I'm coming home
August 29, 2005. New Orleans will forever exist as two cities: The one that existed before that date, and the one after.
I'm sitting in front of my computer, debating whether or not $430 is too much to spend on a flight. It's not a small amount of money to just click away on a whim, at least not for a college kid. I'm a New Orleans girl far from home, and I need a NOLA fix. But $430. It's a lot of money.
I'm left staring at a calendar.
August 29, 2014, will mark nine years. Nine years since the storm that permanently changed our minds, our hearts, and our city. Nine years since I packed a weekend bag, postponed weekend plans, and casually told my friends, "See you Monday. Have a nice hurrication."
I was 11 years old, and almost 9 years ago to the day I was standing on the Bay St. Louis bridge with my mom and stepdad, looking out over a Gulf of Mexico that was flat as glass, as the temperature plummeted more than 20 degrees in 15 minutes -- stagnant, humid air wrapping around us like a thick blanket. A monster was coming. A monster was coming for me, my family, my friends, and my home. And there was nothing to be done but clear out of its way.
The levees will break, and the city will flood, I had heard on WWL hours earlier, and I didn't believe it until that moment on the bridge -- a moment when an unnatural calm swallowed up my world, every New Orleanian's world, in a matter of hours.
I cried. It was the first and only time I have felt completely helpless and afraid of what the future might hold.
At 4 PM on October 26, 2005, I disembarked a plane at Louis Armstrong International Airport. I had returned post-Katrina, but neither I nor anyone else coming home to the Big Easy was the same person who had evacuated.
Coming home was anything but painlessly easy, but I would have had it no other way. Because, despite all the death and destruction, Katrina also brought with it new beginnings -- a rebuilt city, new connections and bonds among all those who lived through her unforgiving wrath. Katrina made us reevaluate and revise systems and structures that necessarily working. She forced us to grow, regrow. And most of all, she reminded us how deeply we loved and still love the City that Care Forgot.
It was a special kind of tragedy that offered us a chance to make our city better than it has ever been; it's a chance we've taken advantage of.
But. $430 is still a large chunk of change for a college kid. Even though I realize how long overdue I am for a trip home to my friends, my family, my city, and my people.
Click. My flight is booked.
I'm coming home, I'm coming home. Tell the world, I'm coming home.
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.