Thursday, May 01, 2008

Unambiguously home

There 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.


Anonymous said...

Congrats, Slim. I've been following your saga and understand what you've gone thru, having done so myself but to a MUCH smaller degree, and I am enormously happy for you and yours.

I hope this next chapter in your lives is MUCH happier. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! It warms my heart to hear of one more New Orleanian making it to a stable point in their lives.

Anonymous said...

This is good to read. Welcome to your home and best of fortune.

The long, long road home,New Orleans said...


Anonymous said...

At long last! Kudos to you and your strong family for crossing the line and finally coming home.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to you sir. One saga ends and another begins. If you come by the Freret Market on Saturday, I will gladly donate a nice piece of folk art to your new digs.

mominem said...

Glad your finally and truly Home.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on having a NOLA home. Great post it moved me.

Cathy D. said...

Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Hooray. Best news of the day without question.

Anonymous said...

May your home be filled with peace, love and happiness today and always.


Anonymous said...

I really don't think there's any way we can even understand how much that line changed our lives.

Hopefully, we can take some good from it. I know a lot more really good people now that I didn't know before the storm. Lost a few too.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Tim and family
It is amazing how simple things get taken for granted and enjoy redicovering the "big" little things again.

Eagle 1

Anonymous said...

Home at last

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad y'all finally got to move in, Tim. I hope it all went smoothly and that you're getting settled by now. Your story of loss is among the most painful that I have heard (well, among those whose losses were property), yet, through it all, you remained calm and optimistic and grounded (no pun intended). I hope you stopped and took Varg up on his offer. I echo Howie's message. I really do know a lot more good people because this happened.

FWIW, I became an amateur meteorologist during 13 years of being the person who decided whether or not the Little League park was going to open. I became an amateur hurricane "expert" (cough cough) in 2001 when The Oldest headed to Wilmington, NC for college. I thought I knew everything there was to know about dem storms when we sent Middle Son down here. What a dumb a$$!

My best to your fine ladies and again, many congratulations! :)