When I saw the caption that read New Orleans under water, I knew nothing would ever be the same. I was in Los Angeles, and called home with one instruction to my daughter: Leave!
When I found out that she and the rest of my people were still in New Orleans, I wanted her to take my mama to the Super Dome. She didn’t do that either. It’s not surprising for your grown child not to listen and this time I’m glad she didn’t. The Super Dome was a mess.
Watching the whole thing unfold on the news was the worst, especially when you’re far away from home. I was in Dallas at Poppa Joyner’s house, eyes glued to the TV, ear glued to my cell phone.
My family made it safely to Lafayette. But my city was unrecognizable. All the places where “you need no teeth to eat their meat,” were submerged, the airport was closed, and one of the rental properties I owned went floating down the street.
When I think of what I lost there are some obvious things that come to mind but then there are things like family photos, we lost every last one of them. I no longer have a picture of my daddy, my grandmother or my mama’s sister. Now, I have to try to picture them in my mind. When I try real hard I can see my Granny dancing. She would make up her own. “Watch me do the Smoking Train,” she would say.
Some things are just absolutely irreplaceable, like the suitcase full of notes and writings I’d kept since I was a kid, and the piece of skin that covered my grandfather’s face when he was born. Yes, you read it right. My grandfather was born with what’s called a veil over his face and when they removed it they gave it to his mother and it remained in the family. It was believed that babies born with a veil could see ghosts. My grandmother kept the skin wrapped in tissue paper in a box in the back of the closet.
Ten years later it still hurts. It’s something I’m still processing. First there was shock, then loss, then discovery: the shock of watching the devastation, the immediate loss and then act of discovering all that was really lost. Years later you think you have something and start to look for it. Then you remember it’s gone forever. My mom passed away and I’m certain the storm shortened her life and the lives of lots of other people who never were able to find a real sense of normalcy.
Even though, life goes on, people have rebuilt, some people including me have come back home, and things like the birth of a granddaughter and tracking my grandson’s progress as a student athlete keep me from thinking about it constantly, Hurricane Katrina is a memory that will never leave us.
For years I had the same nightmare every night. I would be in a physical battle with a big red Viking and we would fight all night until I fell asleep. I’d wake up, go back to sleep and the fight would begin all over again. That’s what it’s felt like for the last decade.