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After Katrina

Discussion in 'Snippets of Life (Non-Fiction)' started by cheer, Mar 13, 2007.

  1. cheer

    cheer Silver IL'ite

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    After Katrina-True Story

    By Blake Bailey

    A month after we'd evacuated, I returned to New Orleans for the first time. My former life in a suburb near Lake Pontchartrain seemed a dream. There -- buried in waist-high debris -- was the lawn I'd lovingly mowed two days before the storm. Inside was the kitchen I'd cleaned, the hardwood floor I'd polished on my hands and knees, the furniture I'd assembled myself, the Persian rug I couldn't really afford -- all of it rancid, moldy, buckled and reeking. I tiptoed around the waterlogged books, breathing through my mouth. The only thing salvageable in my daughter's nursery was an old Pooh Bear perched on a highchair above the water line. I grabbed it and left.

    My wife, Mary, and our one-year-old daughter had moved to New Orleans just two months before the storm and settled into the first house we'd ever owned. Now we'd lost everything.

    For the next few months, we lived like nomads, first with friends in Oxford, Mississippi, then with family in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and finally in a dingy apartment in Gainesville, Florida, where Mary was finishing a doctoral degree at the university.

    Meanwhile, our daughter's weight dropped to the bottom-five percentile on the growth chart, and I tried to forget my own stress, the better to negotiate with insurance companies, banks and FEMA without the benefit of official documents lost in the flood. I was also working on a biography of novelist John Cheever, whom I'd once considered the unhappiest of men.

    Before I returned "home" to see if anything could be salvaged, I'd taken our 1998 Suzuki to a shop to have the AC fixed. After hours of diagnosing the problem, the mechanic told me the repair would cost roughly the Blue Book value of the car. I decided to cut my losses. An office employee was writing up the invoice for all the labor when she noticed my Louisiana license plate. "You from New Orleans?" she asked. I said I was. "No charge," she said, and firmly shook her head when I fumbled for my wallet. The next day, I went for a haircut, and the same thing happened.

    After our lease expired on the dingy apartment in Gainesville, we tried to find a rental house that we could afford while also paying off a mortgage on our moldy, ruined house in New Orleans. We looked at a lot of places, and they were all grim. We'd begun to accept that we'd have to live in drastically reduced circumstances for a while, when I got a very curious e-mail from one James Kennedy in California. He'd read some pieces I'd written about our ordeal for Slate, the online magazine, and wanted to give us ("no strings attached") a new house in a subdivision he was building in Mandeville, across the lake from New Orleans: "This is not a gimmick, not a scam," he wrote.

    It sounded way too good to be true, but I replied, thanking him for his "exceptional generosity," and added that we had no plans to move back to New Orleans. Around this time, too, a poet at the University of Florida offered to rent us his lovely Victorian house while he went to England on sabbatical; the rent was less than some of the awful hovels we'd looked at, but still a burden under the circumstances. I mentioned the poet's offer to James Kennedy, and the next day he FedExed a check covering our entire rent for eight months.

    Throughout this ordeal, the kindness of strangers has done much to restore my faith in humanity. It's almost worth losing your worldly possessions -- mere possessions, I should say -- to be reminded that people are really nice when given half a chance. Indeed, it's not a bad thing to start life over from scratch with that knowledge in mind. <!-- googleoff: index -->

  2. sathya

    sathya Gold IL'ite

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    going through the write up..
    katrina or whatever..

    sure doesnt understand people
    their love
    their belonging
    their nostalgic memories...
    their attachment to something simple..

    but yes
    god lives
    in the form
    of strangers..
    ever ready to help
    and start life
    all new..
    thank god.

    Last edited: Mar 14, 2007

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