i posted some of this before, but my friend anthony just wrote his full transcript of his migration from new orleans back to birmingham in the wake of katrina, and i don't know what to say.
here it goes, from start to finish. if you already read part one, just skip down to the hyphens for part two. or just read it again.
Being a writer, I thought I’d write.
Saturday: It is about 6 pm and we make the decision to evacuate our homes and apartments at 2 AM the following morning. The clan consists of myself, my wife Cheryl, her parents, her sister and her three-year-old son. Our brother in-law, a parish employee, had to stay behind to work. We packed what we thought would be necessary for what we believed would be a three-day excursion. A mini vacation to Little Rock, Arkansas perhaps. The irony of letters ARK does not escape me.
We opt to drive together as a group, leaving a car, a truck and everything else behind.
Sunday: We arrive in Little Rock at about noon after eating at an IHOP just around Tallula, LA. Suddenly, we have a pool, a balcony view, someone preparing continental breakfast every morning and the luxury of all luxuries, a maid. As we begin to try to contact people, we learn that the 504 area code is worthless. We learn that there is no power, no running water and no sewer system. We are unaware of the location of grandparents, friends, co-workers, etc. The notion of unemployment and homelessness begin to set in. We also have in the back of our minds that our house in Birmingham hasn’t sold. Although, I can never understand the complexity of The Almighty, I at least have the answer to the question: God, why won’t our house sell?
The executive decision is made and we pull our house off the market.
Monday: The same all day – watching the news, calling cell phones and hearing what I have now committed to memory, “I’m sorry, due to the hurricane, all systems are busy, please try your call again.” Today, it occurs to me that without local bank phones, financial questions can’t be answered and in thinking that the gulf coast has lost millions in casino revenue, your everyday ATM has become the new slot machine. Any amount of withdrawal is three cherries.
And then there are the looters.
Watching people ransacking retail outlets is an odd thing. On the one hand you think, well they need to survive – that is the mode they are in. On the other hand, as you see people carrying things like Nike shoes, suits and jewelry out of stores you used to legally purchase such things, you think – shoot on site. To me these are the sub-humans that New Orleans is full of. “The zoo,” I angrily tell my wife, “has flooded.”
Somehow, we manage to see our apartment on the news – Look there’s my car! Oh look, there’s the water. Being a mile from Cheryl’s parents’ house, we deem that indeed the entire city of Kenner, just minutes from the airport, is underwater. The biblical story of JOB quickly comes to mind. If you have never read it – do so. The malls, the Blockbusters, homes, cars, everything is submerged to some degree. Knowing this only helps slightly. I say this because once you come to grips with total loss, you truly can only look forward.
There is no yesterday.
Tuesday: More of the same. Clothes are getting worn. We go to the local Chuck E. Cheese to blow off some tension. We had a lot of fun, one of us had too much fun, and for those that know me well, that person was not my three-year-old nephew, Cian (Key-an). You can lose everything but your sense of humor, I suppose. More calls are made to re-establish ourselves in Birmingham. The idea now is to harbor who we have in tow and hunker down for the month they are saying we will have to wait to return. To what, however, we have no idea.
Wednesday: Cheryl’s mom’s birthday. 61. The only thing I can think about is that for her birthday she has been given one more day. As of today, none of us know much about our jobs, homes and family members. Although we do get word that grandparents are alive. Thank God. We are also getting calls from friends offering help. Our love goes out to them. Ah, something else we have not lost.
The images on tv show the worst in people, but I can now tell you that times like these also bring out the absolute very best. The emails and phone calls come pouring in with offers of help.
We meet a man in the hotel lobby. I see he has a blind cane ticking around on the ground. He approaches us jokingly saying he can see shapes and edges and to not be alarmed. He sits down and asks us our story and tells us that he is from just around Kilgore, TX and that he has driven (ok, maybe he rode) all the way to Little Rock to meet with a friend of his from Louisiana to sit and listen and pray with him. Just to be with him. This man had lost his sight and was there simply to give his ears. My 5’ 5” frame seems even lower, now.
We get calls from dear friends, Pshone (Shawn) and Michael Grace and Jim Temple in Jackson, MS. This is a town that lost power and has gas lines for miles and they had the blessed nature to consider that we would have to pass through Jackson on our way home and asked if there was anything they could give us. We also got a call from our friends, Jaime and Winston Baccus, who live in Memphis and realize that Little Rock, AR is just close enough to meet halfway. They too say they want to help in any way they can. I humbly suggest, “the essentials.” As he pulls out the TV set from his car my mouth hits the floor. “You gotta watch college football,” he says. He had a point. Him and his wife also had piles of sheets, pots, pans, soap, towels, glasses, paper goods, cups, and gift cards to Wal-mart. Guess we’ll get some essentials. I think a new pair of socks would be nice. Cheryl and I couldn’t believe it. We were now in utter shock, as this tremendous act of kindness came on the heels of two people in Wendy’s buying us dinner upon hearing that we were from New Orleans. Awesome. Some of Cheryl’s old co-workers learn that we are returning with family in tow and call with offerings of essentials, you know, like a washer and dryer. We don’t even know what to say.
Sean, our brother in-law calls! He is alive and well. He has to continue working to get any machinery back in order. Without a ‘Hello’, the first thing he says is, “If you can make it to your house in Birmingham, don’t come back. Cause there ain’t Sh–… If you’ve met him, you’d know this is followed with a chuckle at his self-proclaimed authority on all things messed up. He’s a mechanic, and a good one too, because with his no holds barred bluntness, he even repaired my stressed nerves all the way from Louisiana with his cell phone barely audible.
Thursday: 8 AM. We’re leaving the hotel, our home away from home away from home to head toward Monroe to get to a bank. We needed to transfer funds and prepare for the realization that we would soon be setting up an account in Alabama. Along the way we get a call from our real estate agent Sherry Conde who tells us she had taken the liberty of contacting a corporate housing furnishing company to try to set all of us up with beds. Oh and in her spare time, also to make some homemade soup to eat when we get there. Wow. I was speechless. But I soon learn that the words would come even harder later. After a while, I get another call from her saying it didn’t work out. “No problem, thanks for the thought,” I say. Instead she says, and this is where I almost run off the road crying, “I emailed a friend of mine about your situation and she has found someone who is going to give you all his furniture used for a lake house.” “What?!” I said. “”Who?” “Well, the company that is getting involved is Lewis Communications. Do you know them?” This is the agency I moved to Birmingham to work for back in 2002 and left in 2004. Spencer Till made the call and has a U-haul set up to make a couple of stops to get his and Beth Bailey’s loaner furniture. I can’t believe my ears. I can’t even tell my wife without my voice cracking. I drove the rest of the way in silent prayer, just amazed.
When we arrive at the house, there are people at the top of our driveway. They are neighbors who heard we were coming back and decided to set up air mattresses for everyone with sheets and pillows. Cheryl’s mom and sister are now streaming tears. We go in to the house to find toys for Cian (very important to occupy the child) and some toiletries.
After we unload the cars and stare at all the stuff we have been absolutely blessed to receive, the doorbell rings. It is another neighbor with a warm apple pie and some more household items. “Figured you might be hungry.” Can you believe these people? Before leaving he prays with the family. A final neighbor stops by and offers help should we need it. Other offers came in via phone as we settled in.
Then, it all hits me. Today is exactly 6 months to the day that I started working in New Orleans. Cheryl and I turned down a 6-month contract deal there, opting for me to be full-time. I would have been walking back into the house either way. Wow, are we not in control or what?
When all is said and done, this tragedy will be of Biblical proportions. Knowing that it is written in the Good Book that the measure you deal out will be dealt back to you, yes, indeed it will be Biblical.
The first things we will humbly buy with those Wal-mart gift cards are thank you cards.
Man, I’m going miss that maid.
Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers and concerns.
If any one reading this is ever in need let us know, we will be storing stuff to pass on.
We love you all.