Five years ago, my husband had been a resident of the city of New Orleans for 3 weeks. He had just finished building all of his furniture and had completed the first unit of classes in medical school and was preparing for his first round of exams. I remember I had a plane ticket to visit him on September 1st, but he wasn’t in New Orleans that day, and neither was I.
Five years ago, I remember that I watched helplessly, with so many other people, and saw the images, the video on the news. The cities underwater. The homes, the lives destroyed.
I remember that I cried tears for people I didn’t know, for the lives and livelihoods lost. But I was living in California, my husband got out, we didn’t lose anything. Five years ago, Katrina made landfall on the gulf coast, but it hadn’t made landfall on my life yet, at least not in the way it did on so many others.
I remember the first time I experienced New Orleans was Mardi Gras of the following year. I was only there for a whirlwind weekend, and I will admit, my first impression of her, of New Orleans, wasn’t particularly great. I hadn’t really wanted Slappy to go to school there in the first place and now I was going to leave everything I knew to live somewhere that was rebuilding after so much devastation.
In August of 2006, I moved. I got a job in New Orleans and I started work.
I fell in love with my new home. And for first time, I saw the true face of Katrina.
I saw it in the devastated homes that laid untouched a year after the storm.
I saw it in the neighborhoods that even three and four years after the storm, were empty. Were virtual ghost towns. The shells and foundations of homes remained, but there were no children. Nothing lived there anymore.
I saw it in the faces of my students. Students who terrified of the next hurricane season, of the strong rainstorms that they didn’t know were coming. Students who were unsure of everything. Whose lives had been set on foundations that still seeped flood waters.
I saw it in the work of a community that was pulling itself up the best it could. Where people volunteered to clean, where they accepted the help of outsiders who tried to sort through the damp remnants of the storm, of the tears that fell after.
I saw it in the city that regrew, that stood strong and faced a new threat, another storm 2 years ago, on the very anniversary of the last one.
I saw it in the rebirth of my city, of my home. Of a place that I never wanted to live in the first place, but now can’t remove from my heart.
Though there are two thousand long miles between my life now and my former home, I will always love that city. She holds a piece of my past, of my heart, and hopefully someday, of my future as well.
And on this 5th anniversary of the day of such sadness and destruction, of lives lost, of homes and families devastated, I remember the face of Katrina. I remember the ashes and the beauty that has risen from them. I remember a city that refused to give up hope.
A city that refused to be washed away.