As you all are well aware, it’s August! It is during this month I make my annual post related to Hurricane Katrina, usually focusing on my experience working through the trauma of surviving that storm [both emotional and mental]. This year won’t be any different so buckle up, grab your party hats, your fave handle of liquor or your favorite pipe, and buckle in.
On the 29th of this month it will have been ten years since that collection of wind, rain, and water wiped through my hometown and ruined everything. When you are a decade past such an event, it is a lot easier to see the various ways you tried to cope with your trauma—even when you didn’t realize you were doing it. For the longest, my attitude was to just thank God for my life and look at the bright side of the situation. Highlight the ways in which my life improved or changed for the better due to the storm [because there were very real improvements in my life]. But can I at this point in time, a solid decade later, say that being to Houston, Texas for the first time and going to a mixed-gender school for a couple of months was a better outcome than what could’ve been?
Completing the fall semester of my sophomore year as planned in the school building I started in. Being able to go to my first St. Aug Jamboree and seeing all my fellow 10th grade friends from across the city there. Not being the only one of my friends whose house was still standing and in its original state at the start of September 2005.
I have no idea what the end of 2005 could have been had Katrina not come and wiped it all away. I also can’t promise it would not have been a much better year to endure than the one I did. Yet, I’m finally at a place where I can identify my frustration and anger that this tragedy took place in my home, ruined my city, and completely erased my life as I knew it without being consumed by my rage. Vocally acknowledging that all the concerned looks, the pats on the back, and the ‘God will never put more on us than we can bear’ lectures did absolutely nothing to soothe me. There was no true comfort and any type of familiarity was shattered. Even being around the family and friends and fellow church members who survived with me didn’t help because no one was the same. Every one had been changed and touched by the storm, and no one was who they were before August 29, 2005.
There are plenty of people who still aren’t ready to talk about what the storm did to them and how it’s still affecting their life and that’s fine. Everyone who survived that storm has the right to be treated like a human being and respected as such—meaning they are not your testimony to ‘remind you how good you have it in life’. They are not your ‘started from the bottom now we’re here’ mascot to encourage you to keep pushing forward in your journey. They are not your motivation, your rallying cry, your symbolic sacrifice to help you dig deeper within yourself. They are human and they can talk about this trauma when they want to and if never is when they want to talk about it then so be it.
I can only attest to and identify the small ways in which Hurricane Katrina still impacts my life:
I cannot stomach the smell of standing water. When water has been left to itself amongst things that are not water and has been sitting amongst those things for a prolonged period of time a certain distinguishable smell develops in the air. Once that smell takes over a space and things begin to mold and mildew because of the water, its damn near impossible to get that smell out. The city of New Orleans smelled like mold and standing water until at least Christmas of 2005. It was in every house you entered, it was in the trees, it was in the air. Literally every time you took a breath you were hit with that smell. It wasn’t there during the storm, I don’t recall smelling it when I was being rescued from the city three days post-storm, but it felt like the only thing there when we were allowed back into the city a month later. A whole month before I was able to ride up to my own house again.
I have a constant fear that everything and everyone I love and hold dear will be snatched from me…because it’s happened before. My entire family survived the storm, we all found each other in the Astrodome in Houston, TX and were reunited and well. But we will never in this lifetime be together for Christmas at my Teedy’s and Uncle Greg’s house off Chef again. That’s a horrible truth to realize and an even more horrendous truth to speak out loud but it is true. The reason I started therapy last year was because I felt my life was going too well and the bottom had to fall out eventually. The anxiety that continually haunts my growing success as an academic, a professional, and a human being is something I have to constantly check and work through because though I know its all in my head, it feels real, and there is precedent for this happening before. It’s far less jarring now than it once was. I’m grateful for that.
I do not believe the government can ever be of any help to me in life. For those who didn’t know, the government completely left New Orleans high and dry. People seeking shelter and escape from being trapped in their city were shot at, and some killed, by police who were ‘afraid for their lives.’ Don’t believe me? Google the Danzinger Bridge shooting. Many people could not just get up and walk out the city just because things got bad, a lot of them got trapped and were more or less stranded in buildings and areas with no working utilities. And once you got out of physical danger, it was a total and complete nightmare to get access to resources to help you rebuild, so much red tape and bureaucracy that it was almost like they wanted you to give up and just move away for good.
The residue of Hurricane Katrina will never fully go away in the same way my mother and her sister can still vividly feel Hurricane Betsy flooding their neighborhood back in the 60s. In the coming days and months as the ‘Katrina Remembrance Brigade’ marches up and down the streets with little regard or care to the way their work and their ceremonies triggers or agitates those who had to live through it, please take care of those survivors around you. If they need space, let them breathe. If they wanna talk, listen. Do not try to soothe them with some personal anecdote about that one time your house got robbed or you lost your dog, this is not your moment friends! If you ain’t gon’ listen don’t get mad when they hit you with this…
If they want to act like nothing happened, then so be it, just respect their autonomy and their agency and let them deal with this period of time how they need to.
Alright guys, that’s all I got.
Till next time,
Bri aka that girl gon’ be a doctah aka forever a student
“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away. He told people all over town how much Jesus had done for him.-Luke 8:39