If You Weathered My Storm
August 29th, 2005
There was no storm where I was. Lithonia, Georgia, an oasis of tall evergreen and fruit trees. Home to the gray squirrels, mallards, foxes, and wild turkeys. A good five hundred miles from New Orleans, Louisiana. The day was supposed to be a happy one. Clear skies and an orange yellowed rayed sun. A day at Six Flags amusement park with Batman and Superman roller coaster rides, pictures with Bugs Bunny and Daffy the Duck, and sticky cotton candy that melted on the tip of my tongue. Sadly, only half of this day was a happy one. Holding my vendor sized hot dog, my mother became frantic, pressing the phone against her ear. She called me over and told me my uncle from New Orleans called just for me. I could hear the shakiness in his voice. He told me he loved me, and hopefully, he would see me soon. I was confused. Mom didn’t say anything about him coming to visit. She didn’t like people, even her own brother, just showing up spur of the moment. And what did he mean by hopefully? Mom gave me another few dollars and told me to get her a coke from the vending machine by the public restroom. But before I scurried off I heard her as she became secretive again, pressing the phone against her ear, “We won’t be in contact for days,” she said, “When you can, call me and tell me where you are?” What did she mean? He was in New Orleans. I thought the blazing heat of the sun must have gotten to her. But enough questioning. I needed to get back to my fun. It was my twelfth birthday.
August 30th, 2005
The hurricane had hit, but the storm was not over. I couldn’t believe I was having so much fun. Devastation just ripped through a place I considered home. New Orleans, a cultural mecca for all walks of life, covered in ruin and wreckage. It’s always been below sea level, and the water shown on the television screen made it a reality. Houses, corner stores, streets, everything suffocating in a sea of decay. Homeland Security Secretary said “the lake was drained into the city.” The levees didn’t work. My mom answers the phone again. I hope it’s my uncle. No word from him. But she tells me our other family, great aunts and second cousins were making their way toward Georgia. Toward us. They had left before the hurricane touched down. I desperately wanted them to be safe. My anxiety kicked in, though. I was used to my mom, grandma, and me. Great aunts and second cousins were distant family. The family you exchanged hellos and goodbyes. But I put that aside. Family was family, and they needed us.
August 31st, 2005
I lived in ranch style home in the suburbs. Nothing fancy, but quaint. Just enough space for my mom, grandma, and me. I fixed a ham and cheese sandwich and sat on the bar stool in the kitchen. My grandma was vacuuming and telling me not to waste any crumbs, to which I still did. My mom came out of her bedroom on the phone. It had become her new best friend, in light of everything that was happening. I heard her give directions, “Yeah, make a left at the Texaco gas station. Come one block down, make a right on Matthews Drive, I’ll be standing outside.” She hurried over to me, slapped my hand to put the sandwich down and come with her. They approached slowly. The fumes spurted out of the exhaust. My seven-year-old second cousin twice removed (I guess that’s what she was) sprung out the back door, twirling her plastic Barbie dolls like she was a majorette in a band. I saw my great aunt next. She looked thinner than usual. Her surly repose had not changed. And for the life of me, I could never understand how her and my grandma were sisters. The driver, my first cousin (once removed I guess) emerged and stretched her tight T-shirt over her large stomach exposing her light brown skin to the sun. After we had exchanged kisses and hugs, my mom told them where they could put their stuff. First and second cousin once removed would share my room that was painted in dark blue with bunk beds. Second cousin immediately jumped on my race-car sheets, and every pounce felt like a punch to my chest. My great aunt would be with her sister. Still, no word from my uncle.
September 1st, 2005
I walked in on my great aunt half naked. She had gone into my room to change. I never needed to knock on my own door before. I guess that was a rule now. And seeing her saggy breast and raisin nipples is an image I will never forget. Today was about grocery shopping. Everything they wanted that my mom, grandma, and I didn’t eat they would pay for separately. My mom’s office manager position at a prominent doctor’s office came with its benefits. I stayed behind and watched my second cousin. She wanted me to play dolls with her. I wanted to play video games. But I remembered what mom told me, these next few weeks were going to be rough. Later that afternoon, the TV showed storm victims were shouting from rooftops. Others were being beaten and raped. Fires were being set ablaze, and corpses were laid out like stacked chips in the street. People were restless and shooting at rescue helicopters and law enforcement to which they fired back. I just kept thinking if the storm didn’t kill them, they would just kill each other.
September 2nd, 2005
I barricaded my mind in my mom’s bedroom with headphones on listening to anything besides the news.
September 3rd, 2005
Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management agency known as FEMA sent 1,335 buses into New Orleans. Only twelve made it through the city on the first day. It made me wish I had wings to airlift everyone out. But I could only rub my shivering hands together and try not keep my face from falling in front of my second cousin. It became harder to do as senior exec’s in President Bush’s administration lied to the Washington Post about Governor Blanco declaring the aftermath of the hurricane as “a state of emergency.” Matters I thought were made worse by Kanye West who told his fans that Bush cared nothing about Black people. My focus was on the five feet of sea trash shown streaming through the city. Residents who were displaced to Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and who knew where else. The bright side, if there was one, was that the Superdome known as the hotspot venue for concerts, sporting events, etc. had been evacuated. It had held up amidst the storm becoming a refuge for “victims,” or I should say “survivors.”
September 4th, 2005
After days, amidst the endless talking, the house phone rang. My grandma who sat frantic for days by the phone answered it. Emerging from my mom’s doorway, I could hear the sweet sound of my uncle’s booming voice. My grandma shouted to all of us, and we rushed like a stampede of buffalo to hear him. He couldn’t talk long as he had borrowed someone’s cellphone. With no choice, he was on a bus, headed to Tennessee. My mom grabbed the phone, telling him that she could she would send him money for a bus ticket to Georgia as soon as she could. With his dialysis, my grandma’s worried lines multiplied, and she hoped he would receive his necessary treatment. I was just thankful he was alive.
September 5th, 2005
I had to go back to school. Everyone’s stares and concerns were thoughtful and a little creepy. My friends felt bad for me and everyone who had family from New Orleans. I had the same conversation six or seven times before lunch. “Family was fine, most of them. My uncle’s not with us, but he’s okay for now.” I hoped he was still okay. The more times I said it, the more I didn’t believe it. Of course, my family wasn’t fine. Look at any news station. Matters of the day were only complicated by the arrival of some new students displaced out of their old schools and into mine. “I’m sorry, New Orleans is one of my favorite cities,” my science teacher said, to which a new male student replied bluntly, “Well your favorite city is gone.” His loss and outburst as he sat the whole period with his arms folded garnered much attention. Was he right? “Was New Orleans gone?” It didn’t make the situation easier, as later in a press conference, former first lady Barbra Bush said, “So many people were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.” I thought it was sad that she couldn’t tell the difference between wanting a new, possibly better life and being forced into another one.
Tyrell Collins is an MFA student in the Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. His work has appeared in The Lab Review and Don’t Talk to me About Love Magazine.