Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

  • August 31, 2015
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People still ask how I'm doing.

I mean, I get why everyone wants to talk about it this week, what with the anniversary and all, and I appreciate that it comes from a place of good intent, but still, to be honest, it kind of gets on my nerves by now. You know when you're at a party, and some drunk gets riled up over nothing and throws a punch at you, and then for the rest of the night you're "the guy who got punched” and everyone keeps asking you if you're okay? I've been at that party for ten years now. It's inescapable. You can't talk about me without bringing up that time I got hit by a hurricane.

To be fair, it was a severe blow.  A lot of people thought it was a knockout. They said I would never recover. That I wasn't worth rebuilding, wasn't worth saving. They said I was dead. Hell, before the fight even started, people were already saying that I had lost. That I was lost. In the days leading up, I remember this one clever sonofabitch on some network having some line about "...come hell or high water, both of which appear to be headed for New Orleans.” Nice one, Ace. We all see what you did there.

Can you imagine what it felt like in the days before the storm?  This catastrophe, this monster  was blooming over the horizon and licking its way towards me at ten miles per hour on tendrils of wind and rain, and I was powerless to do anything but watch and pray for help that would ultimately arrive far too late, and on top of that, I had to listen to a bunch of bozos like Ace over there tell the world that I was already gone? How could they say that? How could they do that? How could they dance on my grave while I was still alive?

And then it happened. The worst part wasn't the storm itself, of course. Katrina was merely the final piece of a complicated and ultimately tragic puzzle years in the making. So much systemic incompetence and apathy- and perhaps a dash of hubris- blinded the world to how vulnerable I really was. Studies and disaster models were few and far between and went largely unnoticed. Corners were cut. Protections were minimal. You all know that walls failed, that pumps failed, that Bush and Brownie and Blanco and BOP #32751-034* failed. You all remember the fleets of buses languishing unused while thousands of people were corralled into the Superdome to fester in monumental squalor. You all know that the plan, whatever it had been, if it had even existed, was disastrously insufficient.

*: "Nagin” doesn't fit with the alliteration, but at least his prison ID number does.

I'm still reeling. In spite of all of the progress, there's still so much work to be done. So much left unmended. Don't forget: I'm still corrupt, impoverished, undereducated, and, worst of all, deadly. Don't forget that I still need saving. Don't forget that I can't save myself. But you can. You can save me. You can make me better than I ever was. Just don't give up. Don't forget that you're all in this together.  Be good to one another.  And whatever you do, don't forget the dead. For all of your pain, and all of mine, at least we're still here.

And we've shared a lot, haven't we? I've touched many lives. I've had countless love affairs. I gave you wisdom, experience, romance, spirituality, art, and perspective. In return, you gave me life. You stood by me. You held my hand in the dark. When I was flat on my back, you breathed into my lungs and pounded on my chest, choking back hot tears and screaming "live, damn you! Live!” And so I did. Just as you are a part of me, I am a part of you. You made footprints in my soil; I left dirt under your fingernails. We will always be together, even when you're away.

I wish I could say all of these things to you. I wish I could say it all myself, and so much more. I wish I could tell you about everything that has happened. I wish I could tell you how it felt to be failed, to be abandoned, to be rallied around, to be saved. I wish I could tell you that I don't know how to feel. I wish I could tell you that things are better, because they are. And I wish I could tell you that things are worse, because that's true, too. I wish I could tell you what was lost; that I, that we, paid a monstrous toll- a toll of suffering and blood, a toll of rust and putrefaction, a toll of stripped roofs and splintered floorboards, of homes and memories and lives washed away in an instant. I wish I could tell you that that may not even be the true price I paid; that I sometimes worry I've lost something that can never be reclaimed, something deep and essential and indescribable. I wish I could tell you that I'll never be the same again. I wish I could tell you that I'll never change. I wish I could tell you that even though I'm still bleeding, I'm never going to die. I wish I could tell you all of my secrets. I wish I could tell you how to talk like me, how to taste like me, how to sing like me. I wish I could say thank you. And more than anything else, I wish I could tell you this: I love you too.

I can't tell you any of that. But I think you know.