Like many people, my family waited until the very last minute to leave due to prior hellish and pointless evacuations. My father and I had planned to stay prepared with his boat, an axe and a generator. He had gone through Betsy as a teenager with his sisters and felt that Katrina would be much of the same. I was sixteen at the time and remember the weather being really nice that weekend, we had all of the windows and doors open to air out the house and I sat on the front porch all Saturday talking on the phone to friends who were leaving. My dad kept the news on in the kitchen that Saturday and with each hour the newscasters got more alarmed, pleaded for people who had the means to leave to get out as soon as possible. Things began to feel very real when my brother, who had also decided to stay, changed his mind and showed up at our house with a packed car and his family. Within forty-five minutes of his arrival we changed our minds. I took all of the schoolwork out of my book bag and packed enough clothes for two days. Besides that I brought my CD player, a couple of books for the ride and one box of miscellaneous photos. My dad emptied the freezer into three ice chests, tied his boat to the awning and locked up the house. We packed three people, two birds, a rabbit, a cat and two dogs into the pick-up. We left town; the ride took forever, as expected, and by Sunday we were driving in complete darkness and rain on the Natchez trail for Tupelo, MS where my father's sisters had rooms reserved from days before.
With our entire family being from St. Bernard parish we lost everything. There's a lot to say about the storm and how it shaped our lives but for me the door to it all, the image that I see first when I think of Katrina is of when responders and some residents were first allowed back into the parish just a few weeks after the water receded. My neighborhood was barricaded due to an oil spill but my brother's neighbor, being a fireman, was able to escort us down the road to his house. When I think of the storm it still feels like that first time coming home and pulling on boots to step into the kitchen doorway of my brother's impossibly dark and muddy home. There was no light inside; it was like a vacuum, like you were walking into a place without time or obedience to the physics of everyday life. The mud made all sorts of sounds as we trudged in with flashlights and dust masksâ€”I made it as far as the center of the room. The smell was unbearable and being less than five foot tall I quickly came to a point where the mud capped over the lip of my boots and sucked onto my knees. I panicked; seeing snakes, hearing the gurgle of air pockets and only the few rays of light guiding me to my brother and sister-in-law left me feeling trapped between the toss of tar-muck and molding furniture. I waded out of that house as fast as I could. Even now at twenty-two I can feel the terror of going in that door just as I did then and I don't doubt that of all the memories and events the storm played catalyst to in my life that entrance will never fade.