I spent the morning scavenging for flashlights, storage bins, and ice chests. Along the way I found myself walking slowly, calmly through parking lots and wide aisles to keep my blood pressure from rising. I should be at school right now, beaming at the prospect of a new year of achievement and rebuilding in New Orleans. Instead, we have Isaac.
There’s a gentle, deliberate hum about the city right now, as this season’s buzz saw churns slowly toward our reclaimed swamp. This is not my first hurricane (I barely pass as experienced from brushes with Andrew and Isabel), but it is my first in a city where a significant portion of the population carries hurricane-borne PTSD. Consequently, the churn today is both external and internal.
The dichotomies brought on by such an event in this town are stark. Lowe’s hummed with activity, while Akili resembled a pre-emptive ghost town (whatever that is). I encountered great organization at a gas station in Lakeview today after having seen vacated shelves at Rouses yesterday (4 hrs after the cone moved our way and the storm was still 48 hrs out). Some bold citizens are staking their claim to ride it out a day before the eye arrives, while others have already left for a mid-week vacation to Texas, Georgia, or Tennessee. As for Anna and me, we’re playing a game of wait-and-see. Her job at the hospital requires her to be present when this type of unwelcome visitor comes to town, so ours will likely be a game-time decision.
In the meantime, the pit in my stomach persists. As does the internal fury that’s come on as the day has progressed.
Isaac is a guest with cruel timing. Wednesday is the seventh anniversary of Katrina - a category 5 hurricane upon arrival in 2005. We were supposed to have a Katrina-centered program on the third day of school, but now the opportunity for calm and community will slip by. Isaac will be at most a 3, but this tiny number means winds upwards of 100 mph and dangerous storm surge for coastal areas. It also means that Katrina survivors must replay, like a skipping record just out of reach, a deep, personal trauma that still brings tears. I imagine that those who experienced The Storm themselves would agree that soldiers arriving home from faraway lands would be some of the most likely people to empathize with them - except Katrina was a war that happened on their street, destroyed their community, and brought great loss of their belongings.
I believe Isaac has just been struck from the baby-name list.
Beyond the obvious blow to city-wide mental health, what’s even more infuriating is that Isaac is an unwanted interruption in this city’s long-term revival. I can recall public officials openly questioning if New Orleans as an idea should be abandoned after Katrina. The idea seems laughable in retrospect, despite the engineering needed to keep the city safe. This is not a city that should be left for dead, global warming be damned. Its vibrance grows with each passing month; surely, it is a shining city within a swamp. Blighted properties are turning over or being blown to pieces, new non-profits are springing up to join the cause, new businesses are constantly appearing acros town - and every day The Storm recedes further into the past.
But New Orleans needs more time. It may be physically prepared for another storm, but it is not emotionally ready for this encounter.
So why the visit, Isaac? This city on the mend doesn’t want you. Its nearly 6700 homeless people don’t want you. Its children and families that were displaced into FEMA trailers for years don’t want you. And my school, which stands in a six-year old modular campus (a long-term relationship with temporary shelter) doesn’t want you.
The simple truth, though, is that none of us gets a say. Living in New Orleans means that you consent to this unwritten contract with Mother Nature. There are obvious drawbacks to living in a low-lying hurricane magnet, but I’ll take the good with the bad. In the meantime, it’s time to blast the Led Zeppelin and get to the serious business of preparing for our uninvited guest.