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February 13, 2008

-- Hurricane Journal --

We're gonna be just fine

By Samantha Perez

Wednesday, February 13, 2008, 11;13 a.m., Hammond, Louisiana

Itís been awhile.
Earlier today, I heard from a nice woman in New Jersey that I met because of Katrina, and it made me think about The Tattoo and the things Iíve written. And so hereís another entry, and itíll probably be my last.
Itís my last for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that Iím not going to be a teen for much longer. I turn 20 in April. Itís my golden birthday and everything. Itís special. Donít get me wrong, though Ė Iím terrified. I hate getting older, and not being able to say Ėteen at the end of my age is going to kill me. Birthdays mean that time is moving, and itís moving fast. I remember spending my 18th birthday in Ryanís restaurant because we were still living in the FEMA trailer. We ate the birthday cake right there.

Click Here   Katrina nears landfall, Aug. 29, 2005

Mom always nags that I havenít written much on the parish lately. I know I should, so that other people can understand what the people in St. Bernard are feeling, how theyíre coping, how theyíre getting through each day. But sooner or later, after ordeals like Katrina, the earth-shattering kind, you need to put it all behind you. You need to let go.
I guess part of us will never let it go. Itís rare that I get through the day without hearing or telling a Katrina joke. Yes, we joke about it. We love laughter down here, especially in my family. Laughing and eating Ė itís how we get through the tough times.
I still remember when we were living in the motel in Bossier City and we had a mini-barbeque in the parking lot. Weíd just lost everything, but there we were. That says a lot about the people down here where Iím from. Iím proud of that.
My maternal grandparents Ė the ones that didnít want to evacuate Ė lived in Hammond for a long time. Hammond Ė thatís where I am now, a junior at Southeastern Louisiana University. Last week, my grandparents moved their house trailer to our spare lot in St. Bernard. Theyíre living down there now, hoping to rebuild their house and start over like the rest of us.
Itís a slow process. Itís been over two years since Katrina, but there are still so many people who havenít come back. Some wonít ever, but there are others out there still wishing they can move back and have things the way they were.
Not all change is bad, though. I discovered Family Dollar because of Katrina, and I love it. That store has everything. (St. Bernard has around three or four locations now.) Mom and I make an outing of it, driving down the road to Family Dollar. Itís important to us.
Southeastern is a great school. Iím glad that I ended up here. Iíve made new friends; my professors are incredible; and Iíve had tons of opportunities. Truth is, though, Iím not sure what I want to do anymore, and thatís okay for me right now. I know Iíll always be writing. Thatís important.
The new house is coming along. Itís a fortress against hurricanes and all that chaos. Dadís poured everything heís got inside of him into this house, into making the walls and building the roof. Heís done an amazing job, too, but itís slow progress on the house. No one knows when itíll be finished, but itís closed in now. The roof is on; the garage door was installed a few weeks ago. And the windows Ė oh Lord, the windows. Theyíre this special kind that you could hit with a baseball bat. The glass will shatter, but it wonít break apart. This is a hurricane fortress. Weíve all become hurricane fortresses.
What I wonder most about the new house is, will we need it? Is there going to be another hurricane one summer thatís going to destroy lives all over again? I donít have these answers. I have no clue whatís going to happen. The truth is, this fortress weíre building . . . we might never need it. We might never have to pressure wash the garage or evacuate again. No one knows these things.
But what I do know is that things always change. The parish is changing shape. Devastated houses are disappearing; new businesses are opening. Weíve even elected new parish government officials.
I donít know where all of this will lead, but I know that weíll be ready. A while ago, I spoke with a very influential man in New Orleans, and when he found out I was from St. Bernard, he was thrilled. Strong people, he said. Resilient people. Thatís us. Thatís St. Bernard.
I wish everyone who has read my journal could come down to my parish and see why I love it and why it means so much to the people who live there. I wish I could take everyone to Rocky and Carlos, a famous restaurant down here, and eat baked macaroni and breaded veil cutlet. I wish I could show everyone the battlefield where the Battle of New Orleans was fought. And the Violet Canal, where everything beautiful in the world is caught up in the marsh and the waves.
It feels good to finally put the chaos of Katrina behind me and to focus on the rebuilding part of a disaster, the part with hope. The world has moved on. Why canít I? Why canít St. Bernard? It might take us a little longer. We might hit a few more of New Orleansí famous potholes along the way, but southeast Louisiana is still hanging in there, making progress and changing day by day. Weíre still trucking along.
Weíre gonna be just fine.
 

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