“Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.”
- Frederick Langbridge
There are epic events in each person's life. What we make of them determines what we make of our lives.
Shelley F. Blatt
Laila Knight asked for a little personal information. I try to focus on writing and what can help all of us become better writers. But I said I would make a stab.
Hopefully, I will not sound like that starlet who said to an ear-weary Groucho Marx : "Enough about me. What do you think of me?"
Hurricane Katrina and Rita swept through New Orleans and Lake Charles. Neither city has fully recovered. And those of us who survived are changed forever by it.
Five years ago, Hurricane Rita was a category 5 hurricane. I spent the morning running rare blood to scrambling hospitals.
I drove back home to wolf down a hurried lunch. A mandatory evacuation was issued. I went downstairs.
Someone had siphoned the gas from my car. All the gas stations were shut down. I was stranded in the path of a killer hurricane.
Or not so alone.
Freddie, my supervisor, called checking in on me. He offered me a ride in his car as he drove beside his wife's car containing his two children.
So with the clothes on my back, my laptop on my lap, and Gypsy in a carrier, I rode with my friend into the darkness.
The highways were shut down. We drove the back roads, the cypress trees bending down over us in the blackness as if listening to our whispered voices. Freddie's eyes were hollow.
As we passed his wife's car, I saw she was frantic, on the verge of panic.
I winked at the pale faces of Freddie's two children, Allison and Abigail, pulled Gypsy, my cat, out of the carrier, and picked up her front paw as if she were waving at the two girls.
They giggled. And the grip of panic on their mother seemed to break.
She waved back and gave a valiant smile with a thumb's up salute.
Freddie studied me for a moment and said, "Dude, you're like Job."
"I mean you got your gas siphoned out of your car just when you needed it most."
"I bet a lot of people did."
"Yeah, but if Rita hits Lake Charles, this will be the second time you'll have lost everything.
You lost it all when your home burned. And before that you closed your business. Your mother died before that. And before that your fiancee died. And your childhood best friend died before Kathy. Damn, it's like you're Job."
I nodded, smiling sadly, "As I recall Job ended up pretty well."
"You've got a strange way at looking at life, dude."
"You're not the first to say that."
We made it to Baton Rouge where I worked delivering rare blood to all the hospitals reeling under the impact of Katrina.
I drove to the hospital of Metairie, the first suburb of New Orleans. (It is a French term for a tenant farm.)
I saw people who had only thought they knew what having nothing meant. I smelled the stench of decaying human flesh on the breath of a too silent city.
I saw young boys in uniform trying to be men under impossible conditions.
Late at night I typed the first draft of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, alone in the spacious suite afforded me by the blood center for which I worked.
It had been leased for the board of directors to oversee the new center in Baton Rouge.
So for two months I slept in a prince's suite. Gypsy was, for once, satisfied with her accommodations, she being a princess and all.
I barely saw the suite. I was always driving it seemed --
down long, unfamiliar roads to strange hospitals protected by hollow-eyed young boys with automatic weapons and dry mouths.
On my days off, I would volunteer to drive vans for the Salvation Army, Red Cross, church groups, or out-of-state relatives frantic to find lost loved ones. There are stories in that time that haunt me still, but they belong to shattered, valiant hearts.
Finally, the blood couriers were allowed back to our devastated city.
It was like something from a post-apocalyptic movie. But these ruined streets and gutted homes I knew. Our city has never truly recovered. But my friends are a hardy bunch.
Me? I just fake it.
I've only mentioned one snippet of my life, and look how much I have written. Sigh. Like Freddie says, I tend to talk a lot.
But he smiles good-naturedly when he says it.