Friday, August 28, 2015

The Fortunate Ones



Ten years ago today, I was running.
Elizabeth Hand was my week 1 instructor at Clarion West in 2013. She asked us to write a single page of non-fiction about something raw, emotional, and personal. I stumbled across the file last night. Today seems like a good day to share it.


***

6.24.13 -- Hand Assignment #2

Imagine yourself at home. Now, imagine that you have fifteen minutes to pack as much as you can. Anything you leave behind will be destroyed. What do you take? Your computer? Important documents? Wedding photos? Pets? Clothes?

We hadn’t planned on evacuating; our car was in the shop with a cracked radiator, but on the morning before landfall, a relative offered us the use of her second car. In all, we fit three people, five cats, and a hamster into a PT Cruiser. That didn’t leave much room for anything else. We barely made it out of the city before the police closed the roads.

Somewhere north of Atlanta, we finally found a hotel with a vacancy. The rest of the night was spent watching the live coverage as Hurricane Katrina plowed into the gulf coast. By morning, New Orleans was submerged. Lake Pontchartrain had swallowed everything, including the single-branch credit union attached to the University of New Orleans where we did our banking.

Overnight we’d become homeless and penniless. Of the three of us, I was the only one who had two pairs of pants. In Richmond, the Red Cross processed us into their system as unemployed vagrants, not evacuees.

The news called people like us “refugees.”


***


When I read over this now, it occurs to me that it ended one sentence too soon. It should have ended:

The news called people like us “refugees.”

And we were the fortunate ones.



[Edit 8/28/15 8:13pm -- added image below]

4 comments :

  1. I personally am amazed at how raw the emotions from that time still are every time I allow them out. Remembering is necessary, but I think it will always be painful. And the survivor's guilt never really goes away.

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    1. News and documentaries. Opening the old stories I’d been working on at the time. Finding files about the inventory I needed to order for the game store. Dreams... Melanie’s spinal injury happened when we had that brief opportunity to come back and pick through our things. Now that the years have begun to add up, and I’m living so far from New Orleans, I can go weeks without thinking about the storm, but it’s never gone, and it’s never buried.

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  2. As a journalist, I've interviewed a number of evacuees sent to Seattle who have never made it back to Louisiana -- there was no home or family structure for them to go back to. They are like stranded aliens.

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    1. It’s easy to imagine.

      It took us three years to get back. Both of the places we worked had been physically destroyed. Our apartment building had been heavily damage and was unlivable (which turned out to be lucky for us*). Going home would’ve meant spending money we didn’t have to go back to no home and no job—so you make a new life wherever you happen to land.

      Ever since the storm, no place has felt like “home” to me. Even New Orleans. Now, everywhere is just “the place I happen to be right now.”


      *The company that owned the property (and many like it) was evicting everyone for failing to pay September’s rent, even though the military wasn’t letting people back into the city. The influx of relief workers, insurance inspectors, and government agents made rents skyrocket, so people’s things were being tossed into the street to make room for renters willing to pay $1,500+ for what had been an $800/month townhouse.

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