New Orleans Revisted


It was about 3am. I was driving back to New Orleans. There was a 10 PM curfew in the city. I had just dropped off more recovered animals with Mary and Randy Cooksey at their dealership. I loved the fact it was called "Friendly Yamaha-Honda." No truer words could be said about this couple and their personal watercraft dealership. The empty animal cages were a lifeline to securing these animals and transporting them. Every animal we recovered found their owners once again. But it took heroic efforts, and I give that credit to the Cooksey's.
The animals would be separated, dogs from cats, birds were left in cages back at the compound. The dogs would run through the dealership in the happiest pack, livened by the air conditioning, the attention and their own natural energy. They pissed on the motorcycle tires and pooped on the carpet, happy as could be. It was pretty hilarious actually. They would be barking and we would all laugh, it was such a small victory we were able to coddle.

The wild animals were suffering but had better survival skills, some were injured from the heavy winds. There were no rules and no answers early on. The first week I didn't see any animal recovery efforts, I only witnessed and participated in human evacuations. When I began the animal recovery, I never saw anyone else doing this, I was shocked honestly.

We didn't want to put them in a shelter, we wanted them to have human contact and love, recovery from the trespass of neglect. These animals were traumatized. I would look into their eyes and feel their pain, I mean really feel their pain. Some of them would cling so hard, you couldn't put them down because they honestly would not let you, it was apparent that love would heal, a lot of love was needed.

It is the same with children, my heart just bleeds an unaccountable emotional death, this unfairness is the reality of life. It is something you don't really tell people, because everyone wants to offer up their advice, how to feel, what to do, how to react. I've heard it all, and I appreciate it, but this was my experience and this is really how I felt, and it's ok to feel sadness or anger, or overwhelmed. It passes like a storm, and like a storm something is left behind in that wake that replenishes. When strong, I feel I could absorb that pain and protect, but when life is rolling it's thunder, creatures suffer. I feel guilt on occasion, yes it is true, but I also temper that with the exchange of life. We suffer, we die, we grieve, we recover, sometimes with marginal wounds and sometimes forever damaged. I give the best intervention I am capable of mustering in these days.

I was familiar with the transit now to their dealership in Baton Rouge and navigating back into NOLA. I had the radio on, the window down, methodically placing one sunflower seed into my mouth at a time, caressing it with my tongue, carving it between my teeth, mashing, repeating the cadence. It was my lifeline to sanity as I drove an extremely dark and vacant highway, heading back into New Orleans. No vehicles in sight for miles is a surreal mix of entitlement to a disaster as an observer, and a participant. I was seriously giving my best not to enter hallucinations. Exhaustion was seductive, I could feel the twinge of blackness trying to whack me into an unconscious blank, yes, while driving.

I had my headlights on high beam. I could make out a large shape cutting across my lane ahead. My thoughts were this is a huge tire tread from a semi, sprawled in my lane..I began to slow down, rubbed my eyes, leaned my head closer into the steering wheel and was cold driving the truck. I think my mouth was even open, speaking for me in silence. My imagination was wrestling with the tire tread. I changed lanes to my left and as I came close to the target, I realized this was an enormous alligator, and he was alive.

Now this did something funny to me. First I thought wow, its like looking at a great white shark in the ocean, and second thought was they eat alligator down here. I had the immediate idea of triumph that I too would eat alligator meat before I went home. Which I did end up doing. When it was time to leave NOLA, we flew in from Houston and had to fly back out as none of the airports locally were operable. On the trek into Texas, a big sign said 'alligator steaks' or something like that. That was it, parked the truck, went in and it was exactly as I imagined if not better. Alligator memorabilia was everywhere. I could even buy a stuffed alligator head and assorted other strange items, like feet. It reminded me a bit of black magic.

I proudly ordered my alligator and my team scrunched their faces. It was rubbery, not a lot of flavor, not that great, not bad, but doable as meat goes I suppose. I would never order it again because I live far away. I had however triumphed, I had eaten a bit of 'one of them'. Those that can eat us. There is a saying, you become what you eat, or when you have a decided warrior victory you eat your prey and its' spirit increases your powers. In a strange way, this actually helped liven the horrors I had just trespassed. In some small way, it helped. I laughed hard with the crew as we checked all our crazy stories across the table.

I had to make it through the roadblocks and checkpoints. I wasn't there officially, I was there because I should be there. Getting through the checkpoints was my victory. I watched vehicles in front of me get turned away. I had prepared in advance for this and my plan worked. I only had one problem at one checkpoint further in the city, and I managed to achieve a successful mission. There are reasons for this and I give credit due to the Great Mystery for always, I mean always protecting me and mine. The synergy of good works and blessings have brought me into many waves of fortune for others. Praises.

I was averaging 2-3 hours sleep a night. I would return to Zephyr Field nightly, the Saints training grounds, so tired, hot and stinking like rot, but everything else was competing with stench, so I wasn't obvious. I lay my head on grass, everything had a pungent clinging scent, and it was not favorable. I looked around before I could close my eyes. Feeling muscle groups that were too tense, relax, fall into gravity, let go. There was no air moving, it was stagnant, the entire energy of this scene was unforgiving. It felt wrong, smelled wrong and the ordor arising out of mass confusion was precipitously dangerous at times.

These smells are the same triggers of an avalanche of memories. The air was hot, humid, musty, and I had on the same pair of fatigues, underwear I would prefer to throw away, I did throw my socks away and gave up on that idea, I had baby wipes with me that I am most thankful for. My hair pulled back in a pony tail, I rinsed with fresh water my face and lay down. Hard ground, no blanket, no sheet, no towel, just the ground itself. It felt good in an instinctual way to be able to go into the dregs of basic needs, sans luxury and be capable of living in filth and being alright with it. I felt my heart speeding up in it's beating pace. Stressed, I was becoming stressed and my body was feeling the continuous overload of adrenaline.

I thought I would fall to sleep right away. But I didn't, my thoughts began to connect on the incipient values we degrade collectively as a society. I was witnessing the fall of a long anticipated doom, I was in the NOLA doomsday eclipse. I had one tear slowly caress the orbit of my eye socket before it dribbled down the side of my face and was captured in my ear socket. This tear then traveled deeper into my ear and rested there in a pool of irritation. Only one tear, such a tenuous demonstration of holding on. I tilted my head to drain it. I was weary.

I would wake up with a startled jolt, ready to go immediately, no dragging. My mind wasn't numb it was just focused on tune of endurance and production. I wanted to get a lot done with the time I had here. The waters were still high, it was the first week. I chronicled each day as a lifetime, Day one, Day seven, each had it's own book of sorrows. I was aware of my body responses. I had been on the water all day yesterday in a hot kit, the gear I was sporting was not complimenting the heat and humidity. I did not urinate all day long and I continued to drink, keeping hydrated, but it was a race against the drain.

A few days earlier I had motored down a street, a front yard framed with yet another black wrought iron fence. In the corner was a child's teddy bear, barely afloat. It reminded me how people look on the surface before they go under, before they drown. The swirl of human deritus enveloped the child's toy. I stopped my Jet Ski, pulled out my camera and took a photo of the irony. Here was a teddy bear, and hadn't I just left my one year old daughter behind? This was some child's cherished toy now adrift in uncertainty. As a mother, these simple little nuances screamed at me. Every time I entered a house I felt profound respect for the families. I was entering a home they were deeply concerned about, I was their silent witness.

I wasn't supposed to bring animals into the FEMA staging grounds. I would have a dog in the back of the truck and at the checkpoint I would say 'cadaver dog in training' or make up something else if I had seen that person earlier. As the days changed so did the checkpoints and the checks, it was getting well organized, out of chaos, order was assimilating in rapid succession of vehicle entries.

The dogs would be taken to the Hazmat decontamination line and cleaned up with soap and water, then I'd run them over to a volunteer vet if I could find one and have them checked out. I did not recover a single animal that had been neutered and the majority of dogs had heart worm. I was shocked overall on the status of these animals pre Katrina. Many were over bred and had litters. Most animals were dehydrated (the water wasn't that good to drink obviously and some were locked within houses). They were not able to eat dried dog food, so I would break into flooded stores and clear out the canned cat food with pop tops if I could find any through the chaotic hell inside.

It was most difficult working from the water. The transits were done for miles through flooded streets strewn first with the hurricane wind damage, then the floating items, which I now call debris, but really were personal belongings destroyed. It was a slow and painstaking process honestly. I worked primarily in the Lower 9th Ward. The water here, well it was an industrial area and a poverty stricken neighborhood and this water looked like...well it smelled like something I can't describe. I thought vomit had a horrid stench, but not like what I was driving through in some areas, this smell had no description to compare.

I just didn't want to get one drop of it on me. I prepared bottles with bleach, I have never put so much bleach on my skin in my entire lifetime than I did one day there stripping down at the end of some deserted street, which was our boat ramp. Nothing was used again, it was discarded out of the unknown. What chemical cocktail had we been wading in?

The first time I stepped into the water pushing my Jet Ski to deeper depths. I stopped and stood in the muck, feeling my boots lodge in mire. The sharp smell permeated my soul. I looked down a miles long flooded avenue in front of me. I felt a butterfly movement around my pelvis. It was an odd feeling, like when you feel your baby move inside you for the first time. I was thinking what a strange reaction I am having. I looked down and there were shrimp moving against my frame. I remember watching a body recovery class where the deceased had become a food lick for thousands of shrimp, the outline of a human form in a shrimp frenzy. I looked ahead 'What the fok did I get myself into" I said in a slow murmur to no one in particular.

I started the Jet Ski and motored down Elisa Avenue.