First, let me say that I am very sorry for taking such a long break from the blog. It wasn't intentional -- after the Hurricane and all the stuff that went along with it, I just didn't feel like I had anything important to say in light of "real life" events going on. I was so glued to the news - and trying to help out locally and just being freakishly introspective - so, I apologize for my absence. I hope that it won't happen again.
I knew that I would go into a somewhat downward spiral after Al left - being left behind in Alabama to pick up the pieces of my life, to try to create a semblance of order of things and figure out how I was going to make it through the next several months without him home. And as soon as he got back to the Sand, he was given a position that makes it so he will be one of the very last people home from his company when everyone redeploys - and I took all of that pretty hard.
Then the hurricane hit, and life just sucked - I am an extremely empathetic person, plus I live pretty close to everything. I volunteer with the Red Cross whenever I can (which hasn't been for a while, since I have been busy being a mom), but I was able to have the opportunity to help evacuees who had lost absolutely everything - who dealt with the atrocities not just in New Orleans, but all over the Gulf Coast. Being in the middle of all of that, is just really something that you can't describe. You would have to see their weariness first hand, their overwhelming thankfulness to be alive, and hear the hope that is deep inside of them - waiting for the opportunity to be fully rebuilt.
I will say that one of the hardest things that I have ever done was to work two Sundays ago with the kids who had evacuated to the BJCC in Birmingham. I guess I didn't realize that I would be directly around people who had been in New Orleans - at the Civic Center, and at the Superdome. The day before, (Saturday the 3rd), I worked as a 'team leader' in the donations warehouse moving items that people dropped off for the evacuees out to a huge floor of everything imaginable. We were isolated from the clients other than when other volunteers would come back to "shop" in the warehouse for items needed out front - it was hard, hot work - but very rewarding to know that the items would be able to be put to almost immediate use by people who desperately needed and deserved them.
The next day though, the warehouse was pretty full, so the local Red Cross told people that they would accept no more "in kind" donations, and instead, started asking for financial ones - ie. I was out of a job. I got put to work playing with the kids that didn't go to church that morning - a group of about 10-15 boys and girls of all ages. One girl, whose name I was never told, will always stick in my mind. She was 13, with high cheekbones, pale chocolate skin and gorgeous gray eyes. She had an authentic "New Orleans accent" - and she had evacuated from the Civic Center. The things that she told me that people had experienced there were just horrifying (people getting raped and beaten, babies getting trampled, no food, no water for three days). And I listened as best as I could, and looked away when I thought that I couldn't swallow my tears anymore. It was hard enough to hear that stuff on the news, but to be confronted with it first hand was next to impossible to accept.
We have roughly 10,000 evacuees in Birmingham - and we are one smallish Southern metropolis. I hope to be able to volunteer this weekend again when Em is at her dad's house. I don't know where I will end up this time - or what I will be doing - but I feel compelled to do something, anything, to help the local, hurting sea of humanity that has ended up on the doorstep of my fair city. I miss Al immensely, but he has been my rock during this time. I email him every night - and he is just as good about communicating back with me. No matter what I need to talk about, he is there for me - and I love him for that. The days have melted together and the importance of our countdown seems foolish in light of what so many others are facing right now.
All of this has been especially hard on the soldiers who are deployed from Mississippi and Louisiana. The main LA unit has gotten to come home - and about 80 guys who either completely lost their houses (or family members) should be home on leave right now from the 155 BCT. There are lots more who are left in Iraq though struggling with the urge to be on home soil making a difference - and helping their families pick up the brokenness of their lives and move forward - only the ones that lost absolutely everything were allowed to return. I know how hard it is for me to be without Al in the good times and bad, but I can't imagine having a good portion of your house gone and struggling along alone. My prayers go out to all of the soldiers and their families. The military community stands behind you.
I thought that I would share some pictures of the last two weeks:
My company let us leave at 1600 on the Monday of the hurricane (August 29th), these are the clouds rolling in.
Roughly 20 minutes after the first picture.
Around 2000 (8.29) outside my front door.
On 9.1.05 very close to my house, this is an example of the kinds of things that we dealt with in Birmingham - downed trees and powerlines - but not our whole existence taken away from us.
Driving into "town" to volunteer to help Hurricane evacuees on 9.3.05, I came across this caravan of National Guard soldiers on their way to help with the hurricane, I can't remember if they were from Kentucky or Arkansas, but I honked at EVERY vehicle, waved my hands like a freak, and gave them a huge thumbs up (ummm, all while driving my car and taking pictures - lol!).
The back of one their trucks - it is hard to read, but it says, "Show Your Support, Hurricane Katrina".
After leaving the BJCC on 9.4.05, I encountered this huge caravan of buses - there was close to 30 - I lost count. We already had a lot of people at the BJCC - but these buses brought hundreds more evacuees to be distributed all throughout the city.