That Bitch, Katrina by Edee Lemonier

Editor Kirsten Larson, Editor's Choice, September 4th, 2015

"forced to swim for their lives... in the middle of 174mph winds."

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Ten years ago this week all eyes were on New Orleans. I am from Biloxi, Mississippi. Most of my family is still there.

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August 29, 2005

Uncle John and Aunt Dot climbed up on the kitchen counters and wedged themselves under the cabinets because everything that was water outside had overflowed. The sewage pumps at the nearby treatment plant failed and lines broke and sent raw sewage bubbling up through every drain. There was four feet of shit water inside their house. Aunt Dot is only five feet tall.

Uncle David, Aunt Susan, their two adult kids, and their five-year-old grandchild were forced to swim for their lives to their neighbors’ house on slightly higher ground in the middle of 174mph winds. They then had to break into the house to get to safety. Uncle Laurence stayed behind because as a childhood polio survivor he was a weak swimmer and didn’t think he would make it. He went into the back room of the house, which is slightly higher than the front. Uncle Laurence watched the water rise outside, higher than the water inside the house. It covered the windows, then receded just as fast. When the storm was finally over, Uncle David went back for Uncle Laurence. David had to break in through a window. Laurence was asleep in a chair that was still floating.

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Laurence, floating in his chair

Uncle Laurence escaped death twice. His decision to stay with his brother was a last-minute one, and the entire front of his house was shoved to the back, as far as the refrigerator and debris would allow.

My grandparents, who were in their early nineties, saw a young Vietnamese family swimming up their street. They had two babies with them. My grandparents opened the door and yelled for them to come inside. The family spoke no English, my grandparents spoke no Vietnamese. In one of the highest areas, they still had four inches of water inside their home. When it was over, the young Vietnamese mother started cleaning the house for Grandma to show her gratitude.

Donna DeSilvey, an old high school friend, went with her dad, Doug, and her mom, Nadine, to Nadine’s parents’ house. They figured two-story brick was better than a single story. At some point they had to go upstairs because of the water level. They sat on the bed together. They held hands and prayed. There was a noise, Doug got up to look out the window. The entire house collapsed, killing Donna, Nadine, and Nadine’s parents. Doug rode out the rest of the storm clinging to a tree, keeping track of his family’s bodies in the water below him so he could give them a proper burial.

During a break at the back-to-school training for teachers I dialed my dad’s phone number. I got a fast busy. A teacher from my building said, “Oh come one, Lemonier, it can’t be that bad. I know they’re all down there knocking back beers, partying it up, watching it rain.” Dialed again. Fast busy. Again. Again. Again. Dial, fast busy. Dial, fast busy.

My cousin Jonathan, who lived near Birmingham, Alabama, called to tell me he couldn’t reach any of our family, except his sister, who also couldn’t reach anyone. She had evacuated to her boyfriend’s house less than an hour away. It was her thirty-fifth birthday.

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August 30, 2005

My cousin Regina called from Texas and said she’d heard through a very long grapevine that the house Uncle David was staying in was gone. Also Uncle Laurence’s house. We didn’t know they had gotten out. We thought they were all dead.

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August 31, 2005

My cousin Jonathan called on my way to school. He was crying so hard it made me cry. “I got the best birthday present ever,” he said. His dad (Uncle John) had borrowed a neighbor’s car and had driven all over to find his brothers and their families. “They’re alive,” said Jonathan. “All of them. Most of their houses are gone, but they’re alive. Your dad, too. And his house only took a little bit of damage.” I called Aunt Marguerite and Regina in Texas. Jonathan called another cousin and Aunt Nancy in Georgia. I was nearly an hour late for the meeting. I walked in and all heads turned. “Well?” my principal asked. “They’re alive.” I could barely say it. Everyone clapped. The teacher who was positive there’d been a kegger whispered across the room to me. “I’m super relieved to hear it,” she rasped. Fuck you, I wanted to scream. It took everything in me not to. At every break I tried my dad’s number. Fast busy. Fast busy. Fast busy. Keg bitch breathing down my neck, asking if I’d gotten hold of him yet. Fuck you.

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September 1, 2005

My phone rang. The caller ID showed my dad’s number. I answered with, “Daddy?” “Hey sweetheart. Just wanted to let you know we’re okay. We made it.” The line went dead. It was another week before I could get through to him again.

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Header image courtesy of Harry Byrne. To view his photo essay, “Hued Scars,” go here.

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edee lemonier katrina essay nailed magazineEdee Lemonier writes in Vancouver, Washington. Her work has appeared in Flash Fiction MagazinePartnersMagazine, NAILED, and a few other places online and in print. She is currently working on her first novel, Magnolia.

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Kirsten Larson

Kirsten Larson is a Contributing Editor at NAILED. She lives near Portland, Oregon. She loves words and is very curious. She received her MFA in writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She writes for The Huffington Post, and is an Adjunct Instructor at Portland State University. Her work can be found in NAILED, Huffington Post, Pathos, M Review, and several other places. She is currently working on two books.