Before the Flood

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“I don’t think you understand the severity of this situation–I can’t get to you. The roads are flooded.”

The rain is just starting to let up. A half hour before the call I stood at the front door of my office looking out the window at the street below–it was becoming a river. The water was rising up towards the bottom step of the stairs that led to the parking lot. I felt drips coming through the sides of our waterproof front door. The lighting cracked too close and I felt the coldness of the unknown seep into my bones.

But the sun was out now and the storm was over. It had passed. The water couldn’t be that bad… Could it?

“I’m going to just begin walking and try to meet you. I’ll see how bad it is.”

I jump over shallow puddles in the parking lot before continuing down a side street towards a main avenue of New Orleans. However, less than a block away from the avenue the side street becomes a river. Cars are stalled out in the middle of the road. Black and white families all sit on their porches, stunned, watching the water and the traffic up ahead, the ambulances and police sirens wailing in the distance.

“Oh my god…”

I try to hop over a puddle and miss, my leather flats getting soaked in rainwater. The water is getting an odd sheen from the filth. You can see rainbow oil smears and bobbing trash. It doesn’t smell, the rain still fresh enough, but it’s foreboding.

“You might want to go back around the other block,” a woman tells me and points behind her home. We’re standing in her front lawn. A black pick-up truck is trying to get through the street slowly. It barely escapes an engine flood but still creates a massive wave. All of the water retreats from the middle of the road and gains speed racing towards the front porches.

“Hop up here, hop up here.” The woman grabs my arm to indicate, get on my porch. The wave crashes against her front steps.

“My house is built on a slant, my backyard isn’t flooded. Go around the street back there.”

So I do. I start walking past the homeless people who hold down the intersection all day and working people waiting on the bus. I walk through the stoplight towards Jefferson Davis Parkway. At first, the roads don’t even look bad–just some mild puddles on the edges. But then the puddles get wider, they encapsulate the entire left sidewalk that I’m walking on. I can’t walk through anymore without standing in inches of water. Cars sputter trying to turn onto the avenue from the flooded side-streets. None of the cars waiting to get through the traffic say anything to me. I cross the avenue and jump on the grassy median separating the two lanes of traffic and slowly continue my walk on the concrete edge, cars cautiously whizzing to the left and the oversaturated, soggy grass to the right.

It’s hot as hell. I’m not sure why the heat beats down this way after such rain. My shoes are soaked. I’m sweating. I can feel my pale skin begin to turn. I notice around me other walkers, people waiting to meet up with loved ones and knowing it’s faster on foot than to sit like a waiting duck. Strangely enough, all of the walkers are women. I feel an odd sense of wonder at the fact that all of these young, working women are walking down an avenue famous for its prostitutes and cases of human trafficking.

None of us are scared.

I don’t like to pretend that while living in New Orleans I know jack shit about Katrina. I don’t. I lived through it in Maryland and try not to talk about it with locals. But my office at my job got five feet of water during the storm. The entire neighborhood went underwater. I’m walking through the flood to find my boyfriend and I feel the fear gather in my throat–what if the water started rising? What if it kept going even when the rain stopped? That’s what happened, and suddenly I feel the empathy bold and painful in my chest. If the water kept rising, I couldn’t walk. I’d have to swim to get through. I’m a good swimmer, but he doesn’t know how to swim. What if one day we have to swim?

My phone vibrates in my palm.

“Hello?”

“Hey, are you over in the median? I think I see you.”

I recognize his car to the left a few stoplights away and sigh. When he pulls up I hop in.

He grabs my hand. “You have no idea what I had to go through to get to you.”

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