Monday, August 30, 2010

My "I'm not blogging about Katrina" Katrina post

Yesterday was the 5-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I didn't do a post.

This is the post I told myself I wasn’t going to write. The post about The Hurricane. I told myself I had no right to post, no right to be upset. When I came home I had a house, clean (relatively anyway, there had been a myriad of people living in it during the almost 3 months I’d been gone) and dry, electricity, and all my possessions were intact.

But when I think about Hurricane Katrina, I do get upset. It was a horrible experience. There’s a lot of “if you weren’t here you don’t understand” sentiment, even today - 5 years later. It took me 5 years to figure out I have survivor’s guilt: Guilt that my home didn’t flood, that my family got out and no one died, that I didn’t sit for days in that murky, dirty water, that I wasn’t out in the sweltering heat of the Superdome or Convention Center, praying for food and water.

I was one of the lucky ones. I took the kids and left for Orlando on Saturday night. I figured a 3-4 day weekend at my aunt’s house would be a fun way to ride out the storm. My husband had to stay in New Orleans as he is in law enforcement.

Fast forward 2 days and turn on the television to see the devastation that was New Orleans. To slowly realize that no, we’re not going home tomorrow, I don’t know if there is a home to go home to. For the next 5 days, we watched TV. Watched the pictures, desperately trying to figure out if our neighborhood was one of the ones they kept showing on TV. I watched TV because it kept me from wondering where my husband was – if he was alive or dead. All I knew is that the jail had flooded badly. They were trying to get people out, but he wasn’t in any of the groups they showed on TV that were safe on the bridge. Every rumor of prison riots made it worse. Here’s the thing – no one with a 504 area code could make calls, not even on your cell phone. Imagine not being able to get calls or call anyone in your area code. Someone finally figured out we could text. Even though I didn’t have texting as part of my plan, I texted my heart out, hoping to reach my husband. I never got a reply. I found out later he couldn’t recharge his cell phone (duh!).

Once I figured out we weren’t going home, my aunt helped me get on the stick and by Labor Day I had the kids enrolled in their local Catholic school and I found a little part-time job next door to the school. One of the families from school offered us their “mother-in-law” apartment rent-free. I knew I had to get things to “normal” for the kids. They were worried about their dad and worried about their house and their friends.

This should be great right? I should be happy and have fond memories, right? Wrong. It’s very stressful to depend on the kindness of strangers. It’s very difficult to live a “normal” life knowing people at home are suffering:

• My husband was in New Orleans and had to drive 1 ½ hours to the nearest grocery and I felt guilty because I had air conditioning, fast food, and Target.

• This wonderful family put us up in their home and I felt guilty – I felt like I was taking advantage of their kindness because I already have a home.

• The Catholic school took my kids in for free and helped us with uniforms and supplies and I felt guilty. It didn’t matter that we had already paid our tuition for both kids in full at the New Orleans Catholic school, that we had already bought our uniforms and books and school supplies (all of which we left in New Orleans) and had no money to buy more.

• I took the FEMA money and I felt guilty – this is not for people like me, this is for people who can’t provide for themselves. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t getting paid from my job in New Orleans (I eventually lost this job while we were in Orlando, but a week after coming back home they re-hired me), and my husband’s paychecks were sporadic at best. When the kids got sick it took me two days to find someone who would see them without paying for the visit up front – my insurance was a local New Orleans company and wasn’t honored in Orlando.

• Our hosts threw a party and asked people to bring donations. I felt like a panhandler, but I took everything they offered – drugstore giftcards, restaurant cards, cash. Just because I wasn’t being paid didn’t mean I didn’t have to pay my mortgage, car note, insurance, or other bills, and Jerrod’s paycheck situation was unreliable –he was working, and they promised the money was coming, but until it actually got there he had to eat and so did we.

The kids and I stayed in Orlando for almost 3 months, we came home when our school opened. At the time I didn’t have a job and didn’t know what I was going to do since there were no jobs to be had, except at Lowe’s and Home Depot. The grocery stores (I think 2 were open in my area) were only open until 7pm, and garbage pickup was nonexistent and worked it's way up to "every now and then", but at least I was home. And I was thankful to be there. Soon after I got home, my old job called and asked me to come back to work, of course I jumped right on it!

My father-in-law briefly lived with us, then we had a dear friend move in for a few months, and I was thankful I was able to “pay it forward” in some small way.

When you tell anyone from out of town that you’re from New Orleans, the first questions is “did you lose your house in Katrina?” and if the answer is no, you’re dismissed as not being affected and your experience is considered inconsequential. Here is where I say – not everyone lost their homes, or loved ones, but EVERYONE was affected. Everyone.

I may not have a sensational Katrina story, but I carry my own scars. I carry guilt.


Michelle Greathouse said...

Bless your heart. :)

I can't imagine what it must have been like. We watched it unfold on tv and I was appalled that something like that could happen in the United States.

In my book - no one who experienced that catastrophe is inconsequential. And though I can tell you not to have those feelings of guilt, that is something you will have to come to terms with in your own time. :) And you will.



Hannah said...

*hugs* From one survivor to another, all I can say is *hugs*.

Anonymous said...

I knew you were stressed. I just never realized how badly. And I didn't realize all the guilt you had. You deserved EVERYTHING you were given, because it was given out of love for you and the family. There was nothing ANYONE could do...and everyone wanted to help, so you got gift cards and free lodging and free uniforms because we couldn't give you what you truly in your home and a job in your town.

I have fond memories of you being here, but not the circumstances that brought you here. I was glad you were safe and so were the children. I knew Jerrod could take care of himself!...Love, Auntie M

Major Dad said...

I have nothing to say but I love you....Enough said.

Cecile said...

Hugs and kisses.

SusiSunshine said...

I'm not sure what to say (pathetic I know) but I wanted to let you know you touched my heart with this story and you have no reason for all this guilt.

Chris said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Patti. I can't even imagine what you went through - and I'm glad you and your kids didn't have to go through worse.