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Those who leave and those who stay: Katrina 9 years out

Eleanor Keller

Eleanor Keller

It was right about this time in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that area residents were clamoring to come home. Most of us couldn’t.

I was 40 miles west, in the River Parishes, trying to get news - any news - of my particular Old Metairie neighborhood.

On my birthday - September 6 - I saw some very disturbing news footage on a Baton Rouge station that showed an area of Airline Highway just three blocks from my house. Water almost completely submerged a stop sign. It was then that I knew there would be no coming home for a long time.

Happy Birthday to me.

In the nine years since that day, I have gone back and forth in my mind a thousand times about leaving for good. Countless conversations with friends, some still here and some long established in cities far away, have offered no enlightenment for my dilemma.

For five long years after Katrina, I fought hard against depression, financial set-backs, family medical emergencies and the daily uphill battle to survive the devastation of our ruined city. I fought hard to rebuild my house.

In 2010, I moved back into my rebuilt house ... a new construction on my old familiar plot of ground in my beloved neighborhood.

What a day of triumph over financial dilemmas, arbitrary building codes that seemed to change daily, and frayed nerves.

But lately, a creeping feeling of unrest and dissatisfaction has been like a burr in my shoe. I step a certain way and it pricks.

I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time on the internet looking at cities in other states ... checking out what they have to offer. Greener pastures, perhaps.

I’m not looking for much. Just a place of peace and quiet. Somewhere that I can walk along a downtown street, stop somewhere for lunch, do a little window shopping ... without fear of dying. For me, walking in downtown NOLA is nothing short of attempted suicide by murderous thugs. Who Dat roulette, if you will.

My very best friends regale me with stories from their homes in far-away places. When they miss New Orleans, they come back for a visit. But they are adamant about never moving back for good.

They tell me about their fulfilling jobs, their safe environments, and their four seasons.

For those friends, the grass is always greener on that side of the street.

Sometimes I think I don’t have to leave to change my life. I tell myself that the loudest voices are the ones that broadcast the worst-case scenarios. I reason that real life is always closer to the middle ground, and reality is never best case/worst case, but somewhere in between.

Sometimes I think it’s all about my energy level and my resilience. Maybe I’m just tired, bored ... old in spirit. Maybe I just need a change of scenery or a vacation. But the last vacation I took ... I didn’t want to come back. I could have stayed and stayed and stayed forever.

I think sometimes about what I do with a plant that is no longer growing because the pot has become so confining with barriers to the root system. I move it to a better environment, a more nurturing place where the roots can spread and explore new ground, and away from the blades of errant lawnmowers, heavy shoes and marauding pests.

I would very much like to find a place like that again to bloom.