Making a permanent impression since 1994
September 17, 2005
By Samantha Perez
Saturday, ,Madisonville, Louisiana --
I saw Bambi on the road today. Pretty brown coat like my pretty brown carpet. I saw him lying there, but he wasn't alive anymore. Dead deer on the road, and nothing more. Drive on by. We had to move to the right side of the road so that we wouldn't roll over him in our black Ford truck. Poor little Bambi.
See, they said to go back for closure and nothing more than
that: no clothes you left behind, no quilt your grandmother had made for you. No
dress, no books. Closure instead. Go back to put the mess Katrina made behind
you. It would be bad inside, they said, and hard to see, hard to believe. What
you go to see will not be the place you left behind.
I knew what they said. I heard it just fine. Too many
people were saying it; it's hard not to hear. I understood, but when my uncle
called last night, asking my dad if he wanted to get into the parish, I knew I
was ready to go. Somehow, I just felt ready -- more ready than most people could
feel, and from what I know now, that's true. I was ready, and because of that, I
It's funny seeing that typed: I went home
. Home to my
parish, home to my street, home to my own house. But it wasn't home. Home isn't
really there anymore, and in my mind, I can't really remember coming home from
my school, pulling the car into the gate, and throwing my backpack on the floor.
I can't remember it, but I saw my house. I saw my gate. I saw where I used to
put my backpack after school. Now, I'm sitting in a bed that's not my own, and I
think of my bed. I touched it today, but I couldn't sit down on it. It flipped
completely over, you see. Box springs and all.
Dad didn't want me to go, but my mom managed to get him to
agree. I'm lucky. Many parents aren't bringing their children back to see their
homes right now. Sights too bad for them to see, smells too bad for them to
smell. I think that's true for a lot of people, even adults who think they're
strong enough to see, to smell, but I was ready for the experience. I didn't
We met my Uncle Wayne in the Applebee's parking lot at
eight this morning. He was a bit late, but we weren't complaining. He had gotten
us permission to get into the parish, special permission, and we were all
grateful. He came, and for a long time, he told us stories of St. Bernard and
what the hurricane did to it.
He was in a flatboat the day after Katrina hit. In Arabi,
he and his brother and a few others went around in their boats, plucking people
from their own rooftops. Streets weren't streets anymore. It was all a lake with
little peaks of Atlantis sticking up above the water.
My uncle told us of how he brought the people he saved to
the courthouse in the parish, but the officials there said to take the people
somewhere else: no room in the inn. My uncle told them no, told the people to
get off the boat anyway. He made trips into the night, saving people from my
parish, while everyone else sat there in the courthouse. He lost only one
person, a boy my age who fell into the water. My uncle grabbed for him, but the
boy didn't come back up. After, he said, some of the police broke into the
Wal-Mart storehouse and started looting in the parish. It's amazing what a
crisis can do.
My uncle was our escort into the parish, and my parents and
I followed him down debris-covered roads and past blockades in my dad's black
pickup truck. There was hardly anyone on the road as we drove. In some places we
had to go against the traffic or off of the road itself to avoid fallen trees or
still-standing water. We drove down the road, and I took pictures of homes that
were destroyed and boats flipped over. Grass was growing in cars that had been
left behind, and, on the side of the road, we drove past a dead deer.
"He drowned," Dad said. The radio was on, and
callers were talking about insurance and FEMA. No one was talking about Bambi.
We visited my uncle's nursing home first, and in the
distance, over the levee, Lake Pontchatrain
was beautiful. Inside the nursing home, though, it was a disaster. Debris was
on the floor. Some things were wet from where the rain had come in through the
missing roof. Vandalism had caused so much damage, and my dad, my uncle, and
uncle's friend Neil carried guns with them as they walked through the nursing
We visited one lady's room that the burglars had broken
into. The locks on her things had been busted open, and her clothes and
belongings were everywhere, thrown across the floor of the room. My uncle told
us she was an artist. He showed us a painting she had done, and I thought it was
After a while, we left the nursing home, and we entered St.
Bernard, entered home. It was eerie there, one of only a few cars on the road.
Wendy's signs were bent. The pavilion on Sonic had collapsed. Mud was caked
everywhere on the ground. Things were brown and gray, not green as they used to
be. It was like I stumped into some other reality. This wasn't the St. Bernard I
We drove down
We turned into my neighborhood, and it was strange.
Usually, I see green. I remember always seeing green: green grass, green
bushes, green shrubs and trees. Now, the salt water had killed all of those
things. It was brown now, an old, dry brown.
Dad stopped the truck in the middle of the street, and the
three of us spilled out. My uncle and Neil did the same and walked towards my
dad. All of us looked at the house. Symbols from military units were
spray-painted on my front door and bricks. A power line was down in my driveway,
the cord sticking up to about my waist. The automatic gate my dad had worked so
hard on had been cut so that people could get in. My garage door was bent in the
corner. Limbs were down on my parents' wedding tree, the oak they had planted on
their first anniversary. The bushes my dad loved were brown, dead and old.
My dad and uncle went into the house first, and I looked
around the street. No one was there. Mud was caked onto the ground, broken
pieces that had dried. They crunched beneath my feet. I put on my black rubber
boots, and I stuffed a pair of yellow gloves into my pocket. It was hot, and in
my side yard, our air conditioner unit was lying on its side.
My uncle and my dad came out, flashlights still in their
hands. Uncle Wayne looked at my mom and said to her, "It is not that
bad." He stressed the words carefully, but when mom walked onto the porch
and looked through the front room door, I knew she wasn't expecting what she
saw. I was.
The smell was horrible. Mold and rotten food and mud scents
mixing together. My toy box was on its side, and my old toys had spilled out
onto the floor. Dad had built that toy box for me when I was little. He had put
a safety catch on it because he didn't want the lid to fall and hurt me. When I
was little and Mom and Dad used to play games with me, Mom and I hid in it once
for Hide-N-Seek. The wood was smooth, and I used to sit on it when I was young
and practice my flute. Now it was just broken, like everything else.
Our piano was turned over, and I moved close. My black
boots were stepping on papers and slick mud and pictures. I touched the piano,
my hands ungloved. The tops of the black keys had been sheared off. I don't know
how it could have happened. I tried pressing down on one of the keys, but there
was no sound. I didn't really expect one.
In the living room, the entertainment center, the one Dad
had made for the new television, had fallen face down into the ground. The
television was still in its place, but the speakers of my parents' old stereo
had been crushed. I couldn't get through with all the debris. It was unnerving
looking down and realizing I was stepping on things once precious to us. I tried
to avoid stepping on my mom's pictures, but there was no room to walk. Furniture
was barring my path, and finding my way out was a maze.
I walked outside again and to the back door. There was a
refrigerator in the breezeway, on its back. It looked familiar, so I moved
closer. It was our old refrigerator. Mom and Dad had had it for 20 years, before
it finally broke this past summer. Just before the hurricane, we had put it out
for the garbage to take, leaving it there on the street. Mom had pushed it on
its side before we left. It had ended up back in our breezeway.
On the ground, there was a nectarine. It was rotten, mushy
and brown. I stepped next to it and opened the screen door. The heavy wooden one
was lying flush against the doorway. Our love seat was in the kitchen, and a
laundry basket was on top, the sheets my mom had washed before we left still
folded neatly inside. It hardly looked touched. I took a few steps inside. Our
table was split in two, and I saw an ice cream carton on the floor.
The carpet in the den was ripped up. It looked wet and
nasty, and the mud clung to the bottom of my boots. Our sofa was where our love
seat had been, tipped over on its back. I walked to the hall. There was mold
growing everywhere on the walls. It was if we had put up some demented circle
pattern wallpaper for fun. One of my mom's shoes was in the hall, but it was
covered in fuzzy mold. Small branches, sticks, and twigs were everywhere in the
house. The door to the office was split in two, but I couldn't see in. That
wasn't important. I wanted to see my room most of all.
My door was open, waiting for me like always, so I walked
right in. Nothing was in its right place. My bed had completely flipped over,
and my grandma's quilt was trapped underneath. My bookshelf, the nice one my dad
had made with the rounded edges, had fallen over. Papers were on my floor, but I
couldn't tell what they might have once been. My roll-top desk had fallen over
too, and my night stand was on its side. My chest-of-drawers was face up on the
floor. My tall lamp had fallen over. A dress I was going to wear for my senior
Ring Mass was still hanging from the shelf above my closet. My old figurines and
stuffed animals on those shelves were looking at me as I walked in. I wondered if
they were mad because I had left them. I would be.
I knelt down and touched the quilt on my bed, but it felt
stiff and old. I don't have a bed anymore. I've slept in too many different
houses, hotel beds, and now a trailer, to own one bed. Gypsies don't have their
I put on my gloves, and I walked through the hall to my
bathroom. I shined the flashlight and looked on the counter where I had left my
senior ring. Ponytail bands and boxes I had left in my bathroom were scattered
throughout the house. I didn't expect my senior ring to be there, but it was.
Relieved, I turned to bring it to my mom, and I saw all the bathroom tiles that
had broken off and were lying cracked and shattered on the floor.
My mom slipped the ring into her pocket, and I walked back
to my room. I was dripping with sweat, and flies were buzzing everywhere in my
house. Back in my room, I saw that my dresser was lying against my bed, the
mirror on the ground. I felt something beneath my boot, so I looked down. Fanned
open and frozen in shape was one of my old favorite books, Servant of the Shard.
Good ol' Salvatore. I had been wanting to read it at LSMSA. There it was,
waiting for me
and I had stepped on it.
Apologetically, I picked it up it smelled horrible,
just like everything else and I set it on my dresser's side. Okay. Let's get
I knew what I wanted to see. I knew, because for some
reason, I could never imagine it being less, being damaged. In my mind, I always
had pictured it the same. It couldn't be different in my mind. I just couldn't
imagine it. My pink dress.
I climbed over my bed, to get to the extra closet my mom
kept the suitcases in. That's where my dresses had all been hanging. The
nightstand was blocking the door from opening, along with piles and piles of
random things. Old board games. My Checkers game, the one with the wooden board
and pieces. My bedside lamp. Papers, books.
But don't tell me I'm not determined when I want to be. Cat
Woman and Paul Bunyan rolled into one, I found a way to balance myself on the
overturned bed and move my nightstand away. It was heavy, but now I could open
the door a few inches. I struggled moving some of the things there, but I knew
if I stopped to look at what I was throwing to the side, it would take longer to
see my dresses and it would hurt looking at what I lost.
It took awhile, and I was dripping with even more sweat by
the time I started pulling on the door, tugging hard to open it. Things were
still blocking it, but I pried my way open. It was dark, but I could see the
even darker circles of the growing mold. My dresses were still hanging there,
some in dress bags, some just loose. I took them all, and I managed to get them
out of the closet, then out of the house. They were heavy, and it was difficult
carrying all of them high above me, careful that they would not touch the muddy
I went into the laundry room, the smell worse because of
the outside freezer, and I grunted as I hooked them all onto the railing near
the washer and dryer. I pushed the older dresses aside, and I was gasping for
breath as I lifted the plastic bag and looked at my pink dress.
My pink dress.
It was fine, and I started yelling for my mom to come and
see. My dress was fine! I looked at my other new dresses, the ones in the bags,
and they were still beautiful too. They were all wet and slightly dirty at the
bottom, and all of them smelled terrible. I smiled. Dry cleaners. Simple. I
picked snails off of my older dresses, the ones that had not been in the bags.
They could be cleaned too. It was amazing!
I was eager to find more things after that. I went around
the house, a scavenging gypsy. Santa Claus, I threw things into my black garbage
bag, my sack. A CD that could be cleaned, a cross that looked better with orange
rust than it did before without. An owl necklace I had used for decoration on my
wall. The bow my friend Jenny Mae had put on my birthday present for my Sweet
Sixteen. Into the bag, back out the chimney. These were the things that mattered
My dad had been afraid his boat had sunk in the garage, but
it shook alive when he started it. My mom's quilts had been folded in a box, one
of the few boxes that water hadn't soaked. Photo albums were wet, but the
pictures inside the plastic sleeves could still be seen. Closure? Maybe. Some
closure, some memories in clean boxes in the back of our black Ford truck.
Despite the few things we found safe, it was hard going
through our house, looking at nearly everything that couldn't be saved. My baby
pictures were distorted, and the ink had turned the water black. My dad's framed
college diploma was wet, and there were so many things we simply couldn't
There was cream cheese in my bedroom, ice cream cartons in
the den. Things I had left on the top of my bookshelf were now in the far end of
my parents' room. The counters in our bathrooms had warped from the water and
the pressure. Clothes were moldy and moist. Books were in a corner in my room,
covers separated from pages, everything ruined. All my books
. My owl puppet
that had always watched my room for the bedpost was on the floor near my closet,
wet and nasty. My owl's bright eyes weren't bright anymore. It looked as if the
puppet had cataracts, cloudy eyes no longer watching from my bedpost.
When we left that afternoon, we were hot and smelled
terrible. There was a rainbow of stains on my clothes, some colors that I didn't
know what had caused. The bed of the truck was filled with boxes and crates
containing things we were just hoping, praying we could maybe save. But in one
of those garbage bags, my pretty dresses were waiting for me, and even though I
might not have a prom or a date or anything, that dress still meant something.
And as we drove away, seeing my parish destroyed, I thought
about walking around my house and seeing things on the floor that were part of
something old, like things Shelby had given me, things I had once treasured.
I realized that it didn't really matter anymore, any of it.
If this has taught me anything, it's that I know the people who are here for me
and I know how much I need them and appreciate what they do for me. I know that,
and seeing a faded picture of me and Shelby trapped beneath my bookcase, it
really didn't matter anymore, because that's the past and the past is just
inside my head now.
So drive up the road, past the Bambi on the ground. It's
back to this gypsy life, back in a different place, a different bed each night.
I'm glad I have my best friend now, and even though I yell
at him, I'm glad he's there for me. I don't know if I'd be okay without him, and
I'll never be able to be the friend he's being for me.
When he tells me he's there for me, I realize that it can
be okay in the end because I didn't lose the things that matter. I lost papers
and stories and clothes and parts of my past, all things a part of me will miss
for a long time, but I didn't lose the people that matter to me. I'm scared I'm
depending on them too much. I know I love them and I need them, more than they
can imagine, because it's a hurting feeling knowing I'm sitting in this strange
bed and smelling the mold and mud still clinging to me. I'm glad they are here
for me now, because they make me happier than I've been in a long time, and all
we ever need in the world is happiness.
So, goodnight, Bambi. Sweet dreams. Sleep tight.
Click here for same entry with pictures
Read Samantha Perez's
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