I know it’s October, a month of ghost stories and haunted houses, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think anything that happens this month can top last month in terms of terrifying.
Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna and Ike, churning out there in the Gulf, eyeing us menacingly, provoked some of the most visceral fear I’ve felt in a long time.
And then my daughter, Ruby, an extremely active 20-month-old, woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. I called my pediatrician. “How fast can you get here?” she asked. And once there, it quickly became: “How fast can you get to Children’s Hospital? We’re afraid this might be a brain tumor.”
And then … both of these stories turned out OK, at least for Ruby and at least for New Orleans. Other cities took a huge hit from the hurricanes; other children were diagnosed with brain tumors, and my heart goes out to them all. But that fate, for whatever reason, was not ours. Not this time. This time, we were spared. The levees held, and Ruby was diagnosed with something that has a very long name and a very good outcome, resolving on its own over a few weeks.
After those close calls, however, I found myself shaky and overwhelmed with love for my daughter and for my city. Even after the CT scans and MRIs came back clean, even after Gustav had moved on to Arkansas and Missouri, I was moved to tears of gratitude and relief on an almost daily basis. Ruby’s embarrassing toddler tantrums over such indignities as not being able to take a nap in the dryer or bring home a penguin from the zoo seem endearing now, and watching her when she’s asleep –– arm over her face, curls rubbed into a staticky frizz against the pillow, feet kicked out from the blankets –– just completely undoes me. It’s the same with New Orleans. After those few scary days when it looked like Gustav was coming for us, the bad things seem bearable; the good things seem magical.
When Ruby was sick, I couldn’t let myself think of what I might lose if she wasn’t OK. I just couldn’t.
But with Gustav bearing down and 17 hours in a car to contemplate it, I tallied up everything wonderful about the city. There’s Kayla, my favorite waitress at Saltwater Grill, who has repeatedly offered true New Orleans lagniappe by entertaining Ruby so I could enjoy my cheese grits and catfish uninterrupted. The woman in line in front of me at the grocery store who had “Yeah, you right” tattooed on her back. The way the air smells right after the rain starts. Jazz Fest. The zoo. White Linen Night.
Along the way, I also thought a lot about my featured homeowners. I’d met the Genets and the Blitches weeks before Gustav even formed; I’d heard their inspiring stories. Both families lost everything in Katrina, and both families chose to rebuild on the exact same spot. Both families were so excited to have transformed their waterlogged and moldy former homes into gorgeous showcases and felt that the process of rebuilding had been truly therapeutic. The idea of them losing it all again –– and knowing that they were representative of thousands of other New Orleans homeowners and business owners who had courageously chosen to give it another go –– just made me sick at heart. I thought, too, of the Imagination Movers, champions of the city who pushed to film their Disney show here in New Orleans and whom we feature this month in their respective favorite rooms. What would they stand to lose if we were swept away? Luckily, though Gustav scuttled their premiere party, all of their homes remained undamaged.
I know that’s part of what makes New Orleans so precious to us: We know it’s fragile. We know we need to enjoy it while we can. And I also know that’s part of what makes children such a miracle. There are simply no guarantees in anything.
That said, however, I am more than ready to put this scary month behind me and focus on November, a month I can really identify with –– because it’s a month all about being thankful.