My Year of Hurricanes
I lost everything in Katrina.
That night I had a beautiful dream: Our house was not only intact, it was somehow better—bigger, spiffier—and there on the porch was a dry, immaculate coffee cup. Then my wife and I were awoken by the ringing of our cell phone (which continued to work because of our Florida area code). It was my father-in-law in Fayetteville, Ark.; the levee had been breached on the lake, he said.
"So we can't come home today?" my wife asked drowsily.
Hope dies hard. Even after we'd seen the video of the subaquatic Ninth Ward, and what looked like Gentilly, we thought maybe we'd been spared. A few of those cars on TV were submerged only up to their tires, and our house was raised three feet. So there was that. But finally, online, I saw a photograph of a street sign in our immediate neighborhood. It was just poking out of the swirling brown water. That was pretty definitive.
The boxers, T-shirts, and laptop I brought to Mississippi are pretty much my entire worldly possessions. We're lucky, though. Everyone has been so kind. Friends I haven't heard from in months, years, have gotten in touch offering support. A bevy of care packages are on the way. People speak to us gently, as if we might crack at any moment.
But it isn't so. Mornings are bad, to be sure: that first minute after you wake up, and you remember all over again that you're broke and everything is gone and your poor old cat is dead; but there, too, is your wife's warm haunch, right where you left it, and there's the gaping baby between you. And there on TV—in that weird, ragged, computerized footage that seems itself a sign of the Apocalypse—are the people left behind, raging and dying in the ruins. Thank God we're gone.
Blake Bailey is the author of Cheever: A Life.