Saturday, August 29, 2009


In Memory of Hurricane Katrina

“I can’t believe that I met a real live Katrina survivor,” stated the mammogram technician in a celebratory voice as she adjusted my properties on the hideous contraption. It was not until then – standing there exposed – that I realized that I was a survivor. I deal with my grief by drowning myself – or sometimes overextending myself – by volunteering in my community. It feels natural because I did it prior to Hurricane Katrina. I constantly try to regain a life comparable to the one that I had in the past. Occasionally, I search for items in my house that are no longer there, or I get into my car to go to a café that I used to frequent, only to realize that, not only is it gone, but I’m living in another city. In addition, I must admit that I have gotten into debt trying to pull myself back up; after all, I took a 62 percent reduction in my salary once I started working again. I am not angry with Katrina; I consider it a part of my journey that I call life. I had to experience it in order to get me where I am today. I do not have an awful life; I have a different life. In other words, the hurricane is over, however, I am still outside in the rain.

Hurricane Katrina was one of those rare moments in life where all New Orleans residents seemed equal in terms of defenselessness. Everyone suffered some sort of loss that day, everyone. I had friends who did not evacuate. They had the wherewithal, but they chose to stay. The National Guard ended up rescuing them from their homes.

I was in Florida on vacation. Still, I live with the guilt that I was not there. I had to watch distressed citizens beg for help, food, and water while I sat comfortably in a condominium with all the necessities. I felt, like most Americans, helpless. When I went shopping the day after, everywhere I went in Destin, people were crying. It seemed as though I was in a twilight zone because I had never seen an entire community weeping.

When I was able to leave the Florida panhandle, I travelled to Donaldsonville, Louisiana by way of Baton Rouge. As my friend and I rode down the Interstate, we travelled over downed power lines. We had no idea if they were alive or dead. When we made it across one safely, I said silently, “Thank you, Jesus.” There were no gas stations open so I prayed that we would make it all the way home. When the automobile’s gasoline needle got to empty, we were within the Baton Rouge city limits. I would soon learn that I had lost my house and my car, among many other items, because of the storm.

When I tell my Katrina story, I get all kinds of responses. My favorite line people say when referencing everything that I lost is, “They were just things.” I agree with them. Nevertheless, I let them know that they were my things and they were more than “just things.” I worked hard for my possessions; no one gave me anything—not even the overstuffed khaki couch where everyone fell asleep when they came to visit. I have memories and emotional connections to those things. It goes deeper than people on the outside can imagine. I had community connections that no longer exist. The restaurants and stores that I use to go to are now gone, and my social network disappeared. I came to love – and sometimes not love – those “things” about New Orleans. After this response, folks follow it up with a question, “You had flood insurance, right?” I usually reply with a “Yes, but….” and they interrupt me with, “You’ll be all right then.” Individuals fail to realize that, not only will things not be the same, but also you never have enough flood insurance to replace everything. Let us face it, how do you replace pictures from a Mardi Gras Ball?

I try to go beyond the ignorance about the disaster to attempt to understand my own plight. I realize that I changed. My outlook on life is different. I no longer wait for that special day to use the good china or to wear a special outfit. I treat each day that I have life as a special day. I become solemn when I hear about a natural disaster in the United States or abroad. I relive my experience and I pray for a quick recovery for all. I no longer live in New Orleans, but I still think about it. I decided not to return, and a Higher Power ordered even that decision. I refuse to say that I will never go back, but not right now. I miss my friends, my extended family. If the city were 100 percent rebuilt, it would never be the same. Fortunately, I can reminisce about the old New Orleans, the way I remember it; whereas, our country should continue talking about Katrina until everyone affected by the storm is made whole again. Friends and family should carry on this conversation until they look at me and remember that I am a real live Katrina survivor. That sometimes I still feel sad and I cry at night before I go to sleep; and even though I smile during the day, I might still struggle to put my life back together, financially, mentally and spiritually.

© 2006 by Rekaya Gibson. All rights reserved