she haunts me

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?

5 thoughts on “she haunts me

  1. I’m so afraid none of us who experienced Katrina, in whatever way, will ever get her off our backs. Those who have never experienced the anxiety, fear, loss and everlasting aftermath of an event of this magnitude will never, ever get it. Just like we didn’t get it when we watched the fires out west, the floods in the mid-west or earthquakes and tsunami’s in other countries. You feel compassion and sorrow for those people but you can’t really, really get it unless you lived it. It’s a club I wish I’d never been pushed into but that’s life. We just have to deal.
    This was a very moving post, DD. I don’t know how I’ve missed your blog all this time. Keep it up, sugar.

  2. I think it’s okay to grieve, to say, “this is what I lost and here’s how it affects me.” Even if it’s not as bad as someone who might not have had anywhere else to go. The point is, it’s your loss. But, yeah, I see how people might be afraid to come forward because of how others might react, but all of that I think is a misperception on the part of the story teller because. You said you feel guilty over not having had it as bad as others, and, yet, I think people would listen and empathize. As they say, more often than not, it’s all in your head.

    I guess my point is to start/keep telling your story, friend.

  3. I can relate to the idea of guilt holding you back from telling the tale–I tend to discuss anything having to do with my father’s dementia as being “not as bad as others have it,” and then quickly changing the topic. Some of that has to do with how exhausting it can be to retrace the painful story and not wanting to feel depressed with every telling; other times, it’s just not appropriate to launch into the story; overall, though, I am aware that my family has had it easier than most in dealing with things.
    But we’ve both lost something (or someone) significant in our lives, and the telling of the story is therapeutic. Every time you revisit the pain, it gets lighter, and you move through grief one step more.
    And when you tell your story to an audience, it gives them permission to move through their grief and tell their stories, or at least, listen to the stories of others. In the case of Katrina, I think that we, who live around the country, need to keep hearing these stories if only to remind us that it isn’t over.
    Thanks for writing about this.

  4. I don’t know what I’m talking about but it sounds a lot like what I’ve heard called survivors guilt. Perhaps it’s never been so widespread.

  5. I don’t have a background in trauma, or in cultural theory, but loss is loss. Is it the same as those who were actually in New Orleans? No. You have a different story (as though you are “othered”?,) one that deserves to be told (and frankly, probably one MORE people can relate to and thus will tug MORE heartstrings).

    Your trauma is valid.

    On a much, much smaller scale (and there I go, diminishing my “trauma”), I felt helpless as my parents’ and friends’ houses were being de-roofed by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. My matron of honor had to evacuate from a roofless hospital (courtesy of Frances) after giving birth on her birthday (escaping Jeanne). I didn’t live that experience in any way, but my worry and stress are valid and different.

    Keep writing, keep feeling, keep writing.

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