It’s been over 13 years since I first moved from Alabama to New Orleans to attend college. Most people ask “Loyola?” No. “Tulane?” Helllllll no. I landed in New Orleans at the University of New Orleans (UNO) one week before the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
It would be remiss for me to not mention that New Orleans was, as many of you who weren’t there have forgotten or didn’t know, very much still a mess a year after Katrina (and several years following that). Military Police regularly patrolled the campus and the city. There was still a curfew. The piles of debris stood 15+ feet high on the neutral grounds. Groves of trees stood, bent at disturbing angles (imagine an entire forest that’s been mowed down by a Godzilla-size monster truck). Many of my friends lost their homes, schools, churches, cars, contents of their homes, and general memories. Many friends lost family members, pets, and friends. Many lived in FEMA trailers for months. Many got sick from the chemicals in the FEMA trailers. A guy got murdered in our dorm building the first semester, and, I believe, his murder was never solved. New Orleans was ranked #1 on the FBI’s list of cities with the most murders per capita in the U.S. for 3/4 of the years I lived there. Beyond these very real problems, I was a general wreck– homesick, in a doomed long-distance relationship, a bit rudderless, and having many, what I now call, “youthful indiscretions”.
It was a Very Bad Time™, but is there a more poetic city and time to be a wreck in? Absolutely not in the U.S., but I think Detroit was a close second. If you would like to more fully understand the events leading up to and occurring after Hurricane Katrina, I highly recommend Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke .
While home on my first winter break from college, I remember finding a Word document that was a letter my mother wrote and presumably sent to my grandma with words I’ll never forget: “I still don’t understand why she wanted to go down there.” It was a fair question that she never ended up asking me aloud.
And why did I want to go “down there”?