Tag Archives: flood

plot

 

1plot \`plat\ n.  1 :  a small area of ground  2 :  a ground plan (as of an area)  3 :  the main story (as of a book or movie)  4 :  a secret scheme : INTRIGUE

 

I have been going by the house for years now, every time I am home for a visit. It was just a shell of where we lived but I felt compelled to visit every time I was back in New Orleans in the years following Katrina. A few months ago, my mom sent me an email to tell me that the house had been razed. It’s just river sand now, she wrote. She said she picked up three pieces of brick (one for her, one for my dad, one for me), a small piece of wood, a small piece of latticework—the traces that were left behind. She said she wanted to lie in the sand and make a sand angel, to place her body on the earth itself, but a truck drove up so she just pretended.

I knew, then, what to expect when I went by 3324 Vincennes Place, and yet, I was surprised all the same. I was taken aback by the shock of green grass usurping the plot. I had expected river sand, but since my mom visited, there had been time for old seeds to sprout up. To fill this hole, this gap, this absent space.

I thought: how odd to witness so clearly an absent place that is so full, this place that occupies so much space in my in my memory. The lot looks enormous without our house on it (hadn’t my mom mentioned that in her email as well?). Just one small block of green. It was hard to imagine all those rooms, all that our house contained.

I pulled out my journal and tore out a perforated page. On it I wrote: THIS WAS HOME. This (space). Was (past tense of “to be,” as in is no longer). Home (a place where families are born, where dreams are dreamed, where mornings break and evenings are put to bed). I took pictures of the sign resting in the grass in front of the plot. I took portraits of myself with my arm extended, holding the sign. I walked around the perimeter and traced the word HOME with my finger in the river sand. Then I took a stray stick and signed my name in the corner of the plot before tucking the stick in the back pocket of my jeans. Three trees stood as sentries at the back of the land and then there was just the span of grass and sand and the neighboring fences on either side.

 

 

The sidewalk had 3324 spray-painted in orange, over a version painted in white. This now marks the address since there is no longer a house to mark the space. Addresses are random numbers and letters we assign to places to make them ours, to make them home, to tell people where to find us. While I was sitting in the car across from the plot where our house was, a mail carrier, mail in one hand and a bag crossing her body, walked by the empty lot on her route.

I scanned my body. I felt tears behind the lids of my eyes—held, not held back. There was a sort of soft gnawing in my belly. I didn’t feel sad really but rather vaguely numbed out.

This was a place I had been saying goodbye to for years. A place I came to visit as one does a deceased family member in a cemetery, over and over again. Our home died to us and now the traces of it, save a long thin piece of wood with blue paint that I found and took, are gone as well.

And although this moment felt like it should be the natural point of closure, the final goodbye, I couldn’t imagine stopping my visits: even if there was a new house there, even if there was a new family in it. In the movie version of my life, we might end here as the protagonist bids farewell to her childhood memories and her childhood home and steps off into her very bright future. Maybe there would even be a flash-forward to her home-to-be, complete with husband in the doorframe and children eating breakfast at the kitchen table. So why do I feel its not over for me and this land?

It’s not a compulsion, this desire to visit. It’s more like coming to sit in silence with an old friend. There’s a kind of peace that comes from being there—from remembering what was and seeing what is real now. I can sit with all the fond memories and the painful loss of this place. It feels real. It feels authentic—this mix of beauty and joy with grief and sorrow. This house taught me how to live life and bear it all: how to grow, how to be nurtured and to nurture, how to love and also how to unexpectedly and without warning, let it all go. To say goodbye. To unhand expectations of what the space you rest your life in looks like.

 

 

I feel I owe this land so much—the place I was born into, where I took my first steps and read and wrote my first words, where I learned how to embrace and be enclosed in the arms of somebody who loved me. I learned to cry, to mourn and to go on, still and always, with the movement of life. I learned about the richness that lies in details—in the shape of a sill, in nicks, slants, the flaws we perceive as such or the ones we find charming. I learned how to observe and how to write those observations down.

It occurred to me as I sat across the street from my childhood home that while I thought I had been coming back to grieve and let go, I was also coming back to honor and pay tribute to the home that held the space for me to become who I am, to the sacred spot where my mom, dad and I became a family. I realized I have continued to come back, all these months, all these years later, because I am so deeply grateful.

 

 

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drop

As in, I “dropped” the blog posting for last week. As in, the post “dropped” out of my head, “dropped” off my to-do list, “dropped” outside my priorities.

Last week was my first week of teaching and school so even though I picked a word, I didn’t get to posting it or to writing about it (part of this might have to do with the fact that that the word “drop” has 15 definitions). But here it is, the word of last week:

drop (drop), n. [ME, droupen; ON, dropa; akin to G, tropfin toften; for the base, see DRIP], 1. a small quantity of liquid that is somewhat spherical or pear-shaped, as when falling. 2. a very small quantity of liquid. 3. pl. liquid medicine taken in drops. 4. a very small quantity of anything. 5. a thing like a drop in shape, size, etc. as a pendant earring or a small piece of candy. 6. a dropping; sudden fall, descent, slump, or decrease: as, a drop in prices. 7. anything that drops or is used for dropping or covering something, as a drop cutrian, a drop hammer, a trap door, or a slot for depositing letters. 8. the distance between a higher and lower level; depth to which or distance through which anything falls or sinks. 9. in football, a drop kick. v.i. [DROPPED or, occas., DROPT (dropt), DROPPING], 1. to fall in drops. 2. to fall; come down. 3. to sink to the ground exhausted, wounded, or dead. 4. to fall into a specified state; pass into a less active or less desirable condition: as, she dropped off to sleep. 5. to come to an end or to nothing: as, let the matter drop. 6. to slump; become lower or less, as temperatures, prices, etc. 7. to move down with a current of water or air. 8. to be born: said of animals. v.t. 1. to let fall in drops. 2. to sprinkle with drops. 3. to let fall; release hold of. 4. to give birth to: said of animals. 5. to utter (a suggestion, hint, etc.) casually. 6. to send (a letter). 7. to cause to fall, as by wounding or killing. 8. to dismiss; have done with. 9. to lower. 10. to omit ( aletter or letters) in a word. 11. to poach (an egg) 12. [Colloq.] to leave (a personal or thing) at a specified place. 13. [Slang], to lose (money). 14. in football, a) to drop-kick (a ball). b) to make (a goal) in this way. 15. in nautical usage, to outdistance.

at the drop of a hat, 1. at a signal. 2. immediately. at once; without hesitation or reluctance.

drop behind, to be outdistanced; fall behind.

drop in, to pay a casual or unexpected visit.

drop off, 1. to go away or out of sight. 2. [Colloq.], to fall asleep.

drop out, to stop being a member or participant.

get (or have) the drop on, [Slang], 1. to draw and aim one’s gun at (another) more quickly than he can draw and aim at one; hence, 2. to get (or have) any advantage over.

I remember learning about onomatopoeia, a fancy word for something I think we all inherently feel and understand, in elementary school. I liked these words, known to me but suddenly imbued with importance because of a new concept that went along with them. Crash. Bang. Thud. The words whose consonant and vowel construction made them sound like the definition that went with them.

Drop. It is a word that feels this way. A word that—to me, at least—implies a fall into an unknown and sometimes scary destination. Last week was the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that was only a Category 1 when it hit, and the breaking of levees in New Orleans. And the word of the week, and its many meanings, feels oddly appropriate to me. Millions of raindrops. The dropping of plans, of events, of schoolbooks to get out of town. Drops of hurricanes poured into glasses by those who decided to wait this one out at hurricane parties with friends. The word from a neighbor to my parents and then to me that there wasn’t a drop of water on our street. Followed by the drop of the news that the city was now flooded. People floating in the water. People dropping dead from exhaustion, from dehydration, from heart attacks, from shock and loss. President Bush dropping out of the public eye and our government dropping responsibility for its citizens. Local, state, and federal officials dropping the ball as the citizens of my hometown struggled to stay alive with no food and water and in the face of tremendous loss. Coast guard trying its best but dropping behind in reaching every person in his home, atop his roof. A good five days after the storm, the first supplies dropped down to the people at the Convention Center. Drops followed by drops followed by drops. Dropped calls as I tried to reach friends and family, to see where they were if they were okay. Dropping out of work as I spent all my time in the office trying to find out the latest information. Drops of tears heard over the phone on multiple calls a day to my parents. My stomach dropping when I heard that my cousin and state trooper Ivy had finally been able to see our house two weeks after the storm saw the waterline five feet up. He couldn’t open the kitchen door because the water had picked up the kitchen table and dropped it in front of it. The drop of my parents’ plan to retire in the next year. The drop of their security, having paid off the house. Not a drop of hope. Not a drop of peace. Not a drop of poise. People picked up at the Superdome and the Convention Center and then dropped onto buses, dropped at the airport, dropped on bridges. New Orleanians dropped in the Kentucky, in Arizona, in New York, in places where they knew no one and nothing. Children separated from their mothers and dropped thousands of miles away. Pets dropped off at kennels, at foster homes, with people who weren’t their owners. Refrigerators, kitchen tables, photo albums, clothes, mattresses dropped in the street in front of houses. Roofs dropped into living rooms from felled trees. My parents and I dropped all we could save of our house in the back of a van and drove away. People dropping their expectations of returning to the city they love because they have no money to return, no home to return to. The Road Home dropped their promises to Hurricane Katrina victims. Insurance agencies refusing to pay what’s due and dropping their policyholders. People seeing the racism and classism witnessed in the footage of Katrina and then, quickly, dropping the issue. Newsmedia finding new stories and dropping New Orleans out of the headlines. Volunteer groups dropping into the city and rebuilding. People from elsewhere dropping their judgment that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. That citizens should have left. That people of New Orleans were ignorant or stupid for not leaving, that they were dumb to live there in the first place. A dropped sense of security in the levee system and in the government’s concern for New Orleans. Me dropping the information to friends from other places that a year, two years, after the storm, the city looked the same as it did a month after. The drop of letters and photos in my mailbox from college friends, showing their support and trying to replace some of the memories I lost. Dropping into my old haunts now four years later and seeing them full of people. Dropping through neighborhoods where houses and businesses are still abandoned. Dropping down to the ground to dance to Rebirth Brass Band at Jazz Fest. A dropping of heads at the funeral of another friend who has died since the storm. Bulldozers dropping concrete and bricks that, just minutes before, were the public housing apartments for New Orleans residents. Homeless citizens going to drop in shelters that may or may not have room for them. Friends and family unable to drop in for a visit because they now live hundreds or thousands of miles away. Tourists dropping their original vacation plans and heading to New Orleans to spend their money there. Businesses dropping out of conventions in New Orleans either because it looks bad after bailouts to be in a “party city” or because they are worried the storm has left the city devastated, still. Drop-kicks scoring goals for the Saints as Saints fans drop their banners to throw up their arms in joy. A drop followed by a drop followed by a drop. Definition #7:  to move down with a current of water or air.

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