I haven’t been blogging much because I’ve been on a narrative project writing streak. Usually I put off writing and end up rushing to a conclusion, but this Communicating Loss, Grief and Illness class has really changed things for me. Once I started writing my story and sprinkling it with dialogue, I was fully back in the moment–that week of Katrina. I wrote every day for 13 days straight, and I plan on writing for another 3 more before taking a long weekend break.
I presented my narrative tonight and of course cried throughout most of it. I had practiced at home and cried, so I was prepared. Even brought my own box of Kleenex. Typically for class presentations, I create a Powerpoint or made handouts, but in the days of presentations before mine, I noticed that everyone was simply reading their paper. And everyone had a moving tale to tell. They cried and I cried for them. Now I had to make the leap from writing my story to verbally sharing it. I am quite proud of the paper I produced and hope to see it evolve into the opening chapter of my dissertation; however, I really didn’t want to cry in front of everyone. But there’s the rub. If I didn’t read my paper aloud, then my story would go unheard. Turning it in is one thing, but reading it does much more. Posting it online would do even more than that, but I’m not ready for that yet. Frankly, I don’t have a webspace to do that anyway considering it’s over 25 pages. But here’s a snippit or two:
I intended this narrative to focus on the guilt of not taking the storm more seriously, not telling my parents to drive to Tampa, not being there to help my parents empty and gut our home of thirty years, and not being there in New Orleans for friends who had to move into FEMA trailers, are currently dealing with relationship problems, and are overmedicating to cover up their sadness. But once I started writing, I realized I felt more relief from telling my story about what I went through that week of the storm. Could my guilt this whole time be because I had not told my story sooner?
This epiphany raised further questions: Why is it that when I meet people for the first time, I still proudly proclaim that I’m from New Orleans, but only respond with, “We lost everything” to their question of “How’d you make out after Katrina hit?” Why is that all I say? I certainly am annoyed if no one bothers to ask, so why, when given the chance, do I truncate my story to a three-word response? Maybe because I figure that if I respond, “I couldn’t find my parents for almost a week,” they will think that my mother and father were like the people they saw stranded either at the Superdome or Convention Center or had to hatchet their way up to the attic.
I feel guilty about labeling myself a “Katrina victim” because I didn’t have to endure anything other than frustration at not having any precise information. Even my parents are better off than most “Katrina victims” due to their relocation to a second home we already owned in Picayune, Mississippi. In general, when I tell people that my parents evacuated the day before the storm, I am convinced that whatever sympathy they may have had for us will diminish. Louise DeSalvo writes, “Often…trauma remains undisclosed because, though people would like to discuss it, they can’t or won’t because they fear punishment, embarrassment, or disapproval or because they can’t find an appropriate audience. So, many people actively stop themselves from telling their stories; they inhibit the need to tell their traumatic narratives” (24). DeSalvo has explained my situation exactly. However, I did begin telling my story online. Turns out, I have a different, more emotional persona online. Online, I have my blog space to share how upset I am.
As you can see, Katrina still haunts me. I came home from class tonight emotionally exhausted, with a migraine, and now can’t get to sleep. I tried grading papers, but I cannot focus for very long. Let’s just hope I get this Hurricane bitch off my back soon. I don’t think that will happen til 2008 when I defend my diss., but a girl can hope for some relief, can’t she?