January 2006. I’ve been back in my home since October 2005. The bottom floor of our house is gutted. We have replaced our water heater, a washer & dryer. My husband and daughter came home to our raised bungalow from Austin, TX in November 2005. We finally got gas service in December 2005. I’ve been driving from Carrollton to my job at the Chalmette Refinery through postapolcalytic New Orleans for months. My route usually takes me down Carrollton to I-10 to the Claiborne exit and then to Franklin where I jump to St. Claude. The Claiborne bridge has been raised since I returned. The only 2 routes into Chalmette are either via Paris Rd or St. Claude, limited access and both routes require you to go through a military/police check point.
I watched the tide rise and fall from my porch before we floated ourselves and our bicycles out on air mattresses and then rode to I-10 & Causeway. I slept under the I-10 and had FEMA throw bottled water and MRE’s at me. I’ve gutted my own house and driven past more dead refrigerators and tatoo’d houses and debris piles bigger than garbage trucks than I can count. I repeatedly worked side by side with the folks removing debris piles sweeping and scooping the debris from in front of my home. I drive past the devastation and emptiness daily. I have a profound sense of loss but I’m tough and grateful. I have a job, a home, my daughter can return to school, my husband is working on our lower floor, we had insurance. I know that it could be worse. My mom lost everything in her lower 9th Ward home, her job moved to Covington then the Mississippi gulf coast. My brother lost everything in his home in old Arabi. His job is here. His family is still in South Carolina.
In December 2005 I take what is left of my 2005 vacation and spend some down time at home with my family, a real luxury. Then in January 2006 I drive back to work, down Carrollton to the I-10 to the Claiborne exit, down Claiborne. But it’s been 2 weeks and I am on automatic pilot so I forget to turn on Franklin, I reach the foot of the Claiborne bridge and see that it is open. Cool. Great. Progress, right? I drive over the bridge and there to my left is the barge that split the levee still sitting amide what is left of the broken and battered homes. I gasp out loud. How can I still be shocked? I keep driving and there at the foot of the bridge is a house in the middle of the right hand lane. I have to veer around it. I drive on to work but feel gut punched. But the time I get to the light at Claiborne and Caffin I have tears running down my cheeks. I’m a bit bleary eyed as I go through the checkpoint on St.Claude/St.Bernard Hwy. but the cop on this watch has seen it before. I show him my badge and go through. I’m recovered enough to put in a days work before I drive home through the devastation again.
I’ve been on vacation putting the finishing touches on our downstairs. It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve driven down Carrollton to the I-10 to the Claiborne exit, down Claiborne across the Claiborne bridge to Chalmette. As I come up over the bridge there on the left are rows upon rows of little pink houses. And I smile broadly at the vibrant image of hope and say out loud “Thank You Brad Pitt”.
January 2006 Despair . January 2008 Hope.