It seems so recent when I think about it. I had driven through the outermost bands of the storm on my way from Charleston to Alabama that afternoon, leaving earlier than usual trying to race the storm. It was an odd feeling to be driving towards a hurricane. My family and I were going to Tennessee that weekend to go to a horse show, and I didn’t want to miss it just because there was another hurricane (it had been a busy season, after all). I can’t remember giving more thought than usual to Katrina when she formed, mostly because she wasn’t projected to mess with us on the S.C. coast, and I must admit that I always wish them to hit “anywhere but here.” When she hit Florida it seemed minor, and then we all kept watching as she turned into this:
If that doesn’t make your throat close up, you’ve never been in a hurricane.
I can remember so clearly sitting in front of the TV that night as we realized how bad it was going to be, how much worse it was getting by the moment. New Orleans was a city that meant a lot to me. My parents took my there for my 10th birthday for the first time, and I had gone back many, many times since. My high-school sweetheart and the first boy I ever loved lived there. My old roommate’s parents. The entire family of a dear friend of mine. That was where I spent New Year’s Eve of 2002. I’ve been hungover at cafe Du Monde. The house my father lived in as a baby while my grandfather was in Graduate school at Tulane was right there in the French quarter. It was a city I knew and loved. It is a city I still mourn.
I went out that night with a bunch of my college friends. It was an odd thing to do, but I couldn’t watch CNN any more and see what was happening. I think we all wanted to forget it, and there was an air of forced elation, almost hysteria hanging over the entire evening. We had odd transplants. Two of a friend’s cousins were there with us, evacuees from New Orleans. Their father had stayed in the house when they left. They hadn’t been able to get in touch with him for hours. One of them kept bursting into tears. I finally breathed one sigh of relief when, miraculously, that same high school sweetheart walked into the bar with a group of friends from New Orleans. They all looked shocked and bewildered. Scared, actually. At least I knew they were safe.
And as the days passed, and the week went on, it just go so much worse. I don’t remember exactly when I heard the levees had failed and the city was flooding, but I remember that it made me cry. It was the first of many tears I shed that week, and it still happens occasionally.
Monday, I went to see a film called Hurricane on the Bayou with Leezle. It was excellent, beautiful, and engaging. It was also tragic and heartbreaking. They had a montage of “next morning” shots that made me cry all over again. For some reason, this was the image that really got to me:
Because there is no way to fight something with power like that. Nothing that can be done. And yet we continue to live in these places and our arrogance grows as we go years and years and years without major damage. And when we get hit with one that is bad, but not catastrophic, we think that since we’ve continued living in these places and we’ve rebuilt our homes that we are somehow “beating” the weather. We build our levees to contain the rivers and lakes. We allow our wetlands to disappear. We stop thinking that it could all be erased in a blink by a fluke of nature.
And then New Orleans is destroyed. In a matter of hours. And it’s horrifying.