Untitled piece written during one of my visits to New Orleans immediately following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
In the space of a moment, he decided to stay. Thinking back, he couldn’t really remember why. He had things to do around the house, of course. Painting and re-doing the kitchen like he’d promised his wife Claire to do for the last two years. A week’s worth of rain would be the perfect time to get a little work done, he told her. Besides, the kids could use the vacation. His work had prevented a real summer vacation and now that school had started a long trip was out of the question. A few days in Missouri with Claire’s parents would be great for her and the kids. He’d never gotten along with his father-in-law, although he wondered if any husband ever did. His own parents were staying and he felt a twinge of obligation at leaving them to fend for themselves after his mother’s recent health problems. But even that wasn’t the real reason he’d stayed.
He was being selfish. He wanted to watch television until all hours of the morning. He wanted to invite the guys over for a game of poker while the storm raged outside. He wanted to drink Cognac without repercussion and maybe go for a pre-dawn fishing expedition with his buddies. He loved his family, was devoted to his family but for just a few days he wanted to be the unchained, irresponsible git that lived inside him. So he did.
On Thursday, August 25, he kissed his children and wife and waved goodbye from the airport even knowing they couldn’t see him. He climbed back in his SUV, exchanged the AM news reports for an eighties rock station and headed for his obligatory weekly check in with his parents. Closer to the coast and in a much older neighborhood than his own, his parents were already waiting on the porch when he arrived. The dutiful All-American son, he kissed his mother’s cheek, sniffed the air and complimented whatever she had cooking. Play time could wait – his parents might not.
At five pm the storm hit Florida. Everyone expected it to lose steam and downgrade… tropical storms never built back up after hitting landfall. They weren’t like the tornadoes he always heard about on the news – the ones that touch down in one town only to disappear and come back moments later even stronger than before. He had lived on the coast all his life. They never got stronger. Over the evening news and his mother’s infamous meatloaf, he and his Dad laughed at the weathermen who could never get anything right.
But by seven, it had hit the open waters of the Gulf and was back building. Tropical storm Katrina was now a hurricane.