If I hear Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” play on the radio or in the background of some documentary one more time, I might vomit all over myself.
Almost two weeks ago passed the one-year anniversary of the landfall of that home-wrecking bitch, hurricane Katrina. If you were from New Orleans and didn’t lose your home, you lost a family member to the water or the evacuation – if not a family member, then your friends, or place of business or a school to send your kid to.
And one year later, things aren’t much better.
As I moved into Thurston Hall last year after leaving my home in New Orleans, my parents and I sat in J Street for hours watching our city flood and its citizens grasp for life. Needless to say, my parents stayed in D.C. much longer than many others.
I watched every familiar street, park and coffee shop slowly sink under water. I saw the aerial shots of stranded civilians aired on TV, except I knew what was being filmed. That was my city. Weeks later, my mom told me that residents of my area would be allowed in for 24 hours, and that I should e-mail her a list of my most important things: photo albums, my grandfather’s t’fillin and some collectibles. There was no guaranteeing I’d see anything else ever again.
Katrina had ruined New Orleans and hurt my family so much that I ate my Thanksgiving meal in a FEMA trailer last year, after a morning of scrubbing mold off of furniture.
With such financial loss, I couldn’t ask my parents for money, so I spent my first year at GW working three jobs. I visited the Office of Financial Aid for the first time and bought food with a Red Cross credit card issued to victims of Katrina. I had my own alternative spring break: help fix your house.
My parents, returning to New Orleans, began work on restoring my house while living in the trailer and sleeping in their upstairs bedroom. My father stayed at home while my mother worked. In May 2006, nine months after Katrina, my father found a new job in Washington state.
I spent the entire summer working in North Carolina and returned to New Orleans for just two weeks to pack up clothes, collectibles, pictures, souvenirs and everything else I’ve acquired over 20 years.
The only minor detail was that almost one year after Katrina, we still didn’t have a kitchen. We ate food from a refrigerator and microwave on folding chairs amongst the construction equipment.
There leaves my mother, now four months alone in New Orleans and counting. My parents are not divorced, but my mom cannot leave New Orleans until our house is fixed enough to be sold. She deals with the headaches of what I refer to as the team of ‘mullets and migrants’ that work to restore our house to its former glory. She still works nine to five as a social worker: consoling, finding grant money, assisting the elderly and helping displaced New Orleanians find their way home. She helps everyone else’s Katrina problems all day, but when she returns to an empty house under construction at five, there’s no one there to listen to her problems.
When the place that I call home in New Orleans is sold, the mark of Katrina will be complete. I will no longer return to New Orleans or to familiar places and people, but to a strange, snowy place out West with nothing but my mom, dad and boxes of my belongings with my initials on the outside.
One year later, and photo albums still sit as mush inside mold-ridden homes. Businesses are still closed, even boarded up. Dead bodies are still being found and identified. The levees and drainage systems are not ready for the hurricane season that began not too long ago. Houses still have blue FEMA tarps covering their roofs and thousands of New Orleanians are spread around this country, missing a part of their soul – home.
One year later, and my house is still under construction, my family of four lives in three different time zones, and my mom still deals with the hassle of contractors and construction workers, carpenters and cabinet makers, and lives alone in the city of Katrina.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be back there. But if I am, and if Armstrong’s song comes on the radio, I’ll cry.
-The writer is a sophomore majoring in