Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Notes From Katrina: Evacuation - August, 2005


I woke this morning thinking about Hurricane Katrina. I don’t think about it too much anymore. Seven years has muted the intensity of that storm a little bit.

I didn’t think about how maybe we should have been better prepared, and how dumb we were to not own a car of any kind, and how stupid it was to not leave when we had the chance because I didn’t want to lose my $5 an hour job at Tower Records.

I didn’t think about how goddamned lucky we were to have a neighbor who happened to have a cousin who left their car behind and given us permission to use it.

I didn’t think about the mad dash around the house, or the realization that in order to bring my three cats, the neighbor’s dog, cat, and the neighbor, my roommate, my sister, and me, we would have to leave behind almost everything we owned.


None of that.

What I was thinking about this morning when I woke up was a single moment on the side of the road at the beginning of our 14 hour, 100 mile trip out of the path.

The Toyota two-door Ark was almost out of gas, and all of the stations were out.  Of gas.  Empty.  It felt very end-of-the-world.

Neighbor, Roommate, Sister and I were in a parking lot about three hours and less than 20 miles from where we’d started. There simply wasn’t enough road to empty out a quarter of a state in less than 24 hours.

Neighbor was talking to his mom on the phone, trying to come up with a solution for the gas issue, and my sister and I sat on a curb, smoking. We watched the traffic.

We couldn’t stay out here.

My mind leaped to the only alternative I could think of: Heading back into town and hoping for the best.

I felt tears welling in my eyes as I took another drag, and tried to will myself not to cry.

It was a very real possibility that we would die if we went back to town, but I felt sure we would die out here with no shelter and miles of bridges ahead of us.

I stared at my phone. Should I call my parents now? There wasn’t a whole lot they could do from Colorado, would it just be cruel? Maybe I should wait until we were back in town… Maybe… we could go back, siphon gas from someone, and come back… Maybe…

I glanced at my sister, her outside blankness a mirror of my own.

Roommate sat down with a sigh. He knocked a cigarette out of his pack, put it in his mouth, and lit up with a big, dramatic drag.

“Well,” he said, pulling his cigarette out of his mouth and looking at it. “Guess I beat cancer.”

My sister snickered. I covered my mouth and chuckled. Within moments, we were all gasping as we struggled to breathe through the laughter. It was that ridiculous laughter, that doesn’t make sense. The kind that keeps starting up again for no reason, the kind makes you look away because every time you look at anyone, you start up again.

Just as suddenly, we stopped, like a switch was flipped.

“So,” I said to Neighbor, “Anything?”

We did eventually find gas, and get food, and at about 4AM, we landed safely in north central Louisiana.

That moment was only a moment in a long, long traumatic day.

But that’s what I was thinking about this morning:

Sitting on the side of the road, laughing death with my neighbor, my roommate, and my sister.