for survival but to live and breathe again.
The photos in this post were all shot December 2005, a few months after the hurricane. My oldest sister and her oldest daughter (my lovely niece) were visiting from Texas, so we decided to take a drive to view some of the devastation.
In a city like New Orleans, we’re always so careful to lock our doors, particularly just before we leave town. I imagine the owners of this home, like my husband and I, locked their doors, set the alarm, and left with a few days supply of very casual clothes, fully intending to return to normality days later. Instead, they returned…to salvage what could be salvaged and to have their home gutted…
For me, these images of a home completely displaced from its foundation represents the sudden shift in reality for New Orleanians. This is how all those first moments and months felt, like some huge thing shifted out of place and repositioned itself where it did not belong.
This next set of houses is a bit more personal–
This was the house of a family I am close to. On the surface, not so bad. But in reality, thanks to Katrina, broken beyond repair.
The next two images are of my Aunt Rosemary’s house. She lived directly across the street from my grandmother, so I spent time at her home whenever I visited my grandmother. Free huck-a-bucks, a scrumptious meal or treat were always waiting along with our simply fun and off-beat conversations about this and that. Mae-Mae, as she was affectionately known, played the lottery like no one else I’ve ever known. I remember, once, she showed me a shopping bag full of lottery tickets. She helped me select my wedding dress.
She had her home rebuilt. She lived in a “Katrina Trailer” for quite some time while waiting for her home to be rebuilt. It was finished in 2008. She died suddenly, within months of moving into her newly refurbished home. I’m sure she was one more casualty of the storm. More loss. I remember not crying at her funeral because I was afraid the dam would break and I wouldn’t be able to control the flow.
Nothing in the home was salvageable. Water topped the roof. Fortunately, she had given my mom the box of old family pictures some time before the storm. Priceless memories preserved.
This last one cuts deeper than I care to acknowledge.
I can’t even put into words what I feel when I see images of this house that my grandfather built with his own hands 70 years ago, when my mom was just 7 years old. I’m sure every grandchild did a little growing up in this home. My grandfather died when I was nine-years-old, so this has always been in my consciousness “my grandmother’s house.” It was second home to many of us grandchildren and Grandma always had lots of love for us and our ever-growing families. We typically used the back door to enter the house and loved hanging out on the front porch. She died a decade before Hurricane Katrina (one of my aunts was living in the home at the time of Katrina). Water topped the roof. This house that survived major hurricanes–the Hurricane of 1947 and Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and dodged Hurricanes Camille (1969), Georges (1998), and (our Pre-K warning) Ivan (2004)–fell to Katrina.
I could have fallen to the ground and cried when I saw this. How CRAZY this seemed to me, at first, how unreal that there would be no more memories made in this place. Instead, I sucked up the pain, snapped a few photos and moved on.
I began to see my life as preK (pre-Katrina) and postK (post-Katrina). There’s a bit of fuzziness to my preK memory, probably because I don’t want to look too fondly on or romanticize a time before. After we moved to Alabama a couple of years ago, I stopped referring to life as preK and postK because only New Orleanians (and those many others directly affected) would truly understand.
Days after the levees broke, I went with one of my closest friends, Tarshia, to a mall in Atlanta where she treated me to a pedicure. We took a trip to Build-a-Bear where I “built” this bear. Her name is “Trini,” short for Katrina. I refused to clothe her because I felt Katrina had taken everything from us and left us all exposed. I left her so.
I realized just last night that since Katrina, I’ve been holding my breath. And every loss since has simply made me inhale a bit more deeply. Maybe, with this acknowledgement, I can start breathing again…