I had fallen into an exhausted coma last night. Reading the paper my eyes had grown heavy lying on the camping pad, and I had started dozing off by 8:30 pm. From time to time I heard voices, laughing and talking… New Orleans voices with the inflections and accents of home, but it might have been a dream.
In the dark of morning I tiptoed through the dark towards the street to run up and back along its tedious route, and found that I was stepping through a minefield of bodies, laid end to end in every vacant space of this small apartment, which four of us now called home or at least “Home for Now.” The sounds everywhere were heavy with sleep and silence, and I was surprised — not unhappy, just startled somewhat and feeling lucky not to step on some foot in a sleeping bag or wake up one of these lost soldiers now asleep on yet another Katrina battlefield.
Coming back in, the grandmother said, “good morning,” and I nodded the same, as she sat up on the fat, air mattress in the living room. The story slowly unraveled that we had six guests through the night who had drifted over between South Carolina and the lower 9th Ward. Tanya Harris was one of our “roommates” and this was part of her family passing through the diaspora. Grandmother, mother, sister, brother-in-law, and her sister’s two children.
The brother-in-law had worked for Emeril Lagasse in one of his famous kitchens, but was now looking for work. The family had three houses close by each other in the Lower 9th but two of them were completely gone, and one was uncertain. There were relatives up near Myrtle Beach and the promise of work, which turned out to have been little more than the courtesy of an application. They had made it in South Carolina for a week. It had been an unhappy week. They wanted to come home. A promised meeting with an insurance adjuster had sent them all driving across the South again to finally see the Lower 9th and what might be recoverable. They were promised a night in the Marriott downtown on Canal Street tonight and that treat sustained them. They had thought they might make it down to New Orleans on Thursday night, but once they started all visiting and laughing and this and that once they pulled out, they drove back again quickly realizing that they could not make New Orleans before the midnight curfew.
We all apologized back and forth No one wanting to be too loud or wake up others, but everyone in a hurry to get up, get right, and get gone. As we left the whole family was talking low in a huddle near the street making a plan for the next step in the journey. We insisted that they had to eat breakfast before leaving — I said that’s the least New Orleans people can do for each other, and grandmother shot right back with a laugh that they were South Carolina people now.
October 14, 2005