Ten years ago this morning, after a fitful and almost sleepless night, I was waking to the sounds of the incoming storm, hoping the power stayed on long enough for at least a pot of coffee. No sooner than the coffee was made, the power went off. Hazel and I hunkered down under a make-shift hidey-hole in the work room. The eye of Katrina passed on-shore to the east just about daybreak, but you couldn’t tell night from day at the time — it was all just dark and stormy and incredibly loud as trees and loose fence boards pounded against the house. Rain was already pouring into the bedroom area as roof tiles had been blown off.
It would be mid-afternoon before I dared open the door. It would be 12 days before I was able to leave New Orleans, and six weeks before I could go back.
Ten years ago this morning, my life was forever altered. Not just the physical aspects of the storm and recovery. The city of New Orleans was changed. My job had changed. The house I lived in was changed. But mostly, I had been changed.
I went back home on October 15, and really tried to be part of helping New Orleans recover. Because of how my job was funded, there was no budget for renting temporary office space, so I had to work from home, while the rest of my team got office space across town at UNO. I felt myself becoming increasingly distanced and out-of-the-loop and within a few months I was just going through the motions trying to hang on. I was also questioning the validity of what I was doing and whether it was even worth doing.
By early 2006 I realized that IF I had lost it all, as most of New Orleans had, I would be starting over without a home, without a job, and without anything. BUT, because of where my house was located, my little bit of town did not flood, and I had a house to live in (damaged, but that was the landlord’s problem, not mine). Because I worked for the state, and my salary was on hard money and was a line-item in the school budget and not from grants, the state could not furlough me as many others had been, so I still had an income.
So, unlike so many who had no other option but to start over from nothing, I was already ahead of the game, so to speak, If I were ever going to be self-employed and decide my own fate, there was no better opportunity than the present. By February or March I was already playing with Kool-Aid and blank yarns and in April I turned in my notice. They couldn’t furlough me, but I could walk out on my own.
Other people were making money with hand-dyed yarn, so why shouldn’t I? If Katrina had left me with nothing, that’s what I would have wanted to do. I was not left with nothing, I was advanced beyond Square One, so why the hell not?
My last paycheck from the State of Louisiana was April 21, 2006. On the first anniversary of Katrina, my sons came and moved me from New Orleans to Houston. I was determined NOT to become just another Katrina pimple on Houston’s butt, but to be independent and self-sufficient.
It’s been harder than I expected, and there’s been a lot of seriously lean and hard times along the way. But I’m still here, still dyeing yarn, and managing to keep body and soul together. My income isn’t half what it was ten years ago, and there are huge gaping holes in parts of my life that I wish were different.
Had I known then what I’ve learned since, I might not have had the balls to take the leap. But I did, and here I am, all in all my ragged glory. A Katrina Survivor.