Making a permanent impression since 1994
August 29, 2005
-- Journal --
Last days in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
By Samantha Perez
It was a pretty dress, though, and even though I havenít
cried yet over whatís happened, I know that when I do cry, it will be because
I lost my pretty dress.
It sounds petty, and in your minds the stereotype of this
girly, popular, cheerleader will come into your head: gorgeous, blond hair with
bright blue eyes, nice makeup, with long eyelashes that never have tears on them
to mess up mascara.
Thatís not the person I am.
Iím not pumped full of estrogen. Iím not a cheerleader. I donít
have blond hair. But, I will miss my dressÖ.
I was going to wear it to my senior prom this year. It was
strapless, this beautiful shade of pastel pink. A band of material crossed the
dress at the top, a pearly, pearly white. Pearly
white flowers were printed on my dress and I loved it more than anything else in
my whole room.
I didnít really dream of the prom, wearing my dress for
that night. I dreamed of just wearing it and stepping into my living room, thick
brown carpet beneath pretty white shoes. Shelby, the boy Iíve fallen madly in
love with, would be waiting, looking at the giant, 11x17 pictures of me as a
baby hanging on my wooden paneled wall.
When I walked in, heíd look at me with those eyes and I
know that he would be thinking that Iím beautiful.
Maybe I loved the image of that more than I loved the
dress, but the dress symbolized that fantasy, and right now, Iíd give anything
in the world to live in that moment for the rest of my life. Then again, maybe I
just loved the dress, but that image and that dress both belong to an old world
that doesnít exist anymore.
That dress, those pictures of me, that thick brown carpet
Ö itís all gone now, because Hurricane Katrina took it all away.
I lived in a place called St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana,
a town just southeast of
Four days ago, Friday afternoon, I had no idea that this was going to happen. I woke up Friday morning and went to school. We had a Creative Writing meeting during lunch, and my friend Jenny Mae and I went. I was elected Editor-in-Chief unopposed. Everyone knows that Iím a writer. After the meeting, we ate hotdogs for lunch in the cafeteria, but the hotdogs tasted funny ó kind of chewy ó so we only ate a few bites.
Thatís the last time I ate.
Friday night, I had to go to my schoolís first football
game of the season. My friend Leanne and I are in the band. We both play flute,
but I play piccolo for marching band. Weíre both seniors in high school and
this weekend was supposed to be our senior retreat, an overnight ďbonding
experienceĒ for the senior class.
Leanne and I talked the whole game, mostly about the
retreat: how boring it was going to be and how we still needed to pack for it
when we got home. We talked about how we were going to just bring two pairs of
clothes and a bathing suit. We would be packing light so there would only be a
little to haul with us. I was going to sneak my MP3 player, even though they
Our friend Chris came over to sit by us near the end of the
game. Chris is just a sophomore, but heís funny and makes Leanne extremely
happy. Leanne, of course, likes him a lot and when the other girls came to sit
by him, she was more than a little jealous.
We lost the game, naturally, but we were happy then. Who
knew that in a few days the stadium we were sitting in would be under water.
Leanne and Chris decided to go by her house after the game
and they asked me to come, but I decided to go home and pack for the retreat. I
walked towards the parking lot with the new tuba player and his mother. She
asked about the senior retreat and mentioned, slightly worriedly, that a
hurricane in the
Not a big deal, I thought. August and September are the
worst months of hurricane season, but Iíd been busy with school so Iíd only
heard a little about hurricane Katrina. I knew that it had passed over
I talked about it with my mom when I reached home, in
Violet, part of St. Bernard. Most of the family lives in Violet and weíre no
exception. My mom said that the retreat was still scheduled, so I should just
pack for it and weíd see what the hurricane was going to do in the morning.
The hurricane was still too far away to predict its path with any accuracy. Dad
called from his work (he had the night shift) and suggested evacuating. It
wasnít that big of a deal. Since hurricane Ivan last year, heíd been fairly
paranoid about hurricanes.
So Friday night was a night I spent packing for my senior
retreat, which of course was going to be boring, and getting a few items of
clothing ready, in case of that unlikely possibility of evacuation.
By Saturday morning, the hurricaneís projected path
Mom called the school. The retreat was cancelled. Dad
doubled the efforts of his evacuation campaign. I filled a Rubbermaid container
with my clothes, emptying my closet and throwing everything into a container. I
spend most of the day on the internet, getting information from my friends and
giving it. Everyone planned to depart, but my family rarely ever leaves for a
hurricane. We ride hurricanes out. Itís what we do. My family and our
relatives are linked to our parish. We donít like to leave it.
However, by Saturday night, the decision had been made: we
had to leave. Hurricane Katrina was now a category four -- and it was coming
straight for the city. We needed get out of the parish.
My Aunt Tudy had made calls and gotten the family a
number of rooms in a hotel just outside of
I finished packing all of my clothes into the Rubbermaid
container. I filled it to the top. I found two old Jansport backpacks, one
bright red, one a deep, wine red. I found my notebooks of poems and stories and
drawings, and I put them in. I put in the little book my dad and I wrote when I
was just 6 years old, about how Super Sam had to save Barbie and Ken from a
ghost. I saved my disks of my stories, because I would not be able to bring the
tower of my computer with me. I took my books, my precious books, off my shelves
and stacked them high in my room so just in case we did get water, they would be
safe. I filled two backpacks with the things that were important to me. I put
them in my room and stacked everything atop my desk, bookshelf and dresser, so
it would all be safe.
I looked at my pretty dress a lot that night. It was just
hanging in my near-empty closet. I wanted to bring it so badly, but mama said
no. No room for dresses.
Besides, mama was hoping so much that we would be safe. New Orleans
take a direct hit? No. Never! Betsy was bad enough. My grandmother stayed for
Betsy in 1965 and Iíve heard stories of that hurricane my whole life. I grew
up hearing tales of people hacking away at their roofs with axes, cutting holes
into their roofs so that they could squeeze out to safety, fleeing from the
water flooding their home. I heard about feet of mud waited for people in their
destroyed homes. The parish was devastated.
My dad went to work Saturday night and the oil refinery in
the parish at which he worked was shut down for the hurricane. I had piled
everything onto my bed, just in case we did get some water. I slept that night
on the floor, my cell phone plugged into the charger.
We were planning on giving it to my motherís parents, because they were
evacuating too but have no cell phone. I slept on my thick brown carpet, my sky
blue robe as a blanket and my stuffed bear that
I thought about driving all that time in a car, leaving for
Weíre still friends, I guess, but now heís not here for
me in the way I need him. We were together for so long and I havenít stopped
loving him. I curled up on the floor. I found a note heíd written
me months ago in my nightstand drawer as I was searching for things to pack. The
air conditioner kicked on, and I pulled my feet under the robe.
Dear Sam, I love you,
you know. Iím here for you whenever you need me. You should get some rest, ok?
I love you, and I care about you so much. Iím here whenever you need me. I
love you, baby girl. Your Shelby
At two in the morning, it was cold, and I wanted to cry
because I needed my
More than anything, I wished that I could bring with me my pretty, pretty dress.
In better times, Samantha Perez in her pink dress.
Read Samantha Perez's
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