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  • Writer's pictureToby

Sneak Peek

Hurricane Katrina was a touchstone moment in my life. I still think I could have done more and should have. I was only an hour away from the greatest natural disaster in this nation's history, but all I could do was sit and watch. It took me a full 24 hours to realize this was not just another hurricane. This was not just water damage. In the end, I took my knowledge, helplessness, and unfounded confidence from a freshly completed counseling master's degree to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge and tried to be useful to people being triaged there. I was not helpful. I witnessed suffering like I'd never seen before. People I met there, specifically one mother, stick with me to this day. I think about her often and pray she found her children and made it to a place that feels like home.

After that, I attempted to channel my helplessness by writing something to depict what I saw, the stories I heard, including the ones no one was talking about. I interviewed someone who had been in the Superdome. I talked to Coast Guard who pulled people off of roofs. That book never fully manifested. I stopped writing the novel at the part where my fictional family was at the Convention Center in New Orleans waiting for the buses. There they sat, for fifteen years. These imaginary characters stayed angry at being abandoned in my mind just like the actual living, breathing victims from that awful time.

I shared this with a colleague, someone from New Orleans. He asked why I didn't finish it. My mouth spurted out, "Wasn't my story to tell." He encouraged me to write it for the people who couldn't tell their story. I thought about the woman who'd lost her children and wondered if she'd want someone to share that experience.

For the last 2-3 years I have been pecking away at this novel. I am still not sure I will go through with trying to get it out there. It still doesn't feel like my story. I'm hoping I can work at it enough that it can become our story...a story of how we can be better.

Here is a quote from a climax moment (not a spoiler, at least I don't think):

Again Ophelia sees her reflection in her mother’s wet eyes. Della’s tears merge with sweat pouring from underneath the purple and red silk of her headwrap. Her eyes don’t seem to completely focus on Ophelia. They see past her, or through her. The otherworldly, distant gaze is there. But there is something else: a certainty Ophelia cannot find in facts. Her anger may have attuned her to the rot and corruption she’d been living through, not just during the last week, but through her life. But there is more in her mother’s eyes she had not seen. There is an understanding she’s sought, but still hasn’t found. It isn’t naïve. It is bigger than hope. Through Della’s eyes she sees the drowning city, everything that came before it, and even everything that comes after.
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