Sunday, February 27, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Thursday, February 10, 2011
I cannot even begin to describe the damage I witnessed in those three months I was in New Orleans after the storm. I looked through pictures to try to put the images in my head into words, and I was brought to tears again and again as I thumbed through those images. Yet, I am left with a blank on the page in trying to describe what I saw. It really was indescribable.
Wood. Wood was everywhere. I was amazed at the amount of wood that was everywhere. Splintered wood with chipping paint in the bright colors of the houses in the Bywater, chipping in pinks and greens and yellows and reds. Rotting in brown, and turning to black.
Boards. Wooden boards were everywhere. Splintered and scattered and strewn about. Various lengths and sizes lay tossed all over the roads, piling up into a massive mound made of molding and rotting wood. Boards that once created a barrier to the elements for the families inside now left lying in ruin by the force of the storm and the weight of the water.
In the middle of St. Claude, the wood piled so high in points that is was over my head. Mismatched sizes, tossed and strewn at various angles, balancing precariously on one end. Bits of bright paint, speckled throughout the various shades of brown and black. Rotting, molding, discarded wood. No longer suitable to stand, splintered and smashed.
Pieces of white ceiling tiles, turning black from the muds and the mold. Flaky pieces of plaster, crumbling like sand in the dry, but clumping like clay in the wet. Various layers and textures of plaster and ceiling. Pieces of walls scattered throughout, painted in neutral and brights and pastels, fading away to the color of grey outside in the heat and the elements.
Furniture, falling apart from the weight of the wet water. Dressers, rotten and moldy stand outside so many houses, sad and lonely on the streets. Clothes, spotted with black mold, pop out of the dresser drawers, tattered and torn and blowing in the wind. Taffeta, and silk, and cotton, and lace. Jeans and shirts and dresses and hats. Discarded and ruined left homeless on the streets of New Orleans. Sagging boards of chests and tables and dressers and drawers, nearly bucking under the pressure…to conform and become a part of this conglomeration of wood.
And debris. Logs, and sticks, and scattered barks. Rotting leaves, making their way back to the Earth in decay. The Louisiana black mud was still wet, and the ground retained the pungent and putrid smell of death in places. Soft, rich, and fertile Louisiana soil squished around your shoes, green grass burst forth from within the black mud in places less travelled. And footprints sank in the rest.
Houses speckled with black dots of mold, revealing their sagging interior and weakened foundations. The water line stretched from house to house throughout the Bywater and beyond. The line rose higher and higher the deeper you went into the Ninth Ward, until there is no more visible water line…and all you see is destruction.
Cars smashed and tossed and discarded on those streets. The only houses here left crumbling, and it was an eerie quiet. Deserted streets, covered in mud and silt and debris. Wood piled everywhere, scattered remnants of a neighborhood that once stood here. The wind whipped off the river, and in the quiet the sound of a lone hammer rode the Ninth Ward wind. The heavy feeling of death weighed down on the living that had returned to this coffin.
Vehicles lifted to roofs, and houses moved down the street. Toilets abandoned in the middle of the road. Sinks and stoves out in the yards. Toys buried in the mud and debris, left dirty and rotting to never be played with again. A house on the hills near a levee left with all its belongings pushed high against one side by the quick rushing deluge. A refrigerator turned over once floated down a street.
Bright orange spray paint, weird hieroglyphics of Xs, and numbers, and in discernable letters marked the houses from search and rescue…denoting what was dead and what may be living. Notes from the aftermath, scrawled like graffiti for the entire world to see.
Reflections of rainbows in the sun scattered throughout the mud and debris. Remnants of oil and gas, leaving their rainbow patterns glimmering everywhere in the sun. I remembered the way the rainbows floated on top of the water in those days following the storm. Now, these rainbows looked devastated in their fading state of existence.
Windows broken, a million different patterns of glass and shatter emerged. A million different stories they told. Shattered, spewing glass everywhere by the sheer forces of nature. Broken bits and pieces, and broken parts of things once whole, all the remnants shattered under the sheer force of multiple disasters. It was devastating.
Piles of wood, and plaster, and metal, and debris loomed up everywhere. Collapsed houses, and wooden splinters spilling out into the streets. Bright bits of fabric dotted the landscape of destruction. As we got close to the Quarter, I heard hammering and saw fresh lumber on many corners. Buildings on Canal still stood behind boarded up windows. Hotels still housed gaping holes in their hearts, with debris spilling out. Turning down Rampart, I was appalled at the Middle Ground. It was piled with debris…piled so high you could not see the opposite two lanes of traffic. It looked like wood, and cardboard, and tires, and refrigerators, and toilets, and pipes, and metal, and plaster, and buckets, and dressers with clothes spilling out, and couches, and chairs, and tables, and cabinets falling apart…it was a big mountain of ruined and soggy pieces of people’s lives.
Many of the houses had the black markings of mold to show where the waterline had been. I watched as that waterline grew higher and higher the deeper we got into the Bywater.
The plane was full, and we made our way to the last two seats. Weary and tired, we sat down without a word to each other. It was hot on the plane, and the odor of hundreds of unshowered was all too prevalent. There was a hum of conversation was tinted with trepidation and fear.
“Where the hell are we going? Will they serve us any food? When will we come back to New Orleans? Have you ever been on a plane before? What if it crashes? How soon can I take a shower? Do you think I will be able to get some clean clothes? Are we going far? What day is it anyway? Do you think we will be able to stay together?”
It was dark by the time we got on that plane, although I had no idea what time it was. We left the apartment in the Treme just after daybreak, and we boarded a plane sometime after dark. Liam and I sat silently slumped in our seats, sinking farther into the oblivion. The air on the plane felt panicked and fearful, but thank god for the insulation of the pills. I had learned to stop asking questions.
As the plane began to taxi down the runway, I realized from the conversation around that many of these people had never been on an airplane. Many of the people around me had never even left the city. Many of these people had no knowledge of the world beyond New Orleans. Fear was mounting, as the airplane picked up speed on the runway. An audible gasp echoed throughout the cabin as the plane first lifted into the air, that moment when your stomach drops just a little as the wheels lift off the runway. It was virtually silent, and then the hum of voices began to rise once more.
After the plane steadied in the air, the mood around seemed to relax just a little. The pilot’s voice came over the speaker. “Thanks for flying with us today, folks. We are going to get you to a place that is safe and dry. We are going to Middleton, Rhode Island…”
“Road where?” I heard someone ask and it became obvious to me that this person had never heard of a state named Rhode Island. I think the general consensus on the plane was that we were going to a road somewhere in Louisiana. The pilot continued his spiel.
“We will fly over New York in about an hour and a half, and then we will be landing about 50 miles north of there,” the pilot said.
Chaos and mayhem followed. Panic spread like wildfire too quickly to contain. Women wailed from fear and frustration. Sadness and horror were evident in the voices that cried out around me. People stood up, shouting and flailing their arms in the air. Eyes darted back and forth, looking for an escape route but fell on nothing but the walls around. Black faces grew pale as the color drained out when those words sunk into their hearts and minds. I was, of course, opiate insulated to the mayhem around.
Much of the rest of that flight was riddled with both panic and confusion. The chaotic din died down much more slowly than it started, and by the time the pilot pointed out New York City on one side of the plane most of the people were quiet.
We landed in Middleton, Rhode Island around midnight. Before we landed the pilot mention the time and date. It was September 11. This was the first time in thirteen days that I was aware of the date and time. The sun and the moon and a plethora of substance with blatant abuse had ruled me. It was almost midnight, September 11, and I made it out of the devastation that the world watched on CNN for days.
I stood outside the jail, looking down the alley as I leaned on a chain link fence. The bright orange tinted streetlight hummed, illuminating the fence to sparkle in some parts. It was late, and I could barely hear the crickets over the orange sparkly hum. My best friend Quentin, his girlfriend Barbie, and our bail bondsman, junky friend, Reese, was there. Barbie hugged me and reassured me that they had some dope for me. Quentin hugged me, too, relieved that I was okay. Reese was quiet and somewhat stern as we all climbed into his blazer. I was in the back fidgeting. He turned around, talking as serious as I had ever heard him.
“You have to get some help, Toby. You are going to Charity. You are telling them you tried to kill yourself. Harley and I are going with you. We will stay with you until they take you. They will not refuse a suicide attempt. It has to happen, Toby. You have to get clean.” Reese lectured.
He agreed to let me go back to Quentin’s to take a shower and get well. I would agree to just about anything right now. I was free. Dope was moments away. Although once the dope hit my veins and the Sickness began to fade into high, I could change my mind. I got out of the blazer and slowly climbed into the house at 2222 N. Rampart. I headed to the claw foot tub in the very back.
As the tub filled, I relished in the sound of the flowing water. The foil sat on the toilet, as I sat on the ground. I relished in the quiet. I relished in this solitude. The foil shone bright like the star that led the wise men to Jesus. My hands shook, as I filled a tiny cup with water. My hands shook, as I dumped in the brown powder. I was nearly drooling as the bittersweet smoke began to gently rise, and I pulled the flame back. You don’t want it to smoke much. My hands were shaky, as I tried to steady the needle in the cotton.
My breath quickened as I sucked up the lovely brown liquid. My veins were screaming by now, and they seemed to bulge from hunger and need. I entered quickly, like an adept fencer going in for the kill with his sword. I felt the slight resistance, and pop. The blood jolted back; rushing quicker as I pulled the plunger back to be sure I was in the vein. Blossoming like a poppy flower, and with a slight push I watched it all flow fast to my veins.I was ready for rehab.