Three years ago on this date I was sitting by a hotel pool in northern Louisiana. My two-year old daughter was swimming with my husband and a friend while I sat in a lounge chair talking with the wife of our good friends. The weather was glorious but the atmosphere far from it. Everyone around us was tense, sad, and in shock. On the flat screen TV in the hotel lobby were scenes from a horror movie that we couldn’t begin to fathom as reality. South of us in New Orleans people were dead and dying, the city drowning, and the Mississippi coast had been sucked out to sea.
We were the lucky ones. We had escaped. Our home in Hattiesburg, MS had a tree limb jammed through the bedroom ceiling and food was rotting in the refrigerator, but we were safe.
And I felt awful about it.
What right did I have to be safe and far away from the devastation, sleeping in an air-conditioned room, eating freshly prepared pancakes, and drinking hot coffee, while people even as far north from the coast as my hometown were lining up for bottled water and a rationed trip into Walmart for essentials? And while in the city of jazz, babies were dying of dehydration, and corpses – human and animal – were floating down flooded streets. While in Gulfport a man was living with the all too recent and vivid memory of watching his family float out to sea. What right?
But at the same time I was so grateful to be alive. My family and friends were safe, even those unable to escape the tree strewn city, who sat in their sweltering homes waiting for electricity and relief. My husband had siphoned gas from the truck into the car using his mouth (and swallowing some in the process). Leaving everything behind, we and another couple piled into our car and headed north; we didn’t care where, we just needed to leave the war zone that was our town.
I’m having a hard time writing this. My thoughts (and words) are jumbled. It’s been three years, I don’t even live down south anymore, but Gustav has brought it all back. My dormant fears, feelings and pain are bubbling over. I feel it physically in my chest. My husband’s family amd some dear friends are still in MS bracing for the impact. We can do nothing but sit here and watch the weather, wait for the phone to ring, and hope for the best.