Evacuation Blues

Some things go together well. Chocolate and peanut butter, for instance. Bourbon and ginger ale. Oreos and milk. Lime juice and fresh mango. 

But then there are some combinations that are terrible or even dangerous. Toothpaste and orange juice. Ammonia and bleach. Hurricane evacuations and an entire region that doesn’t seem to believe COVID actually exists. 

I am so depleted from the past 18 months of COVID, to say nothing of the recent and sudden death of my mother, that I truly didn’t think I had the mental reserves to evacuate for Hurricane Ida with my two kids, one of whom is too young to be vaccinated — and so we stayed. 

We rode the storm out at my in-laws’ in Metairie because they had a generator, and although it was pretty scary and absolutely worse than I anticipated, we made it through without any real damage. Our own home, in Broadmoor, didn’t fare quite as well; we had some roof damage and our upstairs bathroom windows blew out. Overall, though, we felt relieved to have been spared the catastrophic damage of other nearby areas.

Hearing that there was no timetable for when we could realistically expect to have power again, though, we decided it was time to hit the road. 

Evacuating with four people and an 80-pound half-blind dog in a Corolla is not an experience I want to repeat in the near future, nor do I ever want to relive having to take an unvaccinated 9-year-old into a gas station where there isn’t a single masked person to be seen. I hadn’t realized how jarring it would be to see other people’s gross face holes on public display after the past 18 months in my New Orleans bubble, but we definitely hurried through our bathroom breaks as much as we could.  

Once safely settled into a generous friend’s home in Tennessee, though, we tried to make the best of it. We took the kids and dog to romp on a dairy farm and pick tomatoes and apples. We met up with (vaccinated!) friends for pizza at their house, and we even took a side trip to get a picture of Georgia at the Georgia state welcome sign. 

 Even knowing how lucky we were didn’t exactly make it a vacation, though. We were trying to connect with our insurance company, file a FEMA claim for my 83-year-old father, coordinate with our amazing friend who stayed behind and boarded up our windows, figure out when schools would be reopening, stay in touch with our employers and our neighbors. 

In addition, none of us like being away from our home and especially not away from New Orleans. I couldn’t find my favorite kind of coffee. My husband wanted to make gumbo, but we couldn’t find any decent seafood. I didn’t know where the light switches were in the home where we were staying and constantly opened the wrong drawers looking for silverware. I gained 5 pounds over the course of a week because of stress-eating so much junk and not being able to stick to my usual exercise routine. I kept noticing the smell of new shampoo, unfamiliar laundry soap, and it would constantly bring me back to the reality of our situation. 

I tried to keep some sense of perspective and remind myself that there were people in harder-hit regions, people who didn’t have the resources to leave and were stuck in the heat, people suffering … but that didn’t actually make me feel better; it only made me feel like the world’s biggest asshole for being annoyed that I couldn’t find LaCroix in the grocery store in rural Tennessee. 

Ultimately, we heard we had power restored and headed home on Sept. 8, eager to get back to some kind of normal and help our home state and its people however we could.  

Georgia liked visiting Georgia, but for all of us, New Orleans and our family is the only combination that makes sense. 

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