The Year of Hurricane Katrina

Chapter 7 – Spring Time

Christmas in New York

Visiting New York had a surreal feeling. Life seemed so normal there away from the Gulf Coast. People talked about things other than building materials, insurance claims, and reliving the hurricane.

While we were visiting we had a chance to explore a little of New York City, and Mom treated us to a Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. I also had a chance to see the site of the previous worse disaster in American history; we visited ground zero of the former World Trade Centers.

Months later, on the five year anniversary of 9/11/2001 which shortly followed the one-year anniversary of Katrina, I felt a lot of strong mixed up emotions I really did not understand or know how to deal with.

It was a quick Christmas visit. I know Mom wanted us to stay longer, but we were edgy about being gone from home for so long with so much work left to do. So we high-tailed it back to Gautier after five days in New York.

We had a one night stopover on the way home outside of Durham, North Carolina. We found a motel room and then onto the local buffet restaurant for dinner. While we were in the restaurant we struck up a conversation with one waitress, telling her where we were from.

When she realized we were “Katrina survivors” she spontaneously insisted on paying for our meal, a bill I suspect was several hours work for her. It was from her heart, and I cried afterwards. It was the first time in my life anyone had done something like that for me.

Back Home, Back to Work

Once home it was back to Home Improvement, the sequel. We were now well into the flooring phase of our reconstruction with 1900+ square feet of bare concrete to cover. After months of debate, we had opted for one pattern of ceramic tile in the kitchen, dining room, entryway and hall. We chose a second ceramic tile for the two baths and wood laminate in the bedrooms and living room.

The ceramic tile work was more strenuous that I could have possibly imagined. We worked about half the tile during the last part of my holiday vacation, and when I returned to work my arm was so sore from tendonitis it hurt to shake people’s hands. And there was still a lot more to do.

We returned from Christmas break to new offices in the local mall. The company had leased empty mall space and turned it into the nicest accommodations any of us had experienced working for this company. With these new office accommodations we went back to a normal work week; another touch of normalcy.

Back home Winnie and I continued to work flooring, alternating between tile and the wood laminate. As we finished the floor in one room we moved furniture and belongings to clear another area. At one point the refrigerator was relocated to the living room while we put down the kitchen floor tile.

The first room to get the wood laminate flooring was our master bedroom. Literally minutes after we put down the last floorboard, we pulled the futon mattress off its frame in the bedroom we were sleeping in and dragged it onto the floor in our master bedroom. Minutes after that we were hanging our clothes back in our master bedroom closets. Sleeping back in our “own” bedroom was a small touch of normalcy we really needed, even if it was a mattress on the floor.

Re-entering The Outside World

About mid-January we took in a boarder. We wanted a little extra money and knew there was a tremendous housing shortage in the area. I advertised on an Internet roommate’s site and found a man coming down from Illinois looking for construction work. He wanted to arrive sooner than we expected, so we scrambled to get the second bath ready for his use.

We hung sheets over the door openings for privacy and our boarder slept on the floor on an air mattress for a couple of months till we acquired more furniture. But he was good natured about the hardship as he knew just how bad living conditions were along the coast. In comparison to the way many of his co-worker’s accommodations, sleeping on a finished floor with curtains over the bedroom and bathroom door openings in a heated house was luxury living.

It was also about this time Winnie landed a job as a waitress in a local “Chinese” buffet restaurant located in the same mall I was working in. We were having fewer arguments and working together better now, but getting her out of the house around other people was something Winnie really needed. It was long hours for her and slowed down our rebuilding, but I was happy she had the chance to finally start her own life.

Winnie still could not drive when she started working, Katrina “overtaken by events” fallout. The Friday before the storm struck we had gone down to the DMV so she could take her written test and gain a learners permit. However, I had neglected to mind-meld with the DMV officials before we went and neglected to bring the documents they demanded from Winnie. So we left the DMV planning on coming back the following Friday for a second attempt. We did not make it back. So now Winnie used her bicycle to get to work in the mornings and I picked her up in the evenings.

PTSD

My temper rages still occurred on a regular basis, but I was beginning to understand and gain some ability to manage them. I started to realize my anger was coming from working so hard just to get back to what we had on August 28. But now I was beginning to experience what in the medical field now call “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” PTSD for short. In another era this was called “Shell Shock.”

I would be doing something at home or office and suddenly have a vivid momentary recollection, a flashback, of an event on the day of the storm. A frequent flashback was seeing that cat panic and jump into the rising flood waters attempting to swim away. Another common flashback was floating on the boat with the hurricane winds howling, feeling spray hit my face like being shot with BBs. Another flashback was seeing Winnie, along with Millie and her two boys, floating on the air mattress as I swam out the window for the boat. And I’d remember seeing the spider sitting on my shoulder that I washed off and probably drowned.

But worse than the flashbacks were the sudden, frequent, and uncontrollable visualizations of feeling our house full of water. I’d be somewhere in the house, relaxing, and suddenly have an uncontrolled visualization of the room three feet deep in flood waters. I’d actually hear the water sloshing around and feel wet. Or I’d be sitting down, relaxing, and have a sudden flash thought of where my head would be in relation to the flood waters.

It was about mid-March when I started thinking about moving away from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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2 Comments

  1. […] those posts can be found in my “Katrina Diaries” category. I also wrote an extended story “The Year of Hurricane Katrina” around the one year anniversary that rolled a lot of those posts together and tried to make […]

    August 29, 2015
  2. […] Winnie and I have a considerable amount of experience in home improvement. My expertise goes back to my teen years and I’ve been involved with projects (some of which involved contractors) on each of the five homes I’ve owned. Winnie used to help her uncles pour concrete and lay tile roofs back in China, and has worked with me on all our home improvement projects starting right after hurricane Katrina. […]

    October 31, 2015

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