Friday, August 27, 2010

Katrina: Five Years Later - The Day We Left

One year ago today, I wrote the following entry describing our last day in New Orleans before we evacuated to escape the path of Hurricane Katrina:

Today is August 27th. For most people, unless it's your birthday or anniversary, it's just any old day in the peak of the hottest time of year. For me, it is the day we said goodbye to the New Orleans we always knew. It was on August 27, 2005, that after a long morning of volunteering in City Park with my accounting firm, Mark and I decided we should get a head start on evacuating just in case more people decided to leave on Sunday. At the time we decided to leave, we weren't really even worried about this storm they called Katrina. In fact, I sort of chuckled to myself when my friend and co-worker (who being from California was petrified of hurricanes) wasted no time and told us as we were packing up our volunteer supplies, that he was heading to Houston, he'd see us at work on Monday. Since you know how this story ends, it's not hard to realize that Monday never came. That was the last time I saw Kris - he didn't return to New Orleans.

A little shaken by his decision to leave, I think everyone else there that morning started thinking "Gosh, maybe we should go too." So we went to the grocery (Robert's in Lakeview) and picked up water, flashlights, and snack foods, and we readied ourselves to head to New Iberia, LA where we figured we'd party for a couple of days with our gracious hosts, the Pellerins. We stopped by the house my parents had just purchased and tried to talk them into evacuating with us, but they were comfortable in just going to stay at a hotel downtown if things got too bad.

We straightened up the house a little. We put my wedding dress "high" on top of a dresser about six feet tall, and we pulled my VW Passat (my first car and graduation gift from my parents) a little further up in the driveway just in case there was street flooding. After all, my Uncle Sam's house had been through Betsy and it didn't flood, so we didn't have anything to worry about. Why take two cars - it only clutters the roads - that's what I told Mark that day. Just as we were about to leave, I joked with Mark "what if this was the big one?" I ran back in the house and grabbed our wedding albums and all of my handbags. Ha - if it does come and we don't have jobs, I could sell them off one by one I teased Mark.

We chatted and laughed as we drove through the streets of Lakeview and off on our little weekend getaway. I didn't look around. I didn't stop to cherish the memories I had made on the streets and in the homes of that quaint piece of heaven we call Lakeview. I didn't even notice driving by the home I had grown up in that my parents had just sold. I just sat in the car as my world went by and I didn't even see it.

And in the gut wrenching days that followed August 29th as we realized that our sweet Lakeview had been filled like a bowl with ten feet of water, I wished I had taken the time to really look around. I wished I had not taken for granted that the places I loved would be there when tomorrow came. And although four years later, Lakeview is on the mend, it is a different place. The streets that you knew like the back of your hand are lined with different homes. The pecan tree in the backyard of the house I grew up in that still had Mardi Gras beads in it from a game we played at my 8th birthday party called "throwing Mardi Gras beads into the pecan tree" is gone, as is the home itself. If I could only see it one more time. Just to really take it in. I would do anything for that.

So I guess my thought for this Thursday August 27th is not to walk aimlessly through your day. Enjoy every minute of it. Truly appreciate everything you see today that is something so normal you'd only know you missed it if it was gone tomorrow. Really see your world and all of the people and places in it.
Long Live Lakeview!

It is hard to believe that one year has passed since I wrote this.  It is even harder to believe that it has been five years since the day we left. That it has been five years since we lived in a world not tainted by the realities of The Storm.  Five years since we stood in line at Robert's that Saturday and shouted "stay dry" to the checkout girl as we walked to my Passat.
 
About two years ago, we were home for a Saints game, and I needed to pick up some mascara.  Robert's had just re-opened that weekend, and it was the most convenient pit stop on my way to my parents' house.  I had expected to walk into a new and improved version (a mini locally owned Whole Foods, if you will).  And I did.  What I had not expected was my reaction.  It hit me that at that moment I was standing in the last place I stood before we dropped off my car and drove away.  It was as though, just for a moment, it was still August 27, 2005.  Before the levees broke and the water rose.   It was as though in that moment, all was right in the world.  And  I couldn't move from that spot.  And I started sobbing.  Me. All by myself.  In front of the floral aisle. 
 
In any other place in the world, I would have looked crazy.  But here.  Here we all knew that feeling.  Of knowing how much was lost.  Our town, our businesses, our homes, our innocence.  A lovely gentleman around my dad's age saw me and came over.  He put his hand on my back and said, with tears in his eyes, "it's ok baby, we all feel the same way." 
 
And as I walked through the store, I saw that he was right.  I was not the only one whose eyes showed the signs of raw emotion.  And maybe we were crying out of sadness.  We all mourned the lives we lost.  But I think we were also crying because finally, we were home again.  We stood in a place that was familiar and good and rebuilt.  And if one family could re-open their business, surely others would follow.  There was hope in that. And there was promise that one day our lives would feel whole again.  That slowly, the pieces of our broken lives, of our broken hearts, would mend.  


And while my heart still aches around this time of year, it is most certainly on the mend.

33 comments:

  1. Absolutely amazing. You have a way with words, Jen.
    Here's to new memories (to go with the old ones) in New Orleans for you!
    P.S. Did you decide to move back to Lakeview where you grew up?

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  2. Beautifully written to the point where I have tears. I visited NOLA in 1997, I visited Mobile in 1991 (I think). I have a special place in my heart for all those affected by this event. I think perhaps it's because I worked with so many who relocated here to Charlotte after everything happened.

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  3. You have moved me to tears. I cannot imagine the devastation that took place all around New Orleans. I live in SW Arkansas where we had evacuees staying in churches and hotels, transplants to the colleges, and some who even stayed here permanently. Being close to LA, I guess you can say we felt it here, too. I have yet to make a trip after the storm, but really want to see the town. At least we know that time heals all things. Happy Friday, sweet girl!

    XO,
    Hannah

    P.S. I mentioned you in my blog today!

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  4. This is a beautiful post... I'm an Indiana girl, so the destruction and hurt was only seen through the television, I can't imagine what it was like - you're in m thoughts!

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  5. You have got me crying this morning girl! I am just so sorry for what you've been through. I can't even imagine how hard it must be and the feelings you have. You are definitely in my thoughts today along with everyone else who was affected.

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  6. This is a beautiful post and I'm so glad you shared your feelings with us. Keith and I go see his old house in Lakeview every time we come to town. It has been gutted and doesn't look the same, but his memories are there. I'm so glad that you get the chance to go back and make some new memories! Can't wait to see pics of your new house!

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  7. Wow- What a beautiful post! My husband and his family are from New Orleans and everytime we go back or think about what happened it brings tears to our eyes. I am so glad that you shared this and I can only imagine what you went through. I will be thinking of you today- ALL DAY! Love you!

    Jessica

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  8. Girl, this post gave me chills!!! I am so sorry that you, and everyone else in LA, had to experience this! It is really easy to walk through life and take for granted the things we have always had, I think it's just human nature! You will definitely be in my thoughts today. ~Andrea

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  9. oh my goodness, as i read this my heart and my eyes just welled up for you and all of lower LA. I cannot blame you for being overcome with emotion, it is obvious everyone felt the same way.
    it is amazing to watch as the news reports the "five years later" stories....i'm still riveted by them.
    some of my family lived in new iberia for many years, and when my cousin (who was born there) got married, she and her husband chose New Oreleans as their honeymoon spot to help rebuild.
    thank you for such a thoughtful, heartfelt post.
    you are one strong lady! and a true steel magnolia!

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  10. Jen, this was beautiful. It was a little hard to read because even though I did not live in NOLA at the time, friends of mine did. And they lost everything. I remember waking up on the morning Katrina made landfall...my Aunt came into my room and told the dreadful news. My heart broke for the city I loved so much. And even now that things are somewhat back to normal, I still feel an ache everytime I think about this storm. Thank you for sharing your experience and reminding me to enjoy every minute of my day.

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  11. Chills...amazing how nature can be so destructive.

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  12. Wow---I'm tearing up here. You write beautifully. It is so hard to imagine all of that happening unless you really experience it for yourself. Thanks for letting us in.

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  13. Oh my goodness that was a beautiful post. You have me crying at my desk! I can't imagine going through all of that. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  14. I'm teary too. Katrina was devastating to me too. It hit on my 30th birthday and we had a trip planned for later in the week to celebrate and go to the first LSU game.
    I have tons of friends who lived and lost in Lakeview as well.
    Actually, I have another friend who bought one of the rebuilt homes there too. She lives there to this day.

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  15. it's incredible, the extent of physical and emotional damage the hurricane caused, but I'm so happy to see things on the mend :)

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  16. That is an amazing accoutn of what you went through. I can only imagine.

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  17. This is so touching. Thank you for sharing this. It is very inspiring in how to live each day. I can't even imagine what it must feel like. I am glad your heart is on the mend though!

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  18. Such a beautifully written post. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us. I cried, and then I told my sister about the post, and she cried ... it's so easy to remove oneself emotionally from things that aren't happening in our own world, but this made it real. And your telling of it contains such a beautiful message ... I think I'm going to link to it on my blog.

    Thank you again for sharing!
    Allegra

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  19. Oh my gosh, I had no idea everything you went through!! Up here in the midwest, we only saw pictures from the paper and on the news. Now actually knowing people who lived there and went through it puts it all into perspective. Oh my gosh is all I can say!!! I'm so happy you guys are safe, I really, really, really am!!!

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  20. Beautiful post Jen! I love the positive reflection as well as the remembrance of what that time was for New Orleans. Looking forward to having you back soon enough!

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  21. Darling girl, I have tears in my eyes reading this. I am thinking about you today and always. I can't believe all that you went through. I am beyond happy that you and Mark are safe and sound.

    Remember what I said last night? You're about to go back where your heart is, my love. I couldn't be happier for you all.

    I love you so much, Jen! I can't wait to get to see that city through the eyes of a true Nola girl :) It's going to be magical!

    Big big hugs from me to you today!

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  22. This is beautifully written. I was living in Austin at the time and we had many evacuees coming to our city. It was touching to read your experience and happy you all chose to leave!

    Have a lovely weekend!!

    xx

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  23. I haven't had a chance to write my post about the anniversary yet (i have plans to do that today) but I keep having "moments"

    We were lucky and didn't lose our house during the storm, but the experience was so heartwrenching and I know that raw emotional feeling you're talking about. I still have those moments when I drive through Lakeview or sometimes when I go to a Saints game and take Airline Highway and STILL see water lines on tulane ave, etc. I remember being on the clover on Causeway and seeing the flooding when we were trying to go to my IL's house to rescue Scott's uncle and seeing things I never should have seen in the water.

    I remember those moments of being in the grocery store right before leaving and making jokes about it missing us again, just like Ivan did... and then not being able to shop there again for a while because there was no power or people to work there.

    I was having a conversation with some friends who are from other parts of the country and I was recounting those moments and it really hit me and I started to cry a little bit. Not a ton, but just a little. Like you said, it's taking a while, but we are on the mend.

    Jen, I know that feeling of driving off thinking that nothing was going to change and then coming home to find nothing is the same as it used to be. Even though my house is pretty much the same, my life is different and Katrina and the experience of it changed me forever.

    This is a beautifully written post and I hope it helps you heal as I've found that writing about it sometimes makes me feel a little bit better.

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  24. This is a beautiful post that brought tears to my eyes...
    New Orleans will never be the same but it is still the most wonderful place I've ever lived.

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  25. Your post was amazing. It's so weird to see your photos and read your story because it's like you are some friends I have who lived RIGHT there. same place, same things. It's so weird, how many people's lives intertwine with tragedy. My friends lived in lakeview and lost it all. worst part was i never was able to find out where they went, even 5 years later. but reading how people made it out and come together and can grow after all that gives a lot of comfort.
    i'm really happy you both are going back to nola. it's going to be such a great start for you two. i wish nothing but the best for you both.

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  26. Beautiful post, Jen. Viva Lakeview! It has been tough for the post was what I needed today. You are brave...I removed comments b/c I am still so raw in so many ways! Can't wait for you to be back here, living the Nola dream!

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  27. I need to take a deep breath... I'm sorry you've had to go through that. It must be so hard to lose your home (in the bigger sense as well). Thank you for sharing with us.

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  28. Brought tears... our house was spared but I still remember slamming the door for the last time for months; leaving one car at the Loyola Law parking lot because "Pine street sits high"; realizing halfway to Monroe, La that our back-up hard drive with all of our files had been left on the coffee table.
    While we were in Monroe a complete good samaritan allowed my hubby (then boyfriend) and his brother to stay at his house. We became friends...oddly, we see him every year around the anniversary; he just called to say he's on town!

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  29. That was so raw and moving lady. Wow!

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  30. Thank you for sharing your story, it really reminds me of how devasting Katrina was...and how lucky many of us are.

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  31. omg such a great post.. thank you for sharing..

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  32. I have goosebumps and tears in my eyes - such a moving post filled with emotion and beautiful words. I cannot imagine what you went through seeing your home destroyed... thinking of you as you are reminded of the fateful events of that day 5 years ago and sending you big hugs!

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  33. I just stumbled upon your blog from Southern Mommas and love it. I am from NOLA but moved to the DC area (loved your Saints at the White House post) 11 years ago with my husband. What a beautiful post this one is and even though I had moved away, I can relate to your feelings about such a wonderful city.

    Where do you live now? Perhaps I need to keep reading!
    Hope you will follow me: http://www.cayenne-paper.blogspot.com

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