WE’VE HAD ENOUGH
One year ago today, my family sat in a Texas hotel room, watching CNN and the Weather Channel as Hurricane Katrina changed our lives forever.
For years our local meteorological legend, Nash Roberts, warned us of what could happen if the right storm hit the city and the Lake at just the right angle. We called it “Nash’s doomsday scenario,” and the predictions of Katrina’s strength and path looked a little too close to what we had feared for so long. So the Rankins loaded up the car and got out of town.
We took little comfort after the storm took an easterly turn before hitting shore, for we knew this one was leaving behind a pretty wide swath of damage. What we didn’t count on, though, was the failure of the levees in our beloved New Orleans. We watched in horror from afar, witnessing scenes we never thought we’d see in America.
In the months that followed, the message got out, that New Orleans and the Gulf States would come back. And recovery will probably be achieved some day. After one year, however, it seems far away.
Even though the Northshore, where we live, did not get hit as hard as the city, we still feel the effects, and just turning on the news or opening the paper brings another reminder that we are living in the aftermath of a disaster.
Disasters can bring out the best in people, and it can also accentuate the worst. We’ve seen both.
People are determined that their homes and their city will be rebuilt. We’ve seen signs of life in the customs and celebrations we hold so dear. On the other hand, our politics ⎯ legendary for its ineptitude and dishonesty before the storm ⎯ is just as bad as ever, street crime has resumed and even gotten worse (spreading to areas that were once peaceful), and everywhere one looks there are reminders of just how large the job of recovery will be. The little things that made life in this area special ⎯ special enough to make one forgive the drawbacks to life here ⎯ are still buried.
To be sure, the joie de vive that infused life around these parts had a dark side to it, even in what we now call the “pre-K era.” The unofficial motto of South Louisiana is laissez les bon temps rouler, or “let the good times roll.” Problems and tragedies can’t be avoided, but our universal remedy has always been a good wake and a jazz funeral. It’s a wonderful outlook on life, and serves most bad situations well. But it falls short when confronting long-term problems like a destroyed city . . . or the challenges of raising an autistic child. Even as awareness of ASD grows, too many families of autistic children treat the condition as a deep, dark secret.
Chris Rose, who has gone from his past role as light-hearted lifestyle columnist to now being the spokesperson for an angst-ridden city, wrote this in Sunday’s Times-Picayune:
Waiting to feel better. Waiting to get worse. Waiting for a Better Break or Another Chance. Does that day ever come?
Yeah, you right. And waiting for the next hurricane.
Therein lies the rub. Even more than suffering from anniversary anxiety ⎯ the cauldron of agony and memory that we are boiling in ⎯ it seems like much of our communal psyche is caught up in the strange and fruitless wait for the next big storm to come our way to see how we handle it, physically, civically, emotionally.
The worst part for my wife and me has been trying to get services for our son. It was near impossible before the storm to get the local school system to provide that which it is legally obligated; in the last year they have a new excuse. Resources were stretched too thin for the state to hold any workshops for teachers to learn about dealing with ASD.
Through a lot of parental kicking and screaming, and thanks to the efforts of some wonderful people at the Little Rankster’s school, we saw progress. But not what should have been seen.
So we’re out of here. We’ve had enough.
The Rankins are off to a place where the discussion around the lunchroom doesn’t always involve getting over the last hurricane season and preparing for the next. We’re off to a place where the schools understand they have certain duties under IDEA. We’re off to a place where people don’t look at an autistic child as some freak of nature.
Are we looking for utopia? Yes. Will we find it? Maybe not. But we have to do something. Staying in South Louisiana is not the answer for our family.
People develop an emotional attachment to New Orleans that is difficult to explain. I feel like a traitor abandoning my home in its time of need. I will miss being a part of the rebirth of one of the world’s greatest cities. I’m not sure what that rebirth will bring; the city may be better than ever, or it may become an ugly parody of itself. All I know is that it won’t be my New Orleans. And for that I mourn, even as I look forward to a new beginning for my family.