“I’ll finish this wedding album Monday,” I thought to myself. It was finally Friday, and near the end of the workday. My plans for the weekend were simple: have a relaxing evening with my husband, maybe head to a friend’s house, take a kickboxing class and go to church. We would eat at home Friday night since I had just gone on a major grocery shopping trip. I told Louis, the photographer I worked for, to have a good weekend and that I’d see him Monday. Little did I know it was my last day there, and not only would I never complete that wedding album, but I wouldn’t see Louis again for over a year.
On my way home from work, I called my best friend Ashley. “What are you guys doing this weekend?” I asked. “Nothing much, just watching the weather, looking at this hurricane”, she replied. I then learned that Hurricane Katrina, which was supposed to only be an issue for central Florida, looped around and was back in the Gulf. I joking-but-not told Ashely “Of course this is going to happen right after I drop $300 at the grocery store!” I quickly realized that would be the least of my worries.
A Forced Vacation
Until 2005, evacuating, for me, was sort of a forced vacation. We would get out of town for a few days, eat at restaurants, check out a new city or visit family. The hurricanes were never as bad as predicted, so I was trying to think of something fun for our Hurrication. “Let’s go to Dallas!” I said to my husband. He thought I was ridiculous, and we should go to the Northshore or Alexandria. I convinced him though, since we had family up there that we hadn’t seen in a while. We packed up a few clothes and headed out Saturday morning. I figured we would be back to the grind by Wednesday, Thursday at the latest. No one else I knew was leaving Saturday. My grandparents were planning to stay; after all, they stayed through Betsy and Camille, how could this be worse? When we left for Dallas, no one was too concerned about this storm. By the time we arrived Saturday evening, people across New Orleans started to change their minds.
Not Like Before
By Sunday, Katrina was a Category 4 headed straight for New Orleans. My grandparents, along with thousands of others fled the city in all directions, sitting in traffic for up to 20 hours to get somewhere that was 8-9 hours away. Everyone’s attitude shifted, and we all knew this was nothing like previous storms.
You know the rest. The levees broke, the waters rose, people couldn’t get home, those at home couldn’t get out. Thousands died. Thousands more lost everything they owned. We were lucky. Our house sustained minimal damage, and some of our things were ruined, but nothing major. We were, however, stranded in a new city where we only knew a handful of (wonderful) people.
Since our house was a rental, we couldn’t return until our landlords could get the necessary work done to our house, such as replace the flooded carpets, fix some roof damage and a few other things. Because they had their own Katrina story to deal with first, it would be months before we could even consider going home.
Do we stay or do we go?
We went over this question time and again before we ultimately decided to start our lives in Dallas. We got jobs. We rented an apartment. We made new friends. It was easier than I expected, yet harder at the same time. I spent several nights crying, wondering if we made the right decision. Ultimately, I believe it was. It strengthened my marriage, boosted my confidence, and brought me closer to my family in Texas. But our story isn’t over.
A little over a year after our sudden and unexpected move, I came back to New Orleans for business. In the week I was here, I fell more in love with New Orleans than ever. Growing up here left me indifferent to the amazing things this city has to offer. I took our unique culture for granted. But there was something about post-Katrina New Orleans that made me realize all I had missed about our amazing city, and it was during that week I knew we had to come home. We were happy in Dallas. We had created a nice little life for ourselves there and were surrounded with great people, but it wasn’t home. When I returned, I was curious how my husband would respond to my change of heart. Surprisingly, he had been thinking about moving back as well! Within two months, we were back where we belong, and more proud than ever to call New Orleans home.