Ten Years Later: Another Open Letter To The People Of Lafayette, Louisiana


Time flies, doesn’t it? Ten years ago today — ten years ago tonight, if we want to get technical — my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I loaded up the car and left.

We didn’t think we’d do it. We never had before. But when we woke up on Saturday, August 27, 2005, and we saw that the hurricane we’d been joking about on Friday was heading straight for New Orleans — as a category 5? — we thought again.

It’s a curious thing, instinct. Everywhere you look, people encourage us to trust our instincts, to go with them them. But go where, exactly? As Katrina churned in the Gulf, our own instincts failed us. They told us stay and fight, while logic said, “Don’t be fools. Just flee.” Thankfully, logic won out, our stubbornness melted, our bravado deflated. Hours before we made a decision, I quietly filled up the tank.

And then we came to you. We left at 12:10am on August 28 and got to Lafayette three hours later. Obviously, 3:00am is a terrible time to arrive anywhere — work, an airport, Taco Bell, anywhere. No one who gets anywhere at 3:00am really wants to be there. No one who greets anyone who’s arriving at 3:00am is happy about it, either. But at 3:00am on August 28, 2005, we were greeted by one your own, a man who would soon become a dear friend. Don was waiting for us in the driveway, making sure we found the right house. He hugged us all, ushered us quietly to our room, dogs and luggage and everything, and we collapsed.

Over the following days and weeks, that scene was repeated dozens of times. Not at 3:00am, thankfully, but at respectable hours and in every imaginable place. At restaurants, at shopping malls, at the gym. At drug stores and garages and banks. Lots of cities pride themselves on being hospitable. Lafayette, you lived up to it.

We have not lived up to our end of the bargain, though. We said we’d visit. We said we’d stay in touch. And we failed. At first, we were distracted by rebuilding our city, then we were distracted by the same things that distract everyone: the daily routine of work, bills, parties, grief, movies. Minutiae.

So, you’ll just have to believe me when I say that you’ve been in our hearts and on our minds the whole time. We’ve never taken your kindness for granted. We’ve always known that we’ll never be able to repay you. Or at least, we hope we won’t. We would never want to put you through that.

Anyway, the thing I wanted to say is: thank you.

Thank you to Drew, who pestered us that Saturday every hour, on the hour, urging us to leave, insisting that we ride out the storm with him. Without his persistence we never would’ve headed west.

Thank you to Don, who met us that hot, humid morning — and not just us, many more, too. He flung open the doors of the house he shared with Drew and found a place for everyone to sleep: friends, acquaintances, and more than a few strangers. And also: four rambunctious dogs, and later, one scrawny cat.

Thank you to Jackie, who put me to work right away, planning events and writing grant applications and preventing me from focusing on all the ifs and hows and what-the-motherlovin’-hells. She forced my head down to keep me from being overwhelmed by a landscape I wouldn’t have recognized.

Thanks to Vickie and Buddy and Todd for giving us a place to work and plan. Thanks to the staff at Red’s for allowing us to keep the “Katrina 15” from turning into the “Katrina 30”, despite the best efforts of the cooks at the Cedar Deli.

Thanks to all of you.

I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but if someone held a hurricane to my head and forced me to, I’d want to do it with you.

xo Richard

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