Today is the day the waters rose in New Orleans.
My friends' houses filled with muddy water, some floating off their foundations, others just sagging like a wet paper bag. Very few of my friends stayed to ride out the storm, and all of those who did now have their own Escaping New Orleans tale. I'm ashamed to admit it, but it was a long time before I offered to listen to their escape stories. I was afraid to hear about how badly the city had turned on them. I just blocked them out. If they called, I would e-mail them with my condolences. I offered them my couch in New York, but I didn't offer them my company over the phone. I didn't let them tell me about how my beloved New Orleans, with all its character and charm, had suddenly become a death trap. Or how they were scared when they were trapped in the Superdome and stories of rapes, beatings and starvation kept circulating.
I only wanted to hear about the rebuilding, about the people moving back to the city. I didn't give my friends a chance to share their scariest moments with me, even though they had been there for me when I was afraid.
I spent two years living in the Crescent City, and during my first big storm, I was struck with wonder as the rain fell horizontally in seemingly no breeze. The rain came down sideways like that long before the howling winds started up. At first, the wind sounded like far-away screams, but as they grew louder and closer, I couldn't get used to hearing them all around me. We had a party that lasted long into the night. Eating and drinking by candlelight, we joked through most of the storm. The rain and wind were still blowing when I finally went home, and a friend offered to stay the rest of the night with me. We curled right up on that tiny futon bed and listened to the wind all night.
Only three of my close friends still live in New Orleans today, down from about a dozen before the storm. I've stayed close to the one who is rebuilding his home by hand and mostly lost touch with the ones who moved to Ohio, Colorado, Texas and Florida.
My friend Keith, the one who is rebuilding, says it's too soon for him to commemorate Katrina. He's still living in it every day, and there's been too little progress in the city to celebrate anything. Right now, he's commemorating survival.
I think I'll give him a call.