Unambiguously homeThere is a line that runs through all our lives here. It marks the place where everything changed.
It is first and foremost the water line. Thirty-two months ago, every house, pole, tree, car and street sign in the flooded parts of New Orleans bore the line. We've washed that ugly stain from most of our homes now, but the line remains. I can still see the line in my own neighborhood--the line that separates what survives from what dies.
Everyone knows that to survive, you must stay above the water line. That water line was the subject of a song by Paul Soniat. He sings about how a lot of lives "fell below the water line" in 2005. A lot of relationships, jobs and schools fell below the water line and did not reemerge.
The City of New Orleans is ignoring the water line. At City Hall, the only line they notice is the imaginary line drawn on the flood insurance maps. All they seem to care about is the Base Flood Elevation, that magical line that will allow you to get a building permit, and the best flood insurance rate, and the peace of mind we all crave. Or not.
There are other lines.
There is the line on the calendar that separates our lives in time. It is a line that separates the lives of the people of New Orleans into pre-K and post-K. It starkly separates our lives between how we lived before August 29, 2005, and after. In far too many cases, it starkly separates life and survivors from the dead.
And surviving the hurricane and flood was not an end; it was the beginning of the survivor saga. Fellow blogger Karen Gadbois wrote to me, "Funny how this storm has turned us all into other things." She sees how people have changed where they live, where they work, where they go to school. She knows people who are doing things they never dreamed and never planned to do. But they crossed the line in time and they changed.
For instance, we all know a lot more about flood maps and how to navigate insurance claims than we did before. I always thought I was up to speed on insurance, but you never really know until something happens. You never really know what lurks in the fine print until you get a form letter from the insurance company that matter-of-factly describes what is covered and for how much.
And having traversed that timeline in 2005, we all know more about tropical weather forecasting than ever before. During the past two anxious hurricane seasons, everyone here was keenly aware of every puff of rainy weather in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic.
Another NOLA blogger, Mark Folse said, "I don't think anyone without AMS certification knew anything about Invests, etc. until after K. Now we're all looking at computer model tracks and wondering about the reliability of this model over that, thinking about sea surface temp, wind shear, etc."
When we crossed that line, we all became armchair meteorologists, studying the maps and reading the reports and checking the computer modeling. I haven't heard of any fantasy forecasting leagues starting up yet, but surely one cannot be far from forming.
And then there is the line for help. Lines of people at the Road Home closing center. Lines of citizens at City Hall trying to get permits, or to talk sense to their Assessors. Lines at the hardware stores.
Now my family is approaching yet another line, a line that will officially denote our passage from Post-K to Post-Post-K. We bought a new house and we're moving in this weekend. For the first time since Katrina filled our city with despair, we will have a roof over our heads that we can call our own. We will sleep in beds that belong to us and us alone. We will change our voter registration and discard stationary with our "old" address on it.
We fled the city and our home in August 2005, seeking shelter with family in Texas and Virginia, brief stays in friends' undamaged houses in Harahan and uptown New Orleans, a few months in an expensive apartment in the Sliver by the River, and almost 22 months in a FEMA Travel Trailer.
We bounced around quite a bit, but only now are we landing safely in a place we can unambiguously call, "home."
My family for the past almost three years has been somewhat controlled by a broken line on the highway, a line on a map, a line on the calendar, a line to get help, a line of credit to replace what was lost, and of course, the water line.
Most of these stories are recorded in the lines on our faces. I'm hoping that by this time next week, the dominant line on my face will be a smile.