I’m titling this post in deference to a family friend who posted with the same title. In many ways I actually identify with her/this friend even though we haven’t spoken much over the years. She, like me, made the decision to make New York her home for awhile. I have been told there aren’t many folks that move to New York City (sorry - I don't have the stats on hand) from MS. I forget this – often – but have been reminded of it so many times in the past few weeks as I look for a new job with the purpose of making some sweeping changes in my life. Recruiters say “MS to NY, wow”. Each time, I’m a little baffled. New York had always been one of my dreams, and I have been taught to fight hard for my dreams.
My Katrina story is really part of my New York story. I had moved back to New York in August of 2001 – about 36 days before 9/11. I lived in New York prior to that, attending NYU and working in the financial sector from 1996-1999. I’d moved back to New York in 2001 after abandoning my Phd in English as something that was just not for me. But, in 2005, I finally made the decision that I had to leave New York because paying those NYU loans wasn’t easy and I was tired of working 85 hours a week, living in a shoebox and getting nowhere.
I decided to go to Spain, get my TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), go to Taiwan and teach and figure out what in the hell an English major was going to do to pay off Sallie Mae (it is a convoluted story). While waiting to go overseas, I was staying with my sister in Memphis.
I remember so vividly when Katrina hit New Orleans. Someone special to me had planned a trip to Destin, FL. I was hoping to go before my departure to Asia as a last vacation, but the minute the levees broke, I knew there would be no trip. Suddenly, it was 9/11 for me again. For those of us in New York during that time, we were living in a city besieged - where getting in and out of your neighborhood was even problematic. The smells we endured for months of the burning in lower Manhattan, the frequent evacuations, the knowing that at any moment everything could change and resources were not a given – all a testament that there was no stability.
Looking at I-55 from the exit of our high-school town, as we contemplated a drive to Florida for a vacation, there was no northbound traffic, just southbound – power trucks, fire trucks, ambulances, from all over the country. I wanted to go southbound -the same desire my sister and her husband had when they went to Beth Israel on 9/11 to volunteer, but were turned away. I had heard they were turning people away in New Orleans – it made no sense for me to go. Looking at the highway that day reminded me so much of watching a lone, empty bus drive up Avenue A with dust from the Twin Towers rolling off of it in waves as we watched from the sidewalk. I was helpless.
My friend still wanted to go to Florida. It was hard to explain to my friend the danger, the reality, that we could not go, there would be no gas, no resources. As the reports grew more dire, no more convincing was needed.
However, my Katrina story is not just my New York story. New Orleans has always been a very special place for me. I’ve always said there are two New Orleans – the one for the sightseers and the one for those who want to experience life. I have spent many birthdays there eating at some of the most wonderful restaurants on Earth, walking through cemeteries, listening to ghost stories, people-watching for hours. What I love most about New Orleans is what I love most about Manila, about New York – standing at the crossroads of so many cultures – seeing the ways they have morphed, seeing the ways they haven’t. More importantly, I love not feeling alien. In all of the cities I mention there were times I felt not exactly connected, but I never felt rejected. I can’t say that for everywhere, and I have been a bit of a nomad.
These past weeks I have thought a lot about space, distance and time. I’ve done a lot of remembering – or re-memorying (ref. -Tony Morrison).
When I went back to New Orleans after Katrina many years later, I did feel sadness, but I knew that what was essential had not been lost (others may disagree as is their right). I still felt all the ghosts and the presence of the synergy of cultures combined.
Thanks K. - for your story of happiness and love found in a city I cherish - at a time when I need to remember all of these things as I make my way along this journey.
Freeing Sisyphus (aka Melody)
Putting the shoulder to the boulder and taking small steps each day to achieve freedom from the mundane.