Hurricane Katrina Note From New Orleans: 8 Is Enough

Eight years ago I was on a week-long vacation before my new job was to start. My cat died the week before. Just before that, our car was totaled on a bridge in the rain, and my husband and I walked away without a scratch.

So there we were with a new car, no pets and a cashed out 401K that was to be the only source of funding for the foreseeable future. After the levees failed post Hurricane Katrina, there was nothing to come back to for years.

We eventually settled in the Midwest where my parents began their long battles with Alzheimer's Disease, first my father then my mother. I'll always be grateful to have been there for their last years, no matter who they thought I was at times.

This is the part where I reassure you that this is not a glass-half-full disaster anecdote. "You too can have a dead cat crashed car crazy parents and annihilated town. It all comes back!"

It doesn't ever truly come back. Other things show up and you're distracted for longer periods of time. Your yips begin to hold off until disaster anniversaries.

It's not 8/29 yet, but I'm seeing a scattering of writers sharing reminiscences on their Hurricane Katrina experiences. And I'm seeing commenters new to New Orleans take them to task for wallowing. For remembering. For still being here to talk about the time before.

Rents were lower, the city's demographic was far more African American, jobs were easier to find and our best friends didn't live halfway across the country. I still don't feel that once a year is too often to turn around and remember.

It often feels as if the new New Orleans finds itself wanting to hear less about the memories it's being built upon, and more about how things are better now. We've become the Hollywood of the South. Film shoots are ubiquitous, and even a trip to the grocery store can involve walking down an old west dusty street with movie stars waiting for the cameras to roll (see below).

Changes like this bring: "Thanks to Hurricane Katrina..." headlines, but who really wants to hear about the gut punch that goes with that when so many lives were lost and so many can never come home.

By way of example, no one on the Jersey Shore is going to want to read a "Thanks to Hurricane Sandy the Roller Coaster is Taller Now" headline. No matter how high they eventually build it. Triumph can't always be snatched from the jaws of an anecdote.

Life as I knew it changed eight years ago. I tunneled back into journalism such as it is now. Social media gave me a net of far flung friends while my husband was touring Europe with a blues band and my parents were dying. We've been back in New Orleans for three years, I'm writing and my husband is producing music so our original fields have found us. But the stress triggers are still there.

When Sandy approached, I sent East Coast friends far too many messages advising a hand-cranked flashlight with USB ports. Then I worried about being a disaster know-it-all.

Because nobody sees Job approaching and thinks: "Oh good! Here comes that guy with the story about how things got bad, but it's all better now and everyone's replaced."

And nobody expects Lot's wife not to remember how it was before, but they don't have to hear about it. Her head is turned back to her city as it was, salt tears long since dried.


(French Quarter August 2013, film set mode. Photo by Jeff Beninato)