On August 28th 2005, I was settling into my first home. Proud of what I'd accomplished while still mourning my mother's death. I thought, Killa (my mom's nickname & her nickname for everyone else) would be so proud of me right now. I'd strategically placed all the special belongings that reminded me of her. Her collection of books neatly placed on the book shelf in the office. Her beloved La-Z-Boy positioned just so in front of the t.v. in the den. Her loved music collections stacked next to her favorite Bose radio. This was our home. In spirit at least. I'd lost my mother very suddenly and unexpectedly to an unfortunate hospital error at the tender age of 55 years young. All my life it'd been she and I against the world and now here living her legacy. Her child able to take on the world on my own terms applying the life lessons she gave me and succeeding.
I got a call from my aunt on that evening demanding I pack some clothes and come ride out the hurricane at her 2 story home as my neighborhood had been known to flood frequently and she didn't want to see me stranded for who knows how long. I tossed 3 days worth of clothes in a bag and drove over prepared to hunker down for what we all thought would be a slight weekend inconvenience. At 5am August 30th I was awakened by a loud bang. I awoke to find the electricity out and the house shaking like a bowl of jello. That was it, I couldn't go back to sleep. As everyone else in the house slept soundly I sat up on the sofa thinking, this is no regular hurricane here. I'd become unnerved by the shaking so I decided to peek outside to see if the damage occurring outside could be any more frightening than the damage I felt inside. I was still in mourning and feeling the loneliest I'd ever felt. At 11am that morning everyone in the house was anxiously piddling around, unsure of how long we'd have to endure this inconvenient heat. My aunt and I decided it was safe enough for us to step outside on the porch for a little to catch some fresh air. As the wind whipped by us, we watched the gas tank of a car bob up and down in the middle of the street. Trying to figure out how in the hell does a gas tank that size simply dislodge. Something in me felt again, this is not your typical hurricane but as the hours ticked away, and the wind died down, we allowed ourselves to be lulled into a sense of relief. At 3pm the water had subsided, the gas tank lay just across the street and we decided to walk the neighborhood to see what kind of damage this powerful yet unsettling peaceful hurricane had wrought. We mostly saw wind damage, a few roofs missing shingles, some shutters dislodged, a house fire a few blocks away but the neighborhood seemed spared of any major costly damage. What we did notice was how many strange Caucasian faces were perusing our neighborhood. Our family had been in the same home over 50 years so we were pretty aware of who "belonged" in our neighborhood and who didn't. Yes people I'll put it plainly, we had nothing but white looters in our uptown neighborhood. A fact that stood out dearly when we watched the news coverage a few days later.
On the morning of August 30th or 31st (survivors of hurricane Katrina will completely understand the lack of memory on the date) we were sitting around the kitchen table having just finished a pieced together breakfast that included more gnats than food. The newscaster stated, "There has been a levee breach at the 17th Street Canal and Canal Street will be under water in approximately 45 minutes." That was it, we had to go. Waiting for Entergy to restore power to our area was no longer an option. Everyone else packed what they could, never giving second thought to losing any valuables to flooding as they resided on the 2nd floor. We called our loved ones to see if anyone was in need of a ride, packed up their SUV and my Coupe and hit the road. As we were figuring out the safest route toward Baton Rouge, we drove down S. Claiborne Ave. toward the Crescent City Connection. We got as far as Jackson Ave. Trying patiently not to accidentally run over any of the people we saw "looting" grocery stores for food and supplies, when we encounter a huge fire truck blocking the entire street. There was a huge fire at a pawn shop and people were scattered everywhere. We decided to cut across an empty lot and go under the bridge to come back around to it. As I drove with my passenger (a friend of the family's teen aged daughter), our windows half down I remember seeing young men. Lots of young men, some walking dogs, some just walking in the middle of the street. These young men, not a shirt amongst them, according to appearances, demeanor and the direction from which they were approaching (yep that Calliope) were the types of young men people in our city tend to fear the most. However what I recall as I drove pass these groups of young men was every one of them speaking to me and telling me to keep my head up, everything is going to be okay in a while. Can you believe that? Words of calm encouragement from these gangs of thugs who simply read my expressions and knew what to say to keep me calm. They innately understood that the fear that was so evident in my face was not of them, but of the very surreal environment which I was thrust into without choice. I felt a sense of unity with the people who were experiencing the same thing I was and doing what they had to do to survive. Much as I felt I was.
As we rounded the bridge we encountered 2 Harbor Police officers standing outside their SUV casually chatting. We pulled over to ask them if the CCC was open to traffic and as they assured us it was my passenger winced and turned her head quickly. I looked out her window to see what it was that had frightened her and there it was. The body of an black male lying on the ground half covered with a white sheet with the back of his head completely blown off. We approached the entrance ramp and just ahead of us was the delivery truck of a local newspaper with the back hatch open. There were at least 35 people in the back of that truck holding on for dear life. All the same color as me, no bags, no purses...nothing. It occurred to me that these people had "commandeered" said truck and were escaping to parts unknown. Just after that vehicle was a jeep full of servicemen, armed, prepared and devastated. We continued our journey to highway 1 (talk about the loooonnnggg way to B.R...lol) determined to get there intact, at least physically. As we'd come to understand none of us would ever be intact mentally ever again... We stopped at a gas station, again Katrina won't allow me to recall where the hell we were, and waited 3 hours for my uncle to get to the pump and re-fill the tank. I'd had enough gas to make it so my passenger and I sat in our car in a strip mall parking lot a few feet away. I watched as one after another people with looks of panic and dread on their faces pulled up to those pumps and filled everything they could find with gas. For some reason I was thinking, what do these people think this is, the end of the world? Then it hit me, that's exactly what those "thugs" saw on my face as we drove across that empty lot. And that's exactly how I felt. I felt like this was the end of the world, the beginning of Armageddon, Chaos! Little did I know...it was just the beginning....