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Time To Grieve

April 14, 2010
by

Three months after. Albert Lambreaux walks into his New Orleans home for the first time since August 29th, 2005. The Flood Flower, a ceiling fan with its blades drooping like drenched petals, greets him. The water was at least to the ceiling. Total loss. His home is unrecognizable but for the pathways to other similarly-destroyed rooms. The smell of the rapidly-oxidizing rot hasn’t even hit the Big Chief’s nose before his daughter, Davina, interjects. “Daddy, let’s go,” she urges. All I wanted to do was reach into the television and pull her aside to say, “Give your father some goddamned space, girl, some time. Time to see. Time to get the slightest grip.” People, paperwork, government, gutting, rebuilding, family responsibilities, smaller disasters caused by the big one, depression caused by anxiety, poor health, his own demons, they’ll all want a piece of him soon. Give him some time to grieve.

Like I didn’t give my parents after their Kuwaiti home of 25 years was stripped naked during the Gulf War. Like my brother didn’t give my father after his escape from a month of captivity. Move on, old people, move on. We don’t want to stop and look. We’re young, resilient and don’t know what dignity and violation mean yet. Our hearts are made of rubber; the rest of our lives stretch before us, elsewhere where it’s better. Leave this joke behind. Are you coming or not? They let go and came. Big mistake.

***

On Sunday evening, as D finished up mowing our yard, I sat in bed anxiously dreading the show. Why did Treme have to start specifically in November 2005 and remind me of the lowest point in my known life? Living in a generous friend’s guest bedroom but in a stifling Houston suburb, working robotically at a great job that was at risk of never returning to New Orleans, drinking too much, eating too little, blogging a lot out of sheer despair.

All with D in Wisconsin goddammit, I can’t even write this through the stinking memories with D in Wisconsin and me a nation away in Texas because right when Katrina happened, I let go. Intrusive re-experiencing or some shit like that is what the shrink called it, but I panicked about commitment, detached from my responsibility to my best friend and folded inward.  The world had come to an end AGAIN and, if reality couldn’t stay put, why would a marriage, how ever blessed by so-called loved ones who weren’t bothered enough to call me one month, two months into my exile? Bad, angry decision-making at its best. D and I reconnected just as soon as we threatened to float apart, but I had to drop the ball again by dismissing the relapse of his mother’s cancer and that she was indeed dying. Bad, seething mad decision-making at its worst. Sharon died that Thanksgiving, three months after Katrina, and I wasn’t at her funeral because I refused to believe that she, too, could be snatched away. It was the one time anyone really needed me and I was not there for them. What had I become?

After the Gulf War ended, my mother and father fought like cats and dogs and, for a while, took some time off from each other, countries apart. I couldn’t understand it at the time: They had found one another after the invasion and we were  all a family once more, so why lash out and break what we had just pieced back together? So it was post-Katrina, relationships tightening and falling apart, but definitely in flux. There is a Sanskrit word samsara that Hindus use to imply “stuck in the cycle of reincarnation,” “the universe” and, oddly enough, “wife.” In other words, marriage, ball and chain, attachment. If we weren’t so mercilessly attached to things, people, place, jobs, mortgages, bills, ourselves, how could the frustration and helplessness penetrate?

November 2005 was the month I learned that life does not work like this. All of this samsara, this extraneous bullshit, IS YOU. And if you don’t resolve it, come to terms with it then and there, put it to bed knowing that you’re going to have to wake it up the next day and engage it some more until you’re somewhat whole, you’re fucked. You end up like me, who to this day hasn’t gone back to Kuwait to look at her childhood home, and wakes up in the middle of the night confused and frustrated after another nightmare of family photographs and heirlooms rushing away from her as she tries to catch them. You end up like me, who fifteen years after one disaster, shut down and punted when another one arose, and who still impulsively defaults to head-in-sand mode on any perceived threat. You end up like me, seeking liberation from this infinite recursion of watching me watch myself in 2005, watching myself in 1990 … when, but more importantly, how is this going to stop?

A couple of months before The Flood, I wrote this about what happened in Kuwait, specifically the looting of our home.

Oh, the anger. The need for retaliation against those who wronged us. Oh, the conscience. Blind vengeance is an empty gesture with no knowledge of the exact culprits. Even if I do know their collective identity, what would revenge effect besides more sadness? Perhaps it is the need to walk up to the thieves to tell them that I forgive and forget. But, they are now a part of the amorphous past, which increasingly blurs the farther we hurtle into the future. How does one forgive such a past? Whom does one forgive?

8000 miles, 20 years, 5 moves and many incarnations away from that country, it’s not a need to forgive and forget that has forced me to close the chapter on Kuwait and never to look at it again. It’s because I wouldn’t know where to start. In Treme, I have a fighting chance. To peer back from a future to which I made it. To observe who I was back in November of 2005, to try to understand why I acted as I did in the hope that those mistakes aren’t repeated. To forgive myself, as my husband has pleaded with me to do for the last five years.

If I can’t watch the show for fear that it will hurt too much, then I haven’t leveled with the demons. The demon. It’s never too much and too late to talk to her. This is the time. Don’t flake out. Don’t let go. Don’t fuck up again.

***

For me, this first episode of Treme presents a deeply-personal frame of mind. It’s not about whether Albert Lambreaux was wearing an Uptown or Downtown Indian suit while a non-existent-at-the-time Hubig’s pie was served as dessert across town. Or that the old fool could have had his ass and his $10,00o suit carted to a bayou gulag by the National Guard for parading around disturbing the peace on an unlit street in the middle of the night. It was the look on the man’s face that night. It was the look on his face through which he asked his neighbors and his son for understanding and solidarity. It was the look on my face everyday in late 2005, visible in the mirror, at work, to people who didn’t understand what New Orleans and those booted from home were going through, to those who could help and to my friends back home. It is the look on my face as I type these words.

“Just give me some time. Some time to grieve. And then, get me, help me, help my people. Don’t just stand there like none of it matters. LOOK AT ME. Help make this right. Help me make me right. Or get out of the damned way.”

14 Comments
  1. April 14, 2010 8:40 pm

    Beautifully said Maitri. We were all wearing that face when we first met the spring after the levee failure. I saw it in the mirror every day and on the faces of friends, clients, and neighbors as well.

    Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

  2. April 14, 2010 9:10 pm

    Oh, Maitri… Incredible post – much continued strength to you.
    W.

  3. April 14, 2010 9:38 pm

    Thanks Maitri.
    Rough world out there. It all comes home to roost.
    Welcome to America.

  4. April 14, 2010 9:52 pm

    The god of the bible punished Lot’s wife for looking back: I think a compassionate god would encourage looking back. We deal with our demons, or they will deal with us.

    More power to you and yours. Thanks for sharing, and peace,

    Tim

  5. wev permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:06 pm

    I think it takes uncommon bravery to write of one’s unbeautiful inner mirror. Looking there is not a loss if we discover how to be less our own implacable enemy. This also takes years, the way some kinds of grieving do. Blessings on you.

  6. Mistlethrush permalink
    April 15, 2010 6:59 am

    This is a tremendously powerful and moving post and I thank you for sharing it here.

  7. ssmith permalink
    April 15, 2010 11:50 am

    You are so right – “It was the look on his face”.

  8. michellebeckham permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:13 pm

    Maitri,
    Incredibly personal and moving post. I hung on every word and saw these traumatic experiences through your eyes. My wish is for peace in your life as you face the rest of the grieving process. Thanks for sharing a piece of your soul with us.

  9. April 16, 2010 9:01 am

    Maitri, I read this in the email notification when I first got it, and am remiss for not having commented sooner. It’s been a tough week. It’s a beautiful post, Maitri, and was in my thoughts last night as I watched the show again. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  10. April 16, 2010 10:54 am

    Thanks, everyone, for your words of encouragement. It’s so important to talk to folks, especially kids, who have been through trauma and let them know that bad shit happens, it’s part of being human, we’re not invincible and we are affected but we have to move on fully aware of what mistakes can be repeated. Who will we be the next time? Who will we be even if there isn’t a next time?

    To be totally honest, I have to forgive myself not for letting D or his mom down, but letting myself down. I knew better than that.

  11. Jado permalink
    April 17, 2010 9:08 am

    The times that try us most are the times when we fail to do what we know we should do. We are, after all, only human. No matter how many times you are reminded by yourself that you need to face your demons and move on, part of you always remembers that they are DEMONS.

    The word it self is insufficient to explain how terrifying they are to see up close.

    I know from my own experiences that even demons that have been faced and dismantled and understood and accepted are still terrifying in their zombie corpse aspect, creeping up to declare themselves at the next instance of tragedy or horror, as if to say “Yes, again. Regardless of your acceptance or understanding, the decrepit meat of us will be with you always, and we will show ourselves to you over and over, hoping to affect you as we once did.”

    After all, demons live on fear and despair. Even the dead ones.

    Good luck with your demons. I sincerely believe that dealing with them is the quintessential human experience, and the work of a lifetime. May your work be fruitful, and may you find a peace in your life.

  12. willymack permalink
    April 17, 2010 6:48 pm

    Katrina was and is a crime against humanity, and the bush regime is responsible for it.
    This one event should’ve sunk his regime, never mind two fraudulent “elections”, two phony wars, grand theft, and illegal spying on American citizens.
    The REAL crime of the Obama administration is its failure to prosecute the bushies for multiple capital crimes. That makes them complicit in the most evil regime ever to disgrace us before the world.

  13. Jean McKay permalink
    April 17, 2010 10:22 pm

    Just found this post via Crooks & Liars’ Mike’s Blog Roundup today, 4/17/10.
    My words feel inadequate, but the wisdom and depth of understanding and vulnerability and humanity that you shared with us is truly magnificent. Thank You.
    Sincerely,
    Jean in S. J., CA

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