I've been in a bit of a funk all week, thinking about the East Coast. I'm tired and pushing against deadlines, so I don't have the emotional fortitude I might normally have, but it's been a weird week. On Wednesday, I was telling my 6 year-old that his grandparents were okay after the hurricane. I started to say that their power would be out for awhile when my son suddenly yelled from the backseat, "No fair! Their hurricane was way shorter than mine!"
I was startled by his response, but he experienced his first hurricane, Isaac, over the summer. It was brutally hot, with temperatures in the 90s and unbearable humidity. There was nowhere to go, as all of our friends and family were without power as well. It took more than a week before it was restored and on the fifth day my son woke at 7 am, asked if we had power yet, then broke down in tears when I told him we didn't. It was a difficult experience for him, despite our efforts to keep it light and fun, and I realize that the memory will likely be with him forever.
On Thursday I had much the same experience, in a conversation with a man, one of the only people here who'd even mentioned the storm to me. With the direction that the conversation was going, I thought he was going to say that New Orleanians could really empathize with how the victims were feeling, could lend emotional support. But what he said was, "Now, they finally know how we feel." Present tense, not past. Some wounds are slow to heal.
The same day, my closest friend in New York sent me photos of the beach house that's been in her husband's family for over fifty years. She didn't say anything in her email, just the photos, and it was enough. I immediately had tears in my eyes the second I saw the house, appearing to have shifted off its foundation, the retaining wall gone, the sand piled up almost to the basement ceiling.
I'm not much of a beach person, my skin is too sensitive to enjoy it during the day. But it's the first place where my son experienced the ocean, the site of my best night's sleep ever, with the waves slapping against the shoreline and a balmy breeze breaking the sweltering heat of the day.
It's where my friend spends her entire summer with her family. When we speak on the phone, I can see her in all of its rooms. I know what it smells and looks like, what it sounds like. It feels as familiar to me as her Manhattan apartment. It is a second home, but for the summer it is always her primary home, and I cannot imagine what the loss will feel like if there's nothing salvageable there. Not the loss of a structure, but the loss of a lifestyle, the memories of your children's experiences left there in the sand.
It's that overwhelming sense of loss, the fear of returning to that loss, I think, that has made many of my fellow New Orleanians mute. It's all too tangible still, lives that are forever divided into "before" and "after." The word "Katrina" still peppers everyday conversation in a way that would suggest it happened last year instead of more than seven years ago. That's how long it takes to recover from an experience like Katrina or Sandy. Some people never really recover at all, they just endure. And events like this week just remind us that it could easily happen again.
At the same time, people are generally resilient and it is within individual communities that hurricane victims will find solace. Shoulder to shoulder, day by day. It's a long journey, one that millions of people will still be on long after it's been replaced in the news cycle. And while I will eventually move on as well, today my heart is more than a thousand miles away, in the city that's my second home.