That’s not to say that everything’s as it was. That’s not to say that everyone has come home. And that’s certainly not to say that people, communities, and the city we call home haven’t been deeply, deeply scarred by a particularly forceful force of nature.
And yet, we don’t want to talk about it. I certainly don’t. None of my friends talk about it. My family doesn’t. In fact, the only time it comes up in conversation is when I’m out of town, and someone finds out that I’m from New Orleans — as happened while I was paying a visit to my birth mother, Callie, this past weekend.
(The scene: a restaurant in Ellerslie, Georgia, around 2pm on a sunny August afternoon. In addition to a solid meat-and-two-veg lunch, the restaurant sells a small selection of potted plants, and after we eat, Callie decides to purchase an angel’s trumpet. As she goes in to pay for it — a bargain at $5 — a woman of a certain age and bearing stops me.)
WOMAN: Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me what it is you’ve got there?
ME: Yes ma’am. This is an angel’s trumpet.
WOMAN: Do they grow very big?
ME: Well, they do where I’m from, but it may get too cold up here. They really prefer more tropical weather.
WOMAN: Do they, now? Are you from down in Florida, then?
ME: No ma’am, not quite. I’m from New Orleans.
WOMAN: Oh, I see. (WOMAN pauses, considers the fragrance of a flowering vine — which, I know for a fact, emits no scent at all. Then, in a lower voice.) So, tell me: do you think New Orleans will ever come back?
ME: (Trying to process what I’ve heard. It’s as if she just asked, “Do you think people will ever live in New York again, after September 11?”) I’m sorry?
WOMAN: I say, do you think New Orleans will ever come back?
ME: Well ma’am, in my opinion, much of New Orleans was back to normal six months after the storm.
WOMAN: Oh really?
ME: Yes ma’am. In fact, within a year, most of my friends and I weren’t talking about it ourselves.
WOMAN: Well gracious me, I had no idea. That is just so good to hear. (Another pause. Then, even lower.) You know, it seems to me that Katrina might’ve done y’all some good.
ME: Well, like any disaster, I suppose it had some upsides.
WOMAN: Cleaned up the city pretty well, is what I heard. Got rid of some things. You know, unwanted things.
ME: Oh. Well. I…
(WOMAN gives me a knowing wink, then ambles out toward the garden to peruse the potted herbs, calling playfully to the flock of chickens who roam the restaurant grounds.)
And that’s pretty much how it goes.