Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A face and a name

I couldn't keep my eyes off her Sunday evening; I watched her path with obsession and fear. On Monday, she brushed my life when the stranger asked where he could find a cup of coffee and a meal. He'd just hit Houston after a 14-hour drive from New Orleans. He was just around the corner from his basic request, obviously relieved at the news.

By mid-Monday, my obsession grew. The notices of our office closings in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Mobile were expected. I must have checked CNN every 15 minutes throughout the day.

I went through Alicia in 1983. No one was around to help my father move his boat to and then up the Colorado River. I was picked for the task. It was terrifying when the rains first came, sharp and needling my skin. Hanging onto the rails on the side of the boat while it moved along choppy waters too choppy for my liking, and I inched closer to the Outriggers so that I could lift them and then turn them aftward, my father's voice from the flying bridge above me guiding me, calming me. Still, I was naive enough to have no doubt of survival. It was more of an adventure at the time.

I remember how massive Gilbert was 1988; how it dumped rains all over Texas and Oklahoma for days. Without ever hitting here.

And of course I remember Tropical Storm Allison. I remember how she left, made a slow return and then sat on us. Friends called the morning after, their house was under water. We spent that day cleaning their house and another friend's restaurant. I gained roommates of the two and four-legged kind after that one. The night she decided to stay put over the city, I was with those friends in that restaurant, commenting on the rain. Little did we know.

Today, I look at images of New Orleans, of Biloxi and Gulfport and I just stare, slack-jawed and sick to my stomach. Nature did this? This drunken rampage, this hostile beating, this is natural. It's humbling. These cyclones of such force that we name them, give them a recognition, a reference and a memory. And they show their personality and behavior -- unforgiving, insistent, brutal, ugly, slamming, pounding, drenching, whipping, deadly.

And we stand there when all is done and it's quiet again. The ugliness of the day before betraying the beauty of the day after. We stand among felled trees and debris, among rooftops and chimneys in the street. We look out at cars filled with river mud and saltwater. And always there's a doll or a rollerskate. We gaze outward at views that were not there before, and we struggle to navigate home without our landmarks. And everywhere you look, in every eye you see, you recognize the sameness between you. No matter who you are.

I remember that after Alicia. I remember Alicia ceased to be an adventure when I realized what we had avoided. I have no other point of reference for Kristina.

Only our employees in Baton Rouge are fully accounted for. My unaccounted for colleagues, and all others along Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama - all others- are in my thoughts and prayers.

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