What was once a familiar sight, is now foreign. Broken tree limbs and tattered tarps litter our backyard. As I tiptoe over shrubbery and upturned earth, through a maze of debris, my father takes out the house keys, then waits. His body slumps, as he tries to prepare us for something we will never be prepared for. The key jiggles, then opens to a whole new world.
Walking through the front door, I hear no hum of an air conditioner. There is no underlying sound of a TV to fill the silence. Instead, a sort of vacancy fills the air. As I walk into what once was my living room, my hands grow clammy. Thoughts of a muddy Mississippi flood my mind, covering my memories with a film of dark, brown silt. My eyes follow a thick, grey line that snakes its way towards the chimney, hissing and writhing, it slides over every surface of the room.
Three feet high, and never ending, the grey snake marks its territory with an eerie simplicity. Its thick film, coats the walls like an impenetrable armor. Following its path, I see Charles, my Betta fish. I can just make out his draping fins, like little sheets of billowing fabric. His water is black, but still, he swims through the water as if nothing has changed. Below the grey snake, brittle tiles crack beneath my sneakers, the familiar crunch echoing through what used to be my home. A sweet, thick, unsettling smell, blankets the house.
And then, there it is: our chair. Once a deep, red leather, it is now embellished with a growing, green mold. A chair that once held so many memories of reading books with my mother, whispers and late night cuddles, now sits abandoned, tainted by dirty water and festering with live bacteria.
“We can get another one,” my mom says, wrapping her arms around me.
But her words don’t comfort me. My eyes never leave the chair, or what’s left of it. Reaching for the recliner’s lever, I yank harder than usual, and the chair extends. I hope for an unsullied interior, but the inside is even worse. A sense of melancholy sweeps over me–in an instant, I feel forced to grow up. The little girl who once sang all day, becomes silent. The little girl who once danced around in nothing but pink, plastic high heels, stands still. The little girl who smiled, stops smiling.
Although ruined, my home would be rebuilt, but other things weren’t so easy to replace. Dad lost his job and went from a computer teacher to a fry cook. With limited phone service, the football scouts who’d once sought my brother, couldn’t contact our family, and slowly faded away, along with his dreams of playing for the NFL.
The medical business my mother owned and once adored, was now filled with murky water. After Katrina, everything changed. This creature wrapped itself around everything, slithered into every corner, into each of our lives, and wreaked havoc upon them.
She came as an underdog–misunderstood and underrated. Katrina had been looked over, until three days before she arrived; no one knew her rage would be incessant and unsettling. No one knew her power. Tearing through what was once whole, Katrina came, and destroyed everything in her path. Then, in the quiet calm on a balmy day, she receded, leaving behind water lines, that slithered like snakes across homes and lives and lost dreams, in her unforeseeable wake.