It’s that time of year again.
Katrina comes knocking at our door. The anniversaries come and go, tenfold now, and once again, that soft spot is pricked, that scab gets pulled.
There is large-scale media mayhem of where we were, how far we’ve come and, of course, all the pain in that flood of emotions, which runs in between.
Should we forget, the ghost of disasters past to be put to rest?
Or, let’s be more specific. Hell no. Honestly, how could we even if we wanted to?
But if I want to remember something about Katrina, I want it to be a point of joy, an island of mental healing in all that high tide of slag, misery and mold.
Yes. Coming home.
Coming home wasn’t instantaneous. It wasn’t just about rebuilding and moving into a house. Coming home happens in your head. It took me months. I’m sure there are folks for whom it took years and maybe some who are still waiting right now, as they listen to our homegrown music, fingers sticky with beignet sugar.
You see, at least for me, part of the landscape of home is its people.
Not just the ones you love dearly but also the ones you hardly know, the ones who dapple streets, points of reference for how we exist. The fruit vendor polishing his wares on North Carrollton Avenue. The guy on his bike with a pork pie hat and pencil-thin mustache who you see occasionally pedaling his bike down Willow Street on his way to a piano gig.
The favorite bartender, the plein air painter along Bayou St. John, the guy always at the bus stop at 10 a.m., the lady who sells you flowers every year for Mother’s Day.
Katrina wiped that bare for some time. She took our souls’ road map. I came back, but there were blank parts.
Physically I came home in late October 2005, maybe early November — I don’t recall — to live in my broken house and to work.
My wife, Laura, was living in Houston because Shell, the company she works for, had not returned yet.
Mentally, I came home in two parts. Two glorious, joyous, overwhelming parts.
I was photographing the first Christmas caroling in Jackson Square after Katrina. The place, as usual, was filled with singers holding candles in the night.
Through the light, I suddenly saw my friend Harold Baquet for the first time since the storm. Sadly, Harold died this past June. But like me, he was a photographer.
For many years, he was someone I’d always see around, someone I’d chat up and joke with. I’d never been to his and his wife Cheron’s house. I’d never shared a meal with him. I’d really never done anything social with Harold. But he was part of my landscape, returned to me that night.
I think we ran at each other. We hugged. He kissed me on the cheek. And we held on. This teary-eyed, fat, Jewish guy and this thin, Creole African-American Catholic, both draped in cameras, just stood there, gripping each other, surrounded by burning candles like we were waist-deep in stardust.
I was halfway home.
Laura came home for good on the first Valentine’s Day after Katrina. We went to Café Degas, our favorite restaurant. The owners, Jaques Soulas and Jerry Edgar, were there, as well as all the familiar suspects and friends.
In the middle of dinner, I had my sweet-voiced friend Gregory Thompson come in with flowers and sing “Mona Lisa” to Laura.
You could hear a pin drop, except my friend Jim Jeter whispering to me in his Texas drawl, “You know, Eliot, every woman in this place loves you and every guy hates you right now.” And everyone laughed, and cried, and laughed.
That’s what I remember on this Katrina anniversary. That’s what I want to continue to remember. How I came home.
— Kamenitz lives in New Orleans
Advocate readers may submit stories of about 500 words to the Human Condition at email@example.com or The Advocate, EatPlayLive, 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810. There is no payment, and stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence.