Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

key·way

key·way (kēˈwā) n. 1. a groove or slot cut in a shaft, hub, etc. to hold a key (metal piece to fasten a wheel or pulley to the shaft) 2. The slot for a key in a lock operated by a flat key.

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My childhood bedroom was locked using a skeleton key. I remember holding the wrought-iron key in my hand and feeling there was something exotic about it. The way the key inserted in the keyhole and the substantial turning of the lock was way more satisfying than with a plain old dead bolt. I would stand there, only slightly taller than the knob and turn the key back and forth, practicing locking and unlocking.

I knew the key was old. I knew it was different than other keys. I was a kid and had neither the fear required to lock my door or anything to hide, but the fact that I had this thing that could give me privacy, that could keep my things and myself stored away, made me feel important.

That room no longer has a door, no longer has walls. The floor that had been covered in brown carpet is stripped down to bare wood. And the key is gone as well. I’m not sure when I lost it or where it got tossed, amongst knick-knacks and cleaning supplies in the bathroom closet? In a spare drawer?

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The front door of the house had been warped by the humidity so that you had to hold it in a little when you turned the key in the front door. Otherwise the latch wouldn’t lock or come unlocked.

I remember fighting with that lock over the years:

When, on a trip from the grocery store as a child, my mom handed me a key and asked me to unlock the door.

When, returning home from a date in high school, I tried and failed to make a seamless and graceful exit and had to resort to banging my hip up against the door.

When I came home for holidays on break at college and moved in and out of the house, going out to hear music and then returning home to visit with my parents.

When I unlocked the front door to bring in Christmas trees and furniture, to let in family members, best friends, and potential suitors.

When I unlocked the front door to allow myself inside.

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The side door, like the front door, was wooden with glass panes. It used to be the back door but then my parents added on to the house when I was eight. We hardly ever used the side door except when going to the side yard to or to the shed. Sometimes, we would open the door to let the dog out.

Now, when you look in, you can see crumbs of sheetrock lying on the ground. The rooms are no longer rooms but a skeletal wooden frame. The house looks much smaller this way, without all of our stuff to take up the space.

You can see straight through from the living room to the dining room to my bedroom to the guest room. You can see all the way to the front of the house to the kitchen, without walls to block your view. You can see the entire house at once and yet you see none of it.

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When we arrived there on October 1, 2005, there was a large yellow X spray painted on the front of the door. And there were numbers. The numbers were code for rescue workers. Zero dead bodies. Zero dead animals.

The house had been filled with five and a half feet of water. But now the water was drained. So there was only the reminder of the water, in the form of wet furniture and mold covering the walls.

We put on masks and went in through the side door. We surveyed the damage. We carried our possessions out the front door and dumped them in a heap on our front lawn.

When we left that day, my dad locked the front door. Out of habit? Surely there was no longer anything worth taking.

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Every time I come home, I drive to my old neighborhood. I park in front of my childhood home. I get out and walk up the front stairs and peek through the front door. I don’t know what I am expecting, to see our house as it was before brought back to its original state? Maybe I just need to be reminded of what’s gone so I can handle missing it.

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I talked to my mom just an hour after my parents had sold our home to the city of New Orleans. They had met with a Road Home officer and after they signed the paperwork, they gave her the keys to the house.

Afterwards, my parents went to the house to say goodbye. My mom told me that before she left, she walked around the house, taking pictures.

I picked up some stuff we’d left at the house, she said. Remember the books there. I took all that. And I don’t know why but I took a picture of all the doors. I just kept thinking of that image. Doors closing. Doors opening.

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wa·ter ta·ble

wa·ter ta·ble  n. :  the upper limit of the portion of the ground wholly saturated with water.

“The water table is the level at which the groundwater pressure is equal to atmospheric pressure. It may be conveniently visualized as the ‘surface’ of the groundwater in a given vicinity. It usually coincides approximately with the ‘phreatic surface’, but can be many feet above it. As water infiltrates through pore spaces in the soil, it first passes through the zone of aeration, where the soil is unsaturated. At increasing depths water fills in more spaces, until the zone of saturation is reached. The relatively horizontal plane atop this zone constitutes the water table.” –from wikipedia

I find it interesting that my finger landed on a page filled with words about water—waterway, water wheel, water wings—because water is what I desire almost constantly lately. I live in the desert so am unaccustomed in my daily life to seeing water anywhere else besides a drinking glass, the sink spout or the occasional swimming pool.

My thumb landed on two words: water strider and water table. As I discuss in the rules, in the event of such a situation, I get to pick. And I’m picking water table. I invite you to write your own posts about water strider in the comments section, if you so desire (wa·ter  stri·der  n. : any of various long-legged bugs that move about swiftly on the surface of water).

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Water and I have a complicated relationship. I was born in July and regardless of how much astrology is or is not true, I feel a strong pull to water. Before Tucson, I have always lived in places that were anchored to large bodies of water—New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Rome, San Francisco. When I lived in New Orleans, I would often bike to a park alongside the Mississippi called The Fly. Especially on difficult days, I found looking out at the waves of the Mississippi, seeing the river curve around the bend and keep going, very reassuring. Here was this thing that just kept flowing. It’s sheer size was a comfort to me. No matter what was going on with me, the river would always be there, and I found a certain peace in that thought.

When the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina, the water rose through the streets of New Orleans and filled my childhood home with five feet of water. The water seeped into cabinets, into the mattresses and box springs. The water soaked the curtains. The water bled the photos in albums on my bookshelf. The water took indiscriminately and it took almost everything.

When my parents and I returned to the house a month after the storm, when we were finally let back into the city, we sorted through our saturated belongings. We held each other after we saw the watermark on the wallpaper and the smattering of mold on the sheetrock.

Then, I wasn’t thinking about water’s ability to provide sustenance. About its beauty or largeness. I was heartbroken. Water had ruined everything.

In the months to come, I would assess and reassess all my family and I had lost. I would remember books and journals and photo albums that had been in the room. Each time I remembered something new, I felt the grief afresh. A memory gone. I also grieved for the items I would never remember, for the ruined photographs that would have reminded me of past experiences, experiences I might not ever recall again on my own.

Then slowly, my parents began to rebuild their lives. I began to see changes, even if small ones, in the city and its progress. I began to worry less about lost items I could no longer hold in my hands.

Earlier this week, my house was broken into. The window was pried open and the burglars, likely teenagers looking for some quick cash, took some jewelry of sentimental value to me and my digital camera. They didn’t take my guitar or my computer or backup drive or other things I would have felt lost without. My house had been broken into, and I felt the  violation of my space. But my dog was safe and so was I.

And surprisingly, I didn’t feel outraged. I wasn’t panicked. I felt a bit less safe but not totally shaken. The robbers had taken some things that belonged to me, but they hadn’t taken anything I could not live without. And while I was sad at the loss of these things, I didn’t feel hostile. They were taking these things to fill a need they had: for money, for drugs, for something to maybe make them feel better about themselves and their own trials.

And I had the sense, even just a short time after I discovered the house in disorder and my things missing, that I would be okay. And I somehow knew that my previous losses had prepared me for this moment, had prepared me to handle it with grace.

We are taught in our culture to value objects. We are what we own. We need things that are pretty, and once we have these things, we need things that are even prettier. But I found that losing these things, even ones that had been given by loved ones, did not shake my sense of self. I still had the people who gave these objects to me in my life. And I was okay. In caring too much about objects, we become bound to them. I think we give those objects too much power over us. And ultimately, when these possessions break or are lost or stolen, we are the ones who choose to decide how to let their absence affect us.

This month will be five years since the storm, and while I still believe it should have never happened–the city of New Orleans and its people drowned and it was completely unnecessary, the city and its citizens were abandoned (and continue to be) when help was (and is) so desperately needed—the time hasn’t passed without me learning something really important: I am capable of handling loss, of dealing with heartbreaking grief and of coming out on the other side.

I still think sometimes about what is lost in the storm, and it is with a sense of sadness. But my sadness now is measured. All this was lost and I still stand. My parents still stand. We made it through this experience, fortunate to have our lives and each other. And it turns out that the funny thing about memories is that you keep making them. New ones are created to fill the spaces of the ones that are missing. We keep living. We keep remembering. And the water cannot take that away.

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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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