Friday, May 17, 2013

Dueling With Katrina

Picture Perfect will be released Monday....Yeah, BABY!!! As explained on the FAQ page, we fictionalized some personal experiences. Just like our heroine, Alex, we dueled with Katrina, and won.

We have had so many awful tragedies since August 29, 2005. Below is a small insight into what I went through and what makes having Picture Perfect published such a triumph for my mom and I.

August 28, 2005-Darkness surrounded me and it felt like we were the only people left in the world. We had dense trees on each side of the two-lane road I drove on. Any moment, I expected a wild creature to dash in front of the car. I wondered if I would swerve to try to avoid it--and thus endanger us--or if I could keep going. I knew me so I knew if an animal ran into the road, my instinct would be to swerve. I started to cry, pray the words Please don't let us die and alternate with the chant This is the night I die. This is the night I crash our car with my mom and my three daughters.

I'd been driving since 6:00AM that morning. I hadn't wanted to leave New Orleans. We'd left the year before for Ivan and it had been a false alarm. I wanted Zoey, Katie, and my mom to go. I would be fine with our dogs and Alegra. Both my mother and Zoey begged me to leave, so there I was at 10PM driving through Kisatchie National Forest. We were backtracking because I couldn't make it all the way to Terrell, TX, our ultimate destination. By 8PM, I was stopping at motels while my mom called around. Everything was filled to capacity. We finally got lucky. The clerk told us we were an hour away. We probably had been, but I get lost very easily. That night was no different.

The last time I stopped and got out, I almost dropped to the ground from pain and exhaustion. I'd had a C-Section 13 days earlier and had been out of the hospital eight days. I had three very difficult pregnancies. During my first pregnancy, when I was 24, I had to remain in bed for 18 weeks. This time around, I drove myself to the hospital because I thought I was going to be sent home and I didn't want to disturb anyone for a false alarm at 5AM. My doctor wasn't pleased. She'd intended to induce labor on 8/25 because I have slight leakage with the mitral valve prolapse and she was concerned the leakage would rupture. That, I am quite happy to say, didn't happen. Circulation in both my legs stopped, however, and Alegra was born with her oxygen level at 80%.

Given alllllll of that, and the fact we wouldn't have room for the dogs, and the fact I would have to drive, I really, really, REALLY didn't want to evacuate. Since we thought most of our family would remain in New Orleans, we left on our own. That left me to get us all safely evacuated. I thought it was bitter irony we were fleeing a storm and would die on a road. I held all my fears in until Zoey, three days away from her 8th birthday, finally fell asleep. My mom told me to keep going. I would be fine. WE would be fine. She said I had a team of Guardian Angels and I'd kept them working overtime for years. Not only with things like heart failure and blood clots but with car accidents and partying. She promised me they weren't going to desert me now.

When we arrived at the motel, I got my girls inside and nursed Alegra. Once they were settled in, I showed my mom the reason for the extra pain. About an inch of my incision opened due to a stitch coming apart and blood had seaped out. My shirt was stuck to my skin.

The next morning was a beautiful, bright day. We heard on the radio the stormed missed New Orleans. A two-ton weight lifted and instead of keeping the radio on, I popped in a CD. I'd lived in the house I left behind my entire life. It was MY house, meaning the original owner decided to bequeath it to me when I was 4 years old. Her lawyer, however, advised her to put it into my mother's name and it had remained in her name until 2002. It was a duplex. Since my grandmother lived in the upstairs house, I remained downstairs. Though everyone thought I lived with my mother, she, in fact, lived with ME, and my house was safe. Katrina hadn't hit New Orleans. My heart still dropped, though, because I knew it devastated and obliterated other places. I was shivering. Not from cold, though. We debated on heading back home or continuing on to Terrell. Since our friend made gumbo for us and we were closer to Terrell, we decided to go there. When we walked into her house, my mom announced, we would stay the night and then we were going home. Her words: Going back to what? New Orleans is gone. Everything is under water. One of the first images I saw on CNN was the Circle Food Store on Claiborne and St. Bernard. One of the first things that went through my mind was my Uncle Craig and Aunt Wanda and my Uncle Blaise and Aunt Janice. I knew my Aunt Betty, my grandmother and some of my cousins were leaving. I thought about my Aunt Diane and Uncle Elwood and those cousins. I thought my Uncle Michael and Uncle Dude and T-Joyce had evacuated. Then there were our friends. We couldn't get through to anyone, so we didn't know what had happened. And, then, I remembered my dog and Zoey's dog. I remember doing an inventory of what we had with us and that was two days worth of clothes for all of us and about $6.00 to our names.

Mikos drowned in the storm. Gigi survived. I developed an infection in the incision. Our family ended up in the Houston area and, on November 6th (my mom's 69th birthday) we arrived in the area, too. I called the LASPCA and reported both of the dogs. They took our address but couldn't get to them until 9/22. I found Gigi online. listed all the animals who had been rescued.

Zoey and I drove to New Orleans two weeks after we moved to Greater Houston. Like Alex in Picture Perfect, we find a city in ruin. It was desolate. It was deserted. It was like Armageddon. The water damaged the downstairs portion of the house and the wind damaged the upstairs. The house was gone.

Zoey and I were later diagnosed with Katrina-related Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She was afraid to go to school because she didn't want to leave me and she didn't want to be out in rain. Now, she can dance in the rain. She's a survivor. Mine went a little deeper because I couldn't forget that overwhelming darkness and the fear we were all going to die on that road. Too, I annoyed many people because I couldn't go out in the rain, either. I had nightmares of being washed away in a flood and I had images of driving in the rain and being swept away. When the thunderstorm took place in Picture Perfect, Alex's reaction was what I'd lived through and what I, myself, did.

Life goes on, though, and you either rise to the occasion or remain in a mire. We started writing again in 2007--the end result being Picture Perfect. I founded a magazine I was very proud of--the end result losing the magazine and the land the house once stood on. We have another house. God blessed us with a beautiful, new home. When I lost the magazine due to my own ignorance of running a business and the devastating recession, we almost lost everything else.

Today, in 2013, I, too, can dance in the rain. Let me amend that :-) I can dance in rain that isn't too torrential. More importantly, I can DRIVE again in the rain.

Katrina took much away from us and thousands of others. Faith that a better day is coming keeps us fighting. The great State of Texas has been wonderful to us. I miss home, though. and pray that, one day, I'll have another home there.Even if it isn't to live full-time. It'll be different. Not only because Katrina forever changed New Orleans, but because I won't ever live on Senate Street again.

Change, however, is inevitable. That is the fluidity and the beauty of life.
                                          From L-R: Katie, Alegra, Leslie, and Gigi. 2013

I wish you Peace, Love, and Happiness.

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