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Growing Pains: Can it really be eight years?

Elizabeth Kukla

Elizabeth Kukla

As I pack my bags and say my farewells, for another semester at school, it has dawned on me that this Thursday will mark the beginning of the eighth year of life post-Katrina. Eight years.

It lives in the back of my mind like it happened yesterday. I can tell you everything I did and give you a nearly hourly playback of that weekend and the week that followed. Yet, the world has moved on. Katrina has faded into the background of extreme weather stories to most everyone who did not live it. However, to us, those who left their homes Saturday August 27 and didn’t get to return until late October, Katrina has not faded. For most everyone who lived it, Katrina has changed who we are and who we have become as people; I know it did me.

After moving away for college I have gotten to experience living in a new place. A place that hasn’t had a Katrina. It’s different. The people are friendly and the culture is artsy and fun, but something it missing. People aren’t bonded to one another they way we are at home. Amidst all of Katrina’s destruction and death, it somehow brought us all closer together, all New Orleanians.

Whether we are Uptown, in the Bywater, or Mid-City. Regardless of how different we are, we all have Katrina. It’s like Katrina's toxic soup of death and trash that inundated our homes brought with it a bond that transcends wards, and neighborhoods, and social circles. The Katrina soup didn’t care if you were the paper boy or the King of Rex, and after the soup drained, those differences mattered just a little bit less.

Not only did Katrina bring us closer together as a people, Katrina brought us closer with our city. She has a beating heart all her own, we knew this before the storm. Ask us where we are from or what we are, your answer will be overwhelmingly 'New Orleans' and 'New Orleanian,' not 'America' or 'American.' It’s not that we don’t love our country, but, for us, New Orleans comes first, because it is a huge part of our identity, and having your identity threatened the way Katrina threatened our beloved home, made that bond even stronger. We are connected to New Orleans in a way that many people can’t understand. Eight years later, I still break into tears seeing news footage that is approaching a decade in age.

Saturday evening, August 27th, found us in Pass Christian, Mississippi, fruitlessly storm-profing a beach house that would be wiped off the earth in the next 36 hours. People always say there is a calm before a storm, and if I didn't believe it then, I sure believe it now, because there was an unnatural calm that night. I was in middle school, tired and grumpy; I tried to convince my parents to spend the night at our beach house and leave in the morning. They said no, it was done, and we left.

On our way out, we parked on the bay bridge and got out of the car. It was calm, too calm. The air was completely still, no wind, no breeze. The temperature dropped easily 15 degrees in the 20 minutes we were there. The Gulf of Mexico was flat. Completely, creepily, flat. No waves, no movement. My stepdad, who weathered Hurricane Camille in 1969, said that this calm was déjà vu. And then we left.

Then there was the aftermath. National Public Radio played Louis Armstrong's "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans" on repeat for 24 hours.

Then there were the stories. "Everything you heard about the Dome is true". That is all my Aunt has ever said. She was on duty as the head of Nursing in the Army National Guard at the Superdome.

I'm still not sure I understand the effect these experiences had, and are still having, on me, on us all. Perhaps I never will.

However, looking back on it, I have some thanks to pay Katrina. I am a different person, and I’d like to think a better one, for having lived through her. She forced me to stop and really think about what matters. Sure, our house in Pass Christian, Mississippi is gone -- wiped clean off the radar by an almost 40 foot storm surge. But that’s not what I miss.

Katrina makes me think about things before I complain, 'cause loosing an iPod or even a house pales in comparison to the things that you can’t ever replace. All of our family photos from both my and my mom’s life, dating back fifty years to her childhood, were in that house. A house can be rebuilt, an iPod replaced, but the photos are gone forever. Katrina made me realize how many of the things I may ordinarily lose myself over really just don’t matter. Family, friends and the memories you have with them are what matter.

The girl that evacuated on Saturday August 27, 2005 is not the same girl that returned home on October 26th. The girl that evacuated was washed away like so much during the storm and I like to think, and hope, that she was replaced by a better person.

Local Photographer, Jennifer Shaw, shares her Katrina experience in her series "Hurricane Story".

Native New Orleanian Elizabeth Kukla is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She writes about being a NOLA girl from afar in “Growing Pains,” a weekly column at NolaVie.