You know those stories about kids who get mad at a parent and yell “I wish you were dead!”, and then the parent gets run over by a truck, and the guilt-ridden kid feels responsible for the parent’s death for the rest of his life?

Well, I’m dealing with something like that, but not about a parent.

About New Orleans.

I’ve never been to New Orleans. I have nothing against the city, per se, and certainly nothing against its people.

But something once happened in that town, while my figurative back was turned, that wounded me deeply. Without going into petty detail, let’s just say a trust may have been breached.

A year ago, I was lying in a hospital bed with pneumonia, feeling very alone. Betrayed again, in a way, albeit this time by my own body. There was nothing to watch on television but sports (I’m not a fan of anything but boxing and gymnastics), Turner Classic Movies (they were running Humphrey Bogart pictures), and, of course, the approach of Katrina.

As the storm bore down on New Orleans, deep down, in a very ugly part of myself, I thought: “Good.”

I wish I could blame it on the pneumonia, but a moment of infantile self-indulgence was the likelier cause. I wanted the storm to eradicate the city, but, you know, like not hurt anybody.

More precisely, I wanted the storm to obliterate that memory of betrayal.

My reaction when Katrina actually hit New Orleans was the same as everybody else’s — everybody’s who wasn’t in the Bush administration, anyway. I was aghast at the destruction, horrified at the human toll, infuriated by the government’s indifference, and so on. I’m pretty sure I broke into tears at least once, watching the coverage.

Now, I’m an adult, and I fully realize that I wasn’t responsible for a Category 5 hurricane, but I still feel the occasional pang of conscience for wishing what I did that day — because, in a way, it actually worked.

When I think of New Orleans now, the *last* thing that comes to mind is *my* paltry betrayal. I grieve too much for the city’s own.

10 Responses to “Confessional”

  1. Stephen Payne Says:

    We left our house when Rita hit less then a month after Katrina, spending the night at a more or less fortified building at our college.

    We went home the next day to find our house damaged from a tree falling on it. It thankfully hadn’t broken through the roof, but we still had to stay at a hotel for 2 weeks while red tape for getting FEMA funds was going through its stages and then for the damage to be repaired.

    I understood something about being uprooted from that incident, but nowhere near as bad as what a lot of Katrina victims went through. I still have a home — many of them do not. My family is all alive and accounted for — many of theirs are not.

    I will say one thing negative about the experience. Our town was on the evacuation route from the Gulf Coast, so we had a lot of evacuees come through. And they really trashed it up. I mean, it looked like a landfill. People just opened up their car windows and dumped crap everywhere. And our town is normally very nice and clean, too. And we saw some people stealing stuff out of other people’s yards and taking off with shopping cart from grocery stores. It just makes me mad that in a time of crisis, some people have no respect for other people’s property and will take advantage of the situation either our of greed or just laziness.

  2. Fred Chamberlain Says:

    It’s one thing to wish a tragedy and quite another to respond afterwards. Though in both cases here, it really doesn’t seem as though it was about New Orleans, but about the incident you speak of. Sounds like and instantaneous inner reaction to a pain all too fresh.

    It hurts me that these people remain displaced a year after they were promised aid. It disgusts me that our president appears to fully buy into his rhetoric about promising aid and stating that he has fulfilled that promise. Like most of his other delusional self-talk, if it is repeated often enough, the lie becomes the truth.

  3. Steve Gerber Says:

    Stephen: “It just makes me mad that in a time of crisis, some people have no respect for other people’s property and will take advantage of the situation either our of greed or just laziness.”

    When you evacuate 80% of a city’s population, it’s a virtual certainty that something like 80% of the city’s thieves, litterbugs, and rude people will be among the evacuees.

  4. Charles Bryan Says:

    I lived in Flint, Michigan, for 25 years. For several reasons, I moved, after too many times saying “It’s too bad the Cold War ended, because the Soviets were ready to redevelop Flint in the fashion it deserves.”

    If it ever happened, I’d be horrified at the human loss. (Well, 99% of it.)

    I know what it’s like to associate a place with bad events. I still call friends that live in Flint, but whenever they invite to see them, I can tell them that the city limits sign makes me feel sick, so could we please meet halfway?

  5. Brian Spence Says:

    How are you feeling these days? It sounded like you were in pretty bad shape a year back from your posts. Sounds like you’ve been on the mend, which is great.

  6. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    I have a number of friends in New Orleans. According to them, many of the local officials (notably would-be real estate mogul and City Council member Jackie Clarkson) had been working very hard to get rid of the poor, lower middle class, and small business owners so that they could gentrify the town. They took full advantage of the hurricane, blocking FEMA aid as long as possible (and blaming the delay on FEMA), and managed to have a decent measure of success in their scheme.

  7. Steve Gerber Says:

    I’ll post something on the state of my health at some point. I’m not in the hospital at the moment, so this year is clearly preferable to last, but “on the mend” isn’t quite accurate, either.

  8. Brian Woods Says:

    I haven’t been too much worried about New Orleans yet, mainly because I am a Mississippian and I have been too concerned about my home state which actually got hit by the storm and had quite a number of places erased from the map as opposed to the city with a flooding problem.

    I’m not quite as bitter as it sounds, but not too far from it.

    Give this a listen and you will see what I mean:

  9. Steve Gerber Says:

    New Orleans gets more press because, well, large sections of it are still there.

    The gulf coast of Mississippi is no less a tragedy.

  10. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    New Orleans also got more press because the local government in Mississippi, Florida, etc. had emergency measures in place and cooperated completely with FEMA, so they handled their respective disasters much better. The governments in New Orleans and Louisiana were too busy playing power politics and looking for opportunities to grab as much as they could for themselves to worry about the actual people living there.