But I have been home for a while now, and I still have to hit a hot spot to check my e-mail. Snail mail now truly moves at a snail’s pace. The phone line has a death rattle that drowns out the dial tone. The laptop I thought to take from my office at Xavier won’t communicate with my home printer. I am unable to transfer all that I wrote on the laptop (when I still had that displaced edge) to my personal computer because the laptop doesn’t have a disk drive, and while it does have a USB port, I’m just not willing to buy computer hardware with my Red Cross debit card.
Before Katrina, everyone in the New Orleans area lived in fear of The Big One hitting, but no one ever really thought it would. As a result, whenever I evacuated, I packed a few things that I couldn’t do without, threw photographs and other irreplaceable items on the highest shelf, then left, never really thinking I’d be gone longer than three days. Each time, I packed my writer’s essentials, updating CDs and floppy disks before dumping them into a heavy, plastic, baby-blue makeup case that is so old the tag still states my parents’ address from 1968 as my own. I threw in whatever project I was working on, along with a few odds and ends of notes or research, and I was ready to go.
Each time, I felt good knowing that, should worse come to worse, I had saved my work. Good or bad, it was all there. Never had I contemplated how displacement would affect my writing. But how can it not? Imagine being suddenly torn from your home, watching the city you love slowly die on national television, wondering if your home has survived, where your friends are staying, whether you have access to funds, if you will have a job when all is said and done. You hug strangers, cry in your food, stare at the TV, notice the strange way people look at you, and realize this is really happening.
After the shock of that realization, after mourning the hundreds of casualties, I realized that I had been given rich material for a dozen personal essays, raw inspiration for several books of water-logged poetry, and a hard-to-shake diaspora theme that will surely haunt my short stories for years to come. But my routine was interrupted, my sense of security was wrangled worse than a wind-twisted gutter, and my favorite workspace was, if not totally destroyed, then off-limits for weeks, maybe months. I lost more than a cozy spot by a window that opens to a view of a green and bushy yard. It was the routine of a life specifically molded to allow for such reflections, such outpouring, that was missing. I was, of course, one of the very lucky ones. Though I ultimately lost my tenure-track position, my children are safe, I am safe, and we are in our home.