This is a bit of a self-indulgent entry: a year plus afterward I am finally writing a bit on Hurricane Katrina. Why? Because on Jimmy Buffet's new album, "Take the Weather With You," he sang a song dedicated to the victims -- I hate that word, by the way. Victims people who've been murdered or raped ... something that happened to ME doesn't seem like it should have VICTIMS -- and it pretty much captured what was necessary to do, to survive. We had to move on.
After the storm hit I wrote here about the immediate circumstances of my family and friends but I've never really dealt with any kind of grief over the subject. That's because I don't have any, not really -- the circumstances were too overwhelming for me to feel anything, even after nearly fifteen months. The number of people that died, the sheer unfairness and tragedy and fear that the even caused will never really be real to me because in those first few days I worked so hard to block it all out.
I slept a lot, prayed a lot, and cried a lot while we waited it out in Pensacola -- near enough for there to be strong winds and rain but not near enough to experience the terror of being in the middle of it as some of my friend were. I remember little things, like the pattern of the hotel's comforter and what my Nana was wearing and the fact that my baby cousin was sick. We stayed in a room with this huge window that covered a whole wall side-to-side and across the street from it was a place where they kept cinder blocks, piles of them big enough that the adults in our family were worried for our safety should the winds kick up more than they did. A power converter blew above the window and we were afraid it would cause a fire -- as it was, it knocked out the power and forced my mother to flee to the hospital with my two special-needs brothers, who could not handle the heat. The entire time, as the weather worsened in Florida we all knew that it was worse in Pascagoula where my father had stayed with every other police officer. Luckily his phone company was the only one whose towers stayed up consistently, and we could talk to him though the sound was spotty and it was hard to get through the clogged lines. The Pascagoula Police Department remained active throughout the storm, unlike every other department in the area. When their generators flooded, they dragged a motorcycle upstairs to use it's radio for dispatch. We talked to my dad a lot on the phone, teased him about how much he loved eating MRE's (he being one of the few people on earth who "knew how good they were" before the storm) and how he was getting to swim so much while we were trapped inside. We took a deep breath and moved on.
After the winds died down a bit we moved from the hotel to a friend of a friend's, a house on an army base with a generator. The first night we stayed, there were over forty people in a four bedroom house; that number dwindled down as the weeks passed. The big screen TV in the living room stayed on the news constantly, filled with images (mostly of New Orleans, to everyone's annoyance). We watched as they recovered bodies, as they condemned black "looters" and praised white "scavengers," as account after tragic account played over and over. We all became over-saturated with the black horror of the situation, repeated endlessly with no facts about anyone we knew. Eventually dad located all of the family that had remained in Pascagoula, including my stubborn grandmother. I don't know how many times I tried to call my best friend; I forced my father to ride by her house and check several times until we finally reached her. We all breathed out when we knew family was safe, and looked toward fixing everything now broken.
My sixteenth birthday came and went, and while it was nothing like what I had expected and hoped for I will never forget the birthday party thrown for me by my family and attended by people I had only known for a week. I hadn't expected a party at all -- and there we were, living two hours from home, after one of the worst national disasters in the US hit our home and we were all eating birthday cake and laughing. People have birthday parties, we had a birthday party, it was moving on.
After a month, we came back to Jackson County but not the Coast; instead, our family stayed with my Uncle James and Aunt Cathy. Despite happily having no children of their own, they opened their home to six of us loud rambunctious heathens and we all got along well for the most part. My mother shielded us from the destruction back home, mostly, and I had been back a week before I actually got to see town -- it's something I'll never forget, choking back tears and looking away as my siblings pointed out each new fantastic site of twisted buildings or roofs without houses or homes with nothing but supports left standing. If I live forever, I'll never understand the fascination people had with driving around the passable roads, staring at the battered remains south of highway 90, especially down the beach where there was very little but foundations. It makes me sick sitting here typing it and yet I know many who wasted valuable gas to cruise around and rubberneck other peoples' disasters. Anything to take their minds off their own troubles, I suppose.
After three months of living in the north of the county with our relatives, we moved back home into FEMA-supplied trailers. It was good that I had grown used to cramped quarters and zero privacy in Florida, because the space in those trailers are very limited despite the fact that our family received a bigger one than most. Despite the fact that they became the butt of every joke for quiet a while -- it got old, fast -- the trailers were nothing to complain about because we could have been living in TENTS, in the cold weather and later grueling spring and summer of Mississippi. Everyone, living in tent or trailer or the top floor of their house, learned to deal though -- or else they left, as my parents strongly contemplated. The kids of Pascagoula struggled desperately to catch up while accommodating students from New Orleans and other coastal places that funneled into our relatively-undamaged.
Slowly, as schools opened back up and business returned things swung back to normal and there didn't seem to be this big gaping hole where reality should be. We put back together lives, new and different and maybe not as great as they once were but they were LIVES, we were still LIVING, and we were grateful through all the teasing whining and catty fights over the most comfortable shelf-bed. We breathed in, breathed out, and moved on because it was the only thing we could do. ( Collapse )