August 28, 2014.
Tonight I will light candles.
I can’t light one for each of the deceased, and certainly not each of the displaced.
But I will light one for each of those groups,
for those who never came home.
For many, they have faded from consciousness.
But I must remember them.
And I will light one for my city,
my second home that sat in suspense
nine years ago tonight,
as the winds picked up
and the rains came harder,
holding its collective breath in the darkness
as those who had stayed prayed by candlelight in their powerless houses,
and those who had left tried vainly to sleep,
and failing that, sat glued to the TV, waiting.
I was one of the latter.
So I will light another candle for that memory,
for that early morning spent restless on my mother’s couch in Houston,
keeping the volume low as not to wake her or my fellow evacuee,
watching Anderson Cooper in his yellow raincoat
his perfect hair ruffling in the building storm
as the rains formed torrents around him
and street signs flew past
and trees lost their roots…
I watched. And waited.
And as the sun reached mid-morning in a cloudless Texas sky,
it started to peek out on the screen in front of me.
Back home looked a little battered and beaten,
but all in all, not irreparable.
The doomsayers’ predictions, it seemed, had been wrong.
Relieved, I finally slept, thinking I would drive home in the morning,
help with the cleanup,
go back to work,
get back to my life.
But when I woke later that day,
I learned otherwise.
The sun was still out — but the waters were rising.
The muddy city filling up like a bowl,
full of river and salt water
like the streams from the eyes
of those of us who sat transfixed, helpless in our dry refuges, disbelieving what was before us,
and those at home who were climbing their stairs,
then their furniture,
then cutting through their ceilings,
then their roofs,
waiting and praying for help that, for some, never came,
and for many, came too late
for them to believe that they were cared for.
I will light a candle for the memory
of the unreal becoming brutally real
worse than the most twisted fiction
as it unfolded in the days to come,
chaos crescendoing and madness mounting
as our city was left to drown
in a putrid swamp of racism and corruption,
left cold in the oppressively humid, sweltering summer,
Black babies dying
as their mothers’ angry cries for help went unanswered,
poor white folks with nothing but the shirts on their backs
believing the cruel lie that the remnants of their property were more at risk
from those people in the Dome who didn’t look like them
than the power-holders in their towers who did.
I will light a candle for the miles of washed-out houses
still overgrown with vines and red tape
nine years after their owners were lost
in either the waters
or the system that, despite our best efforts,
is still built to preserve power
and block progress.
I will light a candle, too,
for those who have forgotten
that the storm did not end
on August 29, 2005,
and the flood did not recede
when the waters dried up that fall;
who will go about their evenings
with clear minds and hearts,
of what my body and many thousands of others
still remember tonight,
the night that we waited:
Eyes dry from sleep deprivation and too many tears.
Hearts and brains strung out on adrenaline overload.
Too cold from the fear that constricted our blood vessels.
Too hot from the anger that welled up inside us.
And so, so weary
from these years
of recovering, rebuilding, rehashing, reviving, reliving, redoing, renewing, retraumatizing,
I will get up,
and I will say a prayer for the anniversary;
and as I feel the ink of my fleur-de-lis tattoo
burning in my forearm,
I will go out into the world
among those who have forgotten
and do my work
and go to dinner
and see a show
and live my life,
fully aware that these are privileges
that many have not received
and for which I must be grateful — never guilty.
For guilt is useless. We each had our fates.
And I will use mine for greater good
and treasure all it has given me
by reverently living my life
I will light candles.