Lucky: A Katrina Survivor
The following entry is from a 2005 Myspace blog post that I wrote on the first night I returned home from volunteering with the Red Cross in Houston, Texas. The events took place some time around two weeks after hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Please do not re-print or re-distribute without express written consent.
Lucky and me (2005)
Current mood: nostalgic
A true story.
Every night I stepped foot inside the Astrodome in Houston, Texas I was draped with grief from thousands of New Orleans survivors. Each night I walked away from the Dome I was determined to cleanse the muddy perception I had of my own life.
I walked self-consciously between the cramp isles of Red Cross cots spread across the Dome floor. An elderly man in a wheel chair followed closely behind. When I saw him I thought he would be a perfect person to approach since it was our job as volunteers to initiate conversation with residents staying at the Astrodome. Some survivors were in need of blankets and toiletries, others just needed someone to talk to. I've never been comfortable initiating conversations with complete strangers, especially knowing that they've been through so much hell. I couldn't possibly empathize with what the survivors have just gone through. I was nervous and felt out a place. Half of me didn't want to be there.
The old man slowly wheeled his way towards me. I still couldn't speak. Then my father, who came along to volunteer with me, turned toward the old man.
"Hey buddy, how ya doin?" He asked.
Daddy could talk to anyone. I secretly envy him for that.
I was glad Daddy came along, not just as buffer, but because it's been a long time since we had a chance to do something together as equals. I've spent so much of my adult years trying to be the mother to my father instead of just being his daughter.
I stood there looking at the old man, feeling invisible, wanting to say the right thing, but couldn't. Daddy spoke again.
"How did you get here?" Daddy asked.
"Luck," the old man responded.
Daddy asked the old man his age. When he said that he was born in 1930, an immediate pact was formed between the two of them.
"You were born in 1930?" Daddy asked as if he didn't hear him right the first time.
The old man nodded.
"So was I."
Daddy shook the old man's hand, and within an instant that unspoken gesture launched a spontaneous camaraderie between the two and forced me even further away from their pact. Their connection made me inadequate. I wanted to bond too. That was my job as a volunteer.
The old man told us about how he escaped from his home in New Orleans just in time before the water began to swallow his house. He was sleeping when the hurricane hit landfall. People from outside were screaming for him to get out of the house. Something, he told us, woke him up . The next thing he remembered he was being rescued by boat floating down the street.
"I'm just grateful my wife died years before all this. She wouldn't have made if she was there with me when Katrina hit. She was sickly." He told us.
He talked about his late wife as if she was still alive.
"We got married when we was young. It's our 50th anniversary this year." He told us. I looked at Daddy. His eyes were glazed over.
The old man told us that the he was rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard, who then took him to the Convention Center in New Orleans. He spoke about the horrific conditions inside the Convention Center. No electricity, feces and garbage mounting as the hours passed. He talked about hearing rumors that little girls were being raped at night. He felt abandoned.
"Horrible, just horrible!" He shouted while shaking his head.
He said that people feared they would die and blend in with the already dead. Optimism quickly turned into fatigue. Hopelessness took over and darkness filled the arena, forcing imaginations to scamper untamed.
I stood frozen in the telling of his story. My eyes locked in to his words. Though I couldn't hear what he was saying, I could see every syllable of every word drip from his mouth. It was the rhythm of his words that held me in slow motion. The more he reflected upon a history only two weeks old, the lower his eyes fell toward his lap. He was visibly tired.
"I don't have nothing no more. All my things is gone."
"What all did you lose?" I finally asked, breaking my stream of conscious thoughts.
He told us that he lost his home and everything in it.
"But even though my stuff is gone, I'm lucky cause I still got my life. I'm so lucky."
After an hour of talking, Daddy and I decided to pack up our things. It was getting late and volunteer hours were almost over. Before I said goodbye, I promised the old man that I would come back to visit. The old man looked at me.
"You coming tomorrow, right?" He asked.
"Of course. I'll be here," I said.
He told me to reach down under his bed. He had a gift for me. It was a rose. Some family members on the other side of the Dome had stopped by his cot earlier with flowers. He told me to take one just in case we don't see each other again.
Daddy and I left the Dome around 9 o'clock. During our ride home we talked the entire time like two old war vets reminiscing after decades of being apart. When I realized that we never got the old man's name, Daddy said, "we'll call him Lucky."
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