Hurricane Katrina. The name alone strikes fear in the hearts of men and disgust at those who witnessed the aftermath, both in person and on television screens across the country. One undeniable aspect of the watery behemoth was that it had an undeniable impact on the region of New Orleans which is still being felt to this day, and which will surely have consequences for times unseen.\r\n\r\nIt seems like only a week ago it just happened. I can clearly remember before it happened. I was just going back to high school. It was my senior year and I had the summer break to relax and gain perspective. Yet something felt different. I couldn\'t quite put my finger on it but there was an eerie sense of uneasiness in that month beforehand. Things just didn\'t feel quite right; something seemed out of place. Me and my circle of friends all picked up on this particular aura and commented on it. I even mentioned it to my mom. \"Oh, it\'s probably just because it\'s your senior year,\" she told me. Those would be infamous words that would haunt me for months afterwards.\r\n\r\nThe morning of landfall, my family and I woke up early and haphazardly packed a few clothes into modest suitcases and departed. We had gotten warning that a hurricane was headed our way and just assumed we would duck town to avoid heavy rainfall and slight winds. The radio and broadcasts from the idiot box had brought warnings, like the apocalyptic seers of old. I wrote it off as the media hyping up something that was undeserved and whipping everyone into a panic like they usually do. Boy, was I and my skepticism wrong.\r\n\r\nOur humble little car ambled on, stuck in traffic thanks to the geniuses in our parishes and their odd causeway flow plan. I swear, Kafkaesque would not even begin to describe the ideas these people come up with. But that\'s neither here nor there. Regardless, we soon drove on, with my parents admitting they weren\'t entirely sure where we were heading, what with the rest of our family splitting up in al sorts of different directions. So, with this sense of aimlessness taking over, we traveled the open road, in any direction but the path of the storm, myself a sort of modern-day Kerouac, eyeing up the highways of America, except way less cool because my Bourroughs and Cassady were my mom and my dad.\r\n\r\nAs night came we decided to park the car and sleep in a parking lot. Now I know what stragglers and the homeless feel it, and it ain\'t pretty. In my attempts to drift off to sleep the car began rocking with the heavy winds. Somewhere between terrified and exhausted, I drifted in and out of consciousness to feel my body swaying violently with the rhythm of our car. If it weren\'t for all the clothes, amenities, and us ourselves being inside that vehicle, it may have very well been whisked away with the fickle tastes of the air and been thoroughly turned over.\r\n\r\nDaylight, with its bright and warm sense of promise, replaced the violent twilight. We had tried parking in the lot of a nearby church where we were, but the priest had called the cops on us (WWJD? Start packing heat, apparently) and so the men in blue had a little chat with us. They were friendlier than the man in cloth, however, and directed us to a nearby town replete with gas stations, people, and oh yeah, food.\r\n\r\nWe headed into a humble little sleepy town called Donaldsonville. O\' Donaldsonville, with your dirt roads, your Piggly-Wigglies staffed by a guy who actually still wore a Bill Goldberg mesh hat (remember him?), and folks in flannel shirts. Being from the city, the fact that these quaint little enclaves exist warmed my heart and gave me an opportunity to step out from my snobby urban roots and immerse myself in my thoroughly uncouth Southern roots. Then again, maybe I\'m getting ahead of myself and being kinda patronizing here. While stopping at a convenience store for some coffee, we happened to run into a guy that for the purposes of this tale I shall name Bobby.\r\n\r\nOl\' Bobby was a portly but charismatic guy, in his early 40s I seemed. He had a ruddy complexion, hearty jowls that always betrayed a smile, and slick grey hair that would make Bill Clinton jealous. And speaking of Bill Clinton, this guy had a libido that would make Russell Brand seem positively ascetic. Why, I can recall as we stayed at his place he\'d burst in at 4 in the morning to shower and change clothes so he could see a girl of his, after coming from some other woman\'s house. See, Bobby, I don\'t intend this as defamation of character, rather a celebration of your free-spirited ways. You know I love ya, man.\r\n\r\nEnough rambling. After chatting with him, he offered my parents a place to stay, having heard about the hurricane on the news. We followed him through a winding labyrinth of back roads until we found ourselves in a bi of an isolated patch. The thought, of course, immediately occurred to us; what if he was some psycho murderer and was leading us back here so he could kill us and decorate his living room with our flesh? As a student of the horror film genre, my mind was racing with all sorts of possibilities, having been conditioned to all sorts of Leatherfaceish scenarios.\r\n\r\nLuckily, his intentions were much kinder and nobler than that. What he directed us to was a small trailer he said he used in between jobs. Turns out he was a sugar cane farmer. All surrounding were expansive miles and miles of crops. The ground was a rough, sturdy sort of dirt, with the sugarcane arranged in neat corn rows as far as the eye could see. There was something epic and expansive about it, like the void in agricultural form that seemed to have no end.\r\n\r\nWe stayed about two weeks in that trailer. Having expected to only be gone some days, I packed only a few changes of clothes. I wore the same pairs of underwear in an insane rotating circle; I was left with only about three shirts to display. It may be a shallow detail to point out in the wake of bodies floating or people being stranded in the superdome, but I feel it illustrates in the microcosm just the insanity and turmoil all citizens of the Crescent City dealt with.\r\n\r\nWith all sorts of connection with the outside world cut off (our phones were down...imagine that, no texting), we remained glued to the TV for some sort of clue just what was going on. Turns out the hurricane was worse than we ever thought or expected. What I saw and heard shocked me, offended me, made me question my essential faith in humanity and assumptions about life up until that point. I\'ve since done research and discovered there were a lot of myths that cropped up during the storm. Some horrific stories were true. Some weren\'t. It\'s telling that not even I\'m entirely sure what went on to this day, and I experienced it firsthand.\r\n\r\nBob had some friends, and we got an unwelcome roommate. Bob\'s friend Saul also lived there, unbeknownst to us. He had the friendly and approachable demeanor of Lurch from The Adams Family and had a habit of constant flatulence and burping that really made us feel at home. Bob\'s other friend, Pete, was a gregarious man who was recently divorced and had a habit of wearing tight plaid shirts. They were all sugarcane farmers and informed us their stock could be found in all local grocery stores. Clearly, even during a tragedy product placement was not out of the question. (I kid, I kid.) Together, I considered the trio a metaphor for the Freudian model for the human mind: Bob was the childish id, driven by desires, Saul was the ego who mediated between biological functions and halfhearted hospitality, and Pete was the ultimate superego, responsible and keeping check on the other two.\r\n\r\nIt also become sadly clear to me just how bad the racial relations down here are. Let\'s not skirt around this time. It\'s been a dicey and controversial topic but it\'s something that must be addressed, certainly here. As I scoured the news reports, I saw images of blacks trudging through the water with goods acquired from the stores in the aftermath of the storm, with headlines of looting. White people got featured doing this and it was \"borrowing\". The sideways glances and behind-closed-doors complaints that unfortunately dominate this city came to the forefront in an ugly way for the rest of the country to bare witness to. Cops in Gretna stopped anyone who didn\'t fit with their description of a WASPy suburbia. Those in the city without transportation, who happen to be overwhelmingly African-American, were left stranded and forced to mount their rooftops just to get some help. Then there was Ray Nagin\'s infamous \"Chocolate City\" speech, in which he became almost as bizarre as the movie which he takes his inspiration from. As War once asked us, \"why can\'t we be friends?\"\r\n\r\nLest I sound ungrateful, let me just preface this paragraph by emphasizing once again just how rough conditions were. In exile I felt like an outcast. Not even a few cities away from my territory and already I felt like I had a bull\'s eye on my chest. The local kids all wore camouflage jackets and went hunting as a hobby. How was I, a kid who hung around punk rockers and was an aspiring writer supposed to relate to them? Also, the trailer was admittedly quite cramped. The particular nexus of humiliation came with how I bathed. The \"shower\", as I so graciously refer to it, was a hose hooked up to a tub. As I disrobed each morning and stepped in, I felt any shred of dignity I may have acquired in my then seventeen years on this planet slowly go down the drain along with my dead skin cells. Even the characters in Deliverance would have scoffed at my crude attempts towards hygiene. The irony is on the last day I finally figured out how to get hot water on that thing. Naked, squatting in a tub, a hose blasting full of cold water onto my soft skin. Damn you, Katrina. Do you see what you\'ve taken from me?\r\n\r\nOnce we got word we might be able to safely return to Jefferson Parish (I live in Marrero....go ahead, hate on the West Bank all you want), we say our goodbyes to our newly-made friends and headed back home. We snuck in through the back routes, avoiding the state cops stationed at certain checkpoints to avoid people coming in, under orders from the indecisive but strong-willed Aaron Broussard. Supposedly we could only come in to check on our belongings and then leave, but in typical N.O. fashion we said to hell with that, we\'d stay if we wanted to and the damage wasn\'t that bad.\r\n\r\nAt the Alario Center troops were lined up, giving away M.R.E.s, which are portable meals that the military themselves eat. Mmm, those were pretty delish, I have to admit. We got macaroni, ravioli, some sort of unidentified meat product, and crackers and Skittles to boot, all that can be heated up on a self-sufficient heating pad that can be powered with the simple addition power of water. Let me also get on my soapbox once again and say the government failed miserably during Hurricane Katrina. I hate to seem like another one of those college students that bashes Bush, especially now that he\'s out of office, but he really did drop the ball. The negligence and lack of coordination exhibited by both the federal and local levels was stunning. It showed that Bush not only could care less about his own citizen\'s safety, but that he was absolutely unprepared for office as well.\r\n\r\nThe care packages we got then were some of the few aid efforts we saw. Here and there there\'d be scattered a giveaway of ice coolers that I saw devolve into a free-for-all, or water bottle distributions. Most relief attempts were grassroots in origins. The community itself banded together and in the wake of catastrophe and attempted quarantine, we banded together and become an autonomous organism, unfettered by the concerns of an anonymous and apathetic system. In Katrina I saw the truth of the human spirit come out, in all its resplendent glory and stark ugliness, the dualistic components of good and evil on full display. In the same city that saw criminals shoot each other and fire at cops with weapons they had acquired, and those same officers running away when the tides rose, and scam artists seeing this as a lucrative opportunity to make money, and officials making press announcements on TV blowing things way out of proportion, I also saw people man their canoes and go out to rescue people by themselves, fashion dilapidated refrigerators into makeshift works of art expressing their disappointment in FEMA, strangers helping one another out and giving them a place to stay and a meal to eat, The Times-Picayune not being deterred and instead setting up a blog website so they could get out news and survivors could reconnect with one another and send out messages. It is a sad truth that it seems only in tragedy do we truly find and discover ourselves. It takes overwhelming pain on a cosmic scale for us to remember that we exist together and to truly reach out to one another.\r\n\r\nEventually one of my friends, Kerry, texted me. Ah-ha, a light bulb went off in my head. We may not be able to call one another, but we can communicate this way! I spread the word to my family (we were staying at my aunt\'s place through her blessing, which was abandoned since they had evacuated too) and soon we were one family unit, merrily typing away on our tiny keyboards, checking up on loved ones and acquaintances. I recall the first day of school post-K and how awkward it was to once again see this people in person that I exchanged messages with, and to know the school was standing and that we were all still standing and had actually gone through this. And academics decry the supposed caustic nature of texting on our society.\r\n\r\nWe finally returned home and what I saw is an image I will never forget. If it were a painting, it would be an immaculate feature in an exhibit somewhere. We finally opened the door to our horse and at first glance everything seemed serene. Our area didn\'t see as much damage as other parishes. On the outside, our house seemed just like we had left it. Inside, as well, everything was the same. But as we made our way to the kitchen, behold, for there was a branch that had come right through the roof. See, we had a giant oak tree in the background, and it must have been uprooted in the storm. There it was, enforcing its will on our house, its massive limb reaching all the way down to the floor, gray moss, water, and leaves littering the floor. When it rained it was a veritable monsoon where our dining table usually was. The hole it punctured created a sort of guerilla skylight and gave us a perfect glimpse of the afternoon sky. It was nature and civilization together, the tree having encroached on our artificial structure, in synchronicity, one harmonious and chaotic unity.

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Citation

Collin Breaux, “[Untitled],” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed June 15, 2019, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/45253.