Sunday, August 29, 2010

Katrina + 5

Everyone is asking. Everyone wants to know.

How did Katrina change you?

I didn't lose my house. I didn't lose anything I owned, really. A tree in my front yard. A few shingles maybe. And a couple of fence boards.

I know people who did, though. Lose everything. And I do mean everything. Homes. Possessions. Jobs. Friends. Relatives.

My in-laws were left with a plastic grocery bag of possessions and two empty lots in Waveland, Mississippi. We lost my father-in-law four years later.

But wherever we happened to live on the vast area known as the Gulf Coast, we all lost something that day in August of 2005. We lost our security. We lost our peace of mind.

It's five years later and I live my life -- or at least four months of it a year -- ready to go.

I pay for a big SUV, not because I have a bunch of kids to ferry around or because I'm not concerned about our ecology, but because I know I can fill it with stuff when I have to.

And I will.

I know what's important. I know where it is. I know what I will take. And I know my husband won't even laugh at me.

Sure, I know to take the important papers. Insurance. Medicines. My dogs.

But I also know that I must take my daughter's baby book, her school memory books, her scrapbooks, the box of memories from the day her adoption became final, her original birth certificate with her original name.

Her art.

The two books I've written just for her.

My wedding album.

My baby book -- the one I had to re-make after a puppy named Laycee chewed up the first one.

The one album filled with photos of me, my sister and our late brother as children.

I know how important those things are because my husband has none. Not one baby photo of him survived the storm and only two of the three boys as children.

I have spent months scanning photos into my computer and uploading them onto safe places in the web so they won't be lost.

Katrina did that for us. Taught us that some things just can't be replaced. Ever.

Like our innocence. Our security. Our peace of mind.

Or the people we will never see again.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Game changer

I was one of the lucky ones.

I was one of those people who woke up every day and went off to a job that I genuinely loved.

Oh sure. I bitched. I complained. NOBODY likes to cover soccer. In the snow. Or spend four days in a hotel room. In Sulphur. To cover swimming. Or drive to West Monroe.

But those were mere nuisances.

Because for more than 20 years, The Times-Picayune paid me to cover games. Football games, baseball games, basketball games, volleyball games, golf, tennis, wrestling, track and field and, yes, even soccer.

And while everybody else had to pay to get in, I got paid to get in for free. Occasionally I even got a hot dog or some jambalaya. Lutcher folks gave me candy.

Sure, sometimes it was miserably hot. Sometimes it was bitterly cold. Sometimes I wished I had become a school teacher instead.

Not often.

Because I genuinely loved what I did.

And because I was damned good at it.

Yes I won awards. A couple of big ones. But I'm prouder of the fact that I never blew a deadline. And I became the one to do the late games because I was fast. And good.

There is nothing as exciting as writing a game story on deadline. The rush of adding up statistics, coming up with a storyline, then a lead and putting it all together in 15 minutes. Or less. Then getting your computer to work. In the old days I used to have to drive back to my office. That made the work dangerous.

And thrilling.

Sometimes it would take me hours to come down from the high.

Then they took me down.

The newspaper business is hanging by a thread, they said. Everybody has to do their part. You have to give up what you love. We need you to answer the phone instead. Greet the customers we still have. We'll get other people to do what you've been doing for 20 years.

This after I spent months in anguish over whether to stay or go with a buyout offer in my hand. After changing my mind a million times. After ultimately deciding that I could not leave because this wasn't just what I do, this is Who I Am.

They took it from me. And tonight, instead of kicking off my 20th football season of River Parishes football, I came home and watched football on TV.

I know I should be thankful to HAVE a job. Many don't. And it's not a bad job. I sit. And answer the phone. And make sure people can pay their bills. And rewrite crime briefs. And chase stolen flamingos. And wonder if this would have happened to me if I was not a woman. And try to find peace.

At the same time I mourn the things I can no longer do, I celebrate the things I no longer have to do. And there are some rainbows in this cloud.

I can go away for a whole weekend. I can go to Disney World for Thanksgiving. I can go to the the Natchitoches Christmas festival in December. I can take a sick day without worrying about how much work I'll have to make up tomorrow.

There will be no more soccer in the snow. No more bees and wasps in the press box. But no more Friday night football games. No more spring afternoon baseball games. No more overtime basketball games. No more volleyball tournament. No more bylines in the sports section.

And that just breaks my heart.