A few obligatory thoughts on the 5th anniversary of the one-eyed bitch named Katrina:
This is nothing I want to think about, much less translate from thoughts to words, and still less to "publish" on a blog for all the world (or just my seven readers) to see, yet I feel compelled today to do so.
Let me begin on an up-note with an optimistic link to the most positive, heart-lightening K-5 piece I've read, by my dear friend Paul, incidentally, writing for the Daily Mail, UK.
An Open Love Letter to New Orleans.
Just as inspiring are the pages and pages of love-responses from his readers. Tragedy really can bring out the best in people, even as it brings out the worst.
Excerpt from an email to scottynola yesterday:
It really is refreshing to read a K5 love letter as opposed to all the grim news (that I'm actively avoiding). Not that I'm against the news, per se. I think it's crucial this tunnel-visioned country is reminded that we exist, and reminded of the atrocities we suffered at the inept hands of a mismanaged, misguided gov't. So while I don't choose to "revel" in Katrina nostalgia, I'm glad we're still getting some media attention, even if it is only once a year. Like a morbid Santa Claus for the Midwest flyover states.Of course it's not just for the Midwest flyover states. It's important, if a bitter pill to swallow, that we take a moment each year on 29 August and mourn and grieve and heal and contemplate. And talk and communicate and commiserate and reach out and touch.
Katrina did not stop at forever changing the map of New Orleans and how it rolls. It left its indelible mark on everyone who lives on the Gulf Coast, or have ties to the people and places in this unique part of the world. So what we have now is a "new" old city, still trying, five years later, to figure out how to get though the day, like a stroke victim relearning how to walk and talk. This extends to the population of the Gulf as well. Some have healed with a quickness and resiliency and forged a new path for themselves. Others are shattered for life, or at least the time being.
I confess my own weakness as I belong to the latter group. Until the late summer of 2005, I always thought of myself as flexible, adaptive, elastic, and able to cope with any adversity. This was not vanity nor self-delusion; I had 30+ years of evidence that I can lob back any explosive missile hurled my way. There was no tragedy I couldn't cope with and bounce back from, stronger, sadder, but wiser from the experience.
Katrina was a backhand I couldn't return, and I'm still trying to figure out who I am and how to get along. Stroke victim.
My friend louismaistros wrote this spot-on piece for the Times-Picayune, thankfully with a more positive slant than I'm currently feeling, but he really did nail exactly what's going on in my head, and the heads of so many others here: Unpacking the Boxes.
It was Katrina who bade me go on Crazy Pillz, despite 20 previous often severely depressed years where I vowed that I would not medicate away my problems like the rest of the country; I could always bootstrap myself out of a bad situation.
In ’09 I broke down and realized that I was not sorting out the Katrina aftermath properly, and I needed chemical help. A humbling confession of impotency that still rankles me.
Katrina pulled the rug out from under me. Or, if you prefer, you know that trick of yanking the tablecloth out from under the dishes, wine glasses and floral centerpiece? Yah, that. Except the yanking was done badly, and all the china was broken. Everything I thought I could count on proved useless, from my own internal resources to the gross neglect and mismanagement of the shittiest federal administration anyone in our lifetimes has ever seen in this country.
It is expected that Gulf residents say, "Katrina changed my life." The difference is in how.
I do not like the person I have become. Nervous, uptight, Crazy Pillz. Bad sleeping patterns. Teeth grinding. Muscle tension. (Oh, victorine, why did you and your magic fingers have to leave me?) Inertia, black thoughts and panic. Walking with the feeling that with each step I could crash through the floor. Weight gain. Gray hair. Lines on my face. This is how I have lived every day for exactly five years. In many ways, it's not living at all. Sudden noises or movements startle me like a kitten. There are frequent bad days where I cannot get out of bed at all. Every day's fleeting, waking thought, a practical, calculated, "Well, there're fistfuls of Seconal—if it comes to that."
PTSD is a slow boil, I've learned, not an instant snap that leaves you a dribbling mess. Who knew! But the result can be the same.
Every day I count my blessings, of which I have many. It's necessary to examine the good things constantly as a reminder that all is not lost to me. I feel like an old woman poring over her yellowed, crinkling photo album.
Family: I have a great one, both nuclear and extended. We're all close and supportive and it gives me a spine.
Friends: my chosen family, and I have chosen well. The love I feel for my friends and that is reciprocated is often enough to bring me to tears — the good kind. Like now, just a little bit. Awww. My friends are my inspiration to carry on, to do things. I'm just mimicking them, but it's a start.
Husband: Ben often doesn't understand me, and that's okay. I don't want him to! I don't think we could get on so well if he understood the horrible things going on in my mind; it would mean he thought the same way, and one of us doing this is one too many. Instead, he chooses to simply love me, nearly unconditionally, and at such a time when I can still hear the echoes of the crystal and china smashing to the floor, the fact that I can count on him — count on the most important thing — is a luxury so awesome that it borders on the surreal. And the love I feel for him sometimes overwhelms me.
New Orleans: You might be tempted to say, "Well, if Katrina fucked you up so badly, leave the scene of the crime!" Except that's wrong. New Orleans is recovering nicely, thankyouverymuch — wish I could say the same for me. And anyway, you don't escape your problems when you take them on the road. It's better for me to be here, my adoptive city, and the only place that's ever felt like home in my long years of trekking about the country and globe looking for exactly that. I've been here nearly fifteen years — a personal best by twelve years — and I mean this literally when I say that I cannot leave my house and walk around these well-known streets without being awestruck by the beauty and magic and palpable pulse of New Orleans. It's everywhere, embracing every jagged oak root pushing up the flagstones on the sidewalks, in every tenacious fern growing from a crack in a building's wall, in all the percussive punctuation from the music that surrounds us. The Mississippi River, throbbing like an artery. The verdant air, swamp-alive, and bringing vibrant life to me with every lungful. I love a lot of places in this world, but only New Orleans is home, and at a time in my life when I search madly for a foundation that won't crumble under my feet, it would be folly to turn away from my home.
That's all I can manage right now. I make a concerted effort not to Go There too often because I'm not sufficiently equipped to come back. Once a year. 29 August. I can do it once a year.
Now, back to my physical therapy. Stroke Victim, y'know.
I don't really talk about this anymore, but this seems like an appropriate place and time. Katrina seems very far away to me, and at the same time I can recall what it felt like as though it happened last week. It used to be like it was yesterday. I call that progress, however small. I still cry when I think about all that we lost. No. All that was torn away from us. We all walked around with the skin flayed off our bodies, trying to find a comfortable place to be where it wouldn't hurt too much to breathe.
I wish I could have stayed in New Orleans, but I just couldn't. Every day I would wake up disappointed. Frustrated that things weren't farther along. Nostalgic for how it used to be. Angry that things are so still so messed up, and it seems like the city and state missed a chance at restructuring things so they could have a chance to be better. There were definitely things that were good, great even. I loved working at the spa. I loved and still love my circle of friends, which grew tighter after all we had been through together. (and I miss you all terribly.) But New Orleans was becoming like a sociopathic lover, doing her best to drive me insane by not doing anything at all. The daily frustrations got to be distracting to the point where I felt restless and violent almost all the time. My inner monologue was standing in the middle of the street just screaming in impotent rage. Instead of seeing the beauty around me, I saw only my route from point A to point B clogged with oblivious tourists and I wanted to kick them all in the shins. Both Brian and I felt like we needed to leave before we started to hate it.
I am earnestly looking forward to visiting and being able to enjoy all the things I've missed without the weight, the burden of trying to live somewhere that makes me feel broken all the time. I know that I take all my baggage with me, wherever I go, but I feel like here, in Portland, I can put it all down and sort it out piece by piece. I haven't been here long enough to know for sure, but I suspect I will never love any city as much as New Orleans. It truly breaks my heart that I can't live there, but I know that my mental and emotional health is better for it.
Thank you for this. You put into word so bare what I struggle to keep tightly under wraps. As if mean, disciplined control will sort out mp psyche.
Five years on, that control is laughable, my discipline nonexistent. I fear all I am left with is mean.
It's time I did something about that. So, again, thanks.