Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Fifth Season

Today, June First, marks the official beginning of Hurricane Season
for the year 2006.

Where was I, one year ago today?

One year ago, I was getting ready for an animal sheltering conference in Arizona, and looking forward to my husband, Dave, tagging along with me on a "working vacation."

One year ago, I was worried about my 87-year-old Dad getting a new pacemaker and wondering how to celebrate Father's Day.

One year ago, I had a nice, steady job that I liked a great deal, managing a large public animal shelter.

One year ago, I didn't cry easily.

One year ago, at the beginning of Hurricane Season 2005, the photos on my digital camera consisted predominantly of family, friends, pets and knitting projects.

One year ago today, a benign and amorphous thing that would later grow monstrous and take the name Katrina, was just a little warm spot on the ocean someplace off the coast of Africa. Her sister, Rita, was also in an embryonic and sun-kissed state of being. No one but sharks could tell if there was any significance whatsoever to those two warm spots in the sun-drenched tropical sea.

But today is the first day of Hurricane Season, 2006.

Today, I have no conference to attend.

Dad is gone, so I have no plans for Father's Day. This hurts hugely, so much more deeply than I can possibly begin to describe. There is a bag of cocoa-colored wool in the bedroom closet. It was supposed to be Dad's Christmas sweater for 2005.

It remains un-knitted. It is still just yarn.

Today, I am unanchored in the animal sheltering community, at least for the moment.

Today, while I still have photos of pets and knitting and family on my digital camera, I mostly have pictures of shattered houses, dead animals, and devastation so vast and raw with pain that I almost feel foolish trying to convey its enormity and ongoing urgency on this little bitty knitting blog floating around out there in the ether, amidst a million other public diaries.

Today, I cry at the drop of a hat. This is new for me. I used to cry only when someone extremely dear to me died -- a family member, a pet, or a human friend. In extremely rare instances, I would squeeze out a tear or two during the last scene of Casablanca, or if I heard "Teach Your Children" on the radio. When I wept openly at the end of Philadelphia Story, I was astounded. So was my husband.

I was a tough kid. I wasn't one to cry. Ever. Sissies cried. I didn't cry when I skinned my knees, needed stitches, fell out of a treehouse or had to go to the doctor for vaccinations. I hid in the doctor's closet or under the exam table, but I didn't cry.

I wasn't afraid of the dark. I wasn't scared of snakes and lizards and spiders -- in fact, I liked them, and still do.

I wasnt afraid of storms, and I didn't believe in monsters. Halloween was my favorite holiday. I thought it was great fun to terrify other kids with elaborate ghost stories.

I would always be the one to do scary things on a dare.

Climb on the roof. Look over the edge. I dare you.

Climb way up on the second floor roof of your friend's house and stand there, teetering over the edge. I could do that.

As I got older, I was the one who friends came to lean on -- Dez is tough. Dez will know what to do.

I kept myself glued together when one of my dearest friends was murdered for her purse, when beloved ones died from AIDs, commited suicide, succumbed to breast cancer, or died from heart attacks at ridiculously early ages. I kept plugging along through my husband's strokes and, two weeks before Katrina hit, I got through my Dad's eulogy with a strong, clear voice.

I thought I had grown into a tough adult.

Life in general, years of work in animal rescue and the tough reality of animal sheltering work made me think I thought I could deal with anything.

But now I start into the boo-hoos when I hear Dr. John sing "Such A Night" on a New Orleans radio station. I cry sometimes when I drive through Audubon Park in the early morning, or when I see a row of ancient shotgun houses in the light of the setting sun. I weep when I see an elderly black lady planting bright, springtime flowers in the tiny front yard of her storm-battered home.

And tears run down my face uncontrollably when I hear Randy Newman sing to remind us that "they're trying to wash us away... they're trying to wash us away... Louisiana..."

No one particular thing caused this change. But many, many things combined to fracture my foundations -- the pitiful rasping sound made by starved and dehydrated dogs and cats who had barked and meowed themselves voiceless in their desperate appeals for salvation ... the shattered houses of the Ninth Ward, New Orleans East, Gentilly and Lakeview ... the bloated carcasses of horses caught in the few massive oaks left standing in Plaquemines Parish ... the unforgettable stench of New Orleans in the first weeks after Katrina .... a human skeleton lying in the narrow side yard of a Ninth Ward home ... the spray-painted and multicolored messages and X's on half a million front doors which announce the safety status of each home and the presence or absence of human or animal remains within ... the overturned public transit busses ... and the devastated faces of the brave New Orleanians I met in those first days, people who arrived at the massive emergency public animal shelters in Baton Rouge and Gonzales with nothing but the reeking clothes on their backs and a terrified and filthy dog or cat desperately clutched in their arms.

No human or animal should ever have to experience such horror as they did.

For months, my job kept me going, and did not allow me to feel very much. There was too much urgency, too many in need of help from us, the Helpers. So much for us, the Helpers, to do.

So much to do. So much comforting of others in much greater need than ourselves. No time to experience our own grief.

And now the urgency of rescue has passed. There is work to be done ... much work ... work for decades... but no desperate work related to the immediate matter of rescue from death in the aftermath of the storm.

At least, not today.

Not again, not yet.

Not on this brilliant first day of June.

I do not know what this summer will bring.

I hope it brings nothing newsworthy or noteworthy at all. I want us all to be bored this summer. Very, very bored.

But in the meanwhile, I cannot stop. I cannot stop talking about it, writing about it, waking up in the middle of the night about it.

And now I am knitting about it. Knitting about it, and writing about it, and writing about how knitting has gotten me through this so far and may continue to get myself and others through this.

What I really never thought was that something as simple as a blog, an online diary -- just a place to blab, when you think about it -- could be so helpful. So cathartic.

Thank you all for reading my blog.



At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Barbara-Kay said...

Oh, dear friend, I wish I had a magic wand for you! Yet tears have a way of washing our traumas and making tomorrow less grimey.

Do consider taking advantage of the post-Katrina counseling for rescuers. And DO knit on! Love and prayers,

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous sogalitno said...

my dear, i am crying after reading your post.

yes, its been a horrific year for so many. my sister, binlw and nephew are finally going to settle in a home in july - in massachusetts where hurricanes will be memories only for the fouryearold. yes, they lost almost all their belongings, their house is a shell = NO is lost to many of us.

may i gently suggest that there are professionals who can help with your current situation - it sounds a lot like Post Traumatic Shock - which can manifest months and years later. you gave so much to so many, it would be good to have others give to you and help you now.

written in true concern

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Adele said...

Thank you for putting all those wonderful, painful words and sentences and paragraphs together. You have opened your heart and let your pain spill out and I am glad that it does feel cathartic. I works that way for me, too. Telling others our pain and allowing them to say, 'Ouch', and 'I'm sorry that you are hurting', is very helpful. Pain shared is pain at least slightly eased.

I have only been reading your blog for a little while and appreciate the word pictures you send. It is very hard to get this kind of 1st hand information from newspapers or tv. Your words make it one to one coverage, and I'm getting to know about what you and the people around you are going through much better. So, I'm certainly looking forward to your book.

My brother was recently in the New Orleans area for two weeks working with many other volunteers repairing homes. I'm hoping to hear much more about that very soon.

Please, take very good care of yourself. The stresses that you have gone through in the last year make you very susceptible to a serious illness.

At 4:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dez, I read your words and I cried. Unlike you, I have always been a crier. If a hat drops and doesn't make a sound, I can be found crying.

Crying is good and cathartic, just as writing is. Cry until you can't imagine you still have water left in your body, and then cry some more. And keep writing.

Sometimes the most comforting thing in the world is to be listened to. Keep talking. Keep sharing. Keep writing, and we'll read.

Whatever you do, don't bottle it up. You've seen horrific things, and, being human, you have to react. Feel what you feel and then use that marvelous gift of expression you've been blessed with.

You ARE brave, and that includes opening up about what hurts. You aren't alone.

I'll hold you in my thoughts this father's day, a newly painful holiday for me as well. You aren't alone.

Love and a gentle hug,


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