On August 29, 2005, the worst of Hurricane Katrina had passed as we watched the news in anticipation if everything would stay that way. My dad was optimistic as most hurricanes just waved hello and left. No other hurricane during the 33 years that my parents lived in New Orleans had really taken up the southern hospitality and welcome offer that the pineapple symbolizes. My mom was pessimistic and saying the worst was going to happen. My fiance was flying to meet us in our evacuation city of Memphis after whooping it up in Philly for his brother’s bachelor party. He had just begun to enjoy the city having lived there for only 2 months. He hadn’t yet let the city become part of him. I don’t know what I was- in denial maybe or just observing until there was something to react to?
And then it happened…my heart shattered into a million pieces. This was not a drill. It was going to hurt and if my son was alive during this, he would have been running around yelling “intruder alert, intruder alert”.
The levees broke or rather burst from a combination of too much water and arguably poor engineering for such an impressive force. We lived only ¾ mile from one of the main levee breaches. The compilation of excessive amounts of water inside of a city, short sheet pilings, low levees, construction around one of the bridges, and a few old enormous oak trees close to the canal’s edge that may have acted like a cork, it’s really not surprising that it burst. It was predictable for a category 5 storm and the sound of a champagne cork or rather tree, roots and all, being ripped from it’s home for more than a few hundred years was not a symbol to the start of a party.
Normally we were always in party mode- planned parties, block parties, spur of the moment parties that could quickly turn into 100 people. This storm would flip my world upside down and backwards. I didn’t want to ride a rollercoaster. I get motion sick and as many of my friends can attest, it’s not a fun experience to hang out with me while I recover.
But I did it. I got on the ride and rode all the ups and downs. I cried, I laughed, I ran, and I complained and struggled before making the hard decision to move. I left the city that was my home and set out on a new adventure. I was and am resilient. I grew stronger. I took on more challenges and achieved goals that looking back seem impossible to do again.
I am grateful and better because of this hurricane, but it doesn’t mean a storm cloud doesn’t form over my head every year on August 29th. It’s almost as powerful of a feeling as when I visit the city. Stepping off the jet bridge and into the airport terminal, my heart rate speeds up, I have to deep breathe and I feel it all over again. The deep sadness that occurs when something is over when you didn’t end it. I pull out of this faster now and shift to just enjoying and having fun during visits, but it’s not easy. And it never will be.
I know many people are having these same feelings and permanent life changes because of COVID-19. My hope is that you ride the rollercoaster and my wish is that you come out of it stronger, better, and able to take on more. Here’s to a real party where the sound of a champagne cork makes you smile and not want to cry!