Sunday, October 9, 2005

The Return Home

I left Jackson Mississippi around 7:30 fully aware of what I was going to see. All the reports from people that had already went back into the city were 100% negative. I wasn't expecting to see positive signs of progress anywhere in my neighborhood. The traffic on I-55 eerily resembled the same scene on August 28 when I left for the storm. There were hundreds of cars piling up on the spillway trying to get back into the city to see what was left of their belongings. The curiosity was building as we rode over Lake Ponchatrain. I kept thinking to myself. This is the body of water that I spent many days sitting out near eating crawfish and lighting the grill. Now, it is the reason(along with whoever designed the levee) that I am living miles apart from all my friends and family. I decided to take the St. Bernard exit from I-610. I figured I would start with the 7th Ward first since most of my family roots can be traced back to this area. Needless to say the smell, condition of the buildings and the realization there are no people living anywhere in the area depressed me and I hadn't even seen any of my family's home. The family home tour was not any better and only made the feelings worst. I went to Elysian Fields St. to pick up my best friend Cedric for emotional support. I found him trying to break a chain of a dog that was tied up in his mother's house and died. That may sound like animal cruelty but no one expected to be gone from their house this long. We took St. Claude street to the bridge to see if they would let me over. St. Claude street between Esplanade and Tupelo St. used to be considered my stomping ground ride back in my glory days. Every other building had damage. We got to the bridge and were greeted by two NOPD officers who told us we couldn't get over without a work pass. I desperately wanted to see my parents and grandparents' house but a part of me was glad they didn't let me over. I really don't want to drive up to my childhood home and realize the National Guard found my grandmother drowned in her home. I thought I was ready to handle that but I wasn't. We continued on towards my former New Orleans East home to see if I could salvage anything. I had been told by my cousin that the water line was chest high so I expected to be able to at least get some items out of the top of my closet in the bedroom or higher up in the den. The first thing you notice about Pine Village when you turn off of Downman is the fact that everything is brown. There are almost no plants or trees still alive. The smell of death, sewerage, and mold can make the strongest person knees buckle. I turned on to my street and noticed of my neighbors home at the same time. We exchanged hellos and all looked around in amazement at what this storm had done. I put on my boots and gloves and walked to my front door over the inches of mud that covered my walkway. Before you get to the door the power of the mold starts to hit you. I noticed a sofa that was on the opposite side of the room had moved to the point that it blocked the front door. I pushed the front door hard enough to move the sofa and looked inside. The first thing I noticed was the 8FT WATERLINE ON THE WALL! That's right I said 8ft. There is no way if I would have stayed anyone in that house would have survived. I had hope to get some personal memory type items and maybe my computer hard drive but all was lost. The only thing I managed to take with me was a basket of pictures that was a few inches from the ceiling and a black and white picture of my mother when she was the first black clerical worker at City Hall. Other than that everything else is gone. It was a pretty surreal experience to make that trip. On the way back I went through the rest of the city and added salt to the wounds of my spirit. The widespread destruction is unbelievable. I actually lived there a month ago. I finally made it to Old Metairie and was jealous of all the people to the west of the 17th Street Canal that were out living their everyday lives. I said to myself that it's just not fair they get to be home with their families and their lifestyle intact while all these other people are trying to make quick adjustments in other places. Even if you wanted to go home right now you couldn't. For lack of a better term, the city is basically a wasteland at the moment. I have to admit that I held up pretty well emotionally until the ride over the spillway to I-55 on the way back to Jackson. The scene of all my people trying to make it back to their new homes and leaving their lives, culture and memories behind was more than I can take. No one will be the same after this whole affair. There will be many of us in safer cities with better jobs and easier living. It will not be a surprise when a lot don't return. Even though the grass may be greener and the roads less bumpy, no one wanted to feel like they didn't even have the option to go back one day. This is the thought that has everyone shaken no matter how nice their new city is. I just hope we take note of what's going on in other parts of the country and demand that our hometown has the same chance to shine. We owe to all of our people who got washed out and died in that catastrophe August 29, 2005.

1 comment:

Harris said...

Hi Cliff, I am glad that you are safe aand I am praying that you find yyour Grandmother alive. I am a Grandmom myself, 71 years old aand I love to read your website. Just reading, I can tell that you are very nice and intelligent. Keep your hand in Gods hands and everything will be ok. God Bless you. Mrs. Harris