Reentry to New Orleans must be a little like the shock of passing through the atmosphere after visiting the moon. You want to get home, but you've forgotten how difficult and improbable your journey has already been.
I drove in from Tallahassee, stocked up with all kinds of supplies: water, dog food, human food that doesn't require refridgeration, a Coleman stove, propane, clothes, a respirator, Vicks vapor rub (to cut the smell of spoiled food), garbage bags, bleach...
The drive went smoothly until Oak Harbor, just before the long stretch of highway that goes over the lake. There I had to turn and drive through an expensive subdivision/development until I reached route 11 which took me over the water and past completely demolished homes. Large piles of sticks is what they are now. And at first I could figure out where they had come from. The newer places were intact, though with damaged roofs. Then I noticed the empty stilts sticking up from the water. Oh, that's where the houses were. Not anymore.
Back on the highway there were occassional boats still stranded in the median.
Then we drove down Elysian Fields, watching the flood line go lower and lower until we reached our neighborhood and there was none.
My house was sealed with a piece of corregated metal screwed into the doors, decorated with the date that my home had been checked for survivors. I think it will hang now on one of the interior walls. There was a rat party while I was gone. Lots of rat poop all over. But the electricity was on. The Directv was on. There is a hole in the back of the house, and the boards are loose on one side of the front, as if it was hit by something--a runaway bus, perhaps? The kitchen...I don't even want to got into that detail yet.
The dogs were thrilled to be home, but curious about the absence of any other people. We walked around and visited friends. We went to the barren dog park. We smelled a curiously familiar smell: fuel mixed with incinerated cement. It smells like 9/11 in NYC, but without all the burned bodies.
A government SUV stopped outside the house and for a moment I thought it might be FEMA arriving to finally finish the application process they've been sitting on. No. It was a DEA guy and all he wanted was a picture of a door across the street, decorated in the style of the offical rescue code, but reading "2 cats, 1 drag queen".
Later in the afternoon, I walked down the neighborhood bar and found Rosalind, a sweet dog that I had met once before hurricane. At that time she had been left with dogsitters who were letting her run free all the time. Now she's completely on her own. She was timid, and rooting through junk. (Oddly, this is very much like the final scene of my unpublished novel!). Finally she came to me, and I found her owner's number on the collar. I called and got a voice mail about how much they miss New Orleans. I left a message asking if they were missing their dog. I'm still waiting for a response. I tried to get her to come home with me...but she ran off and I haven't seen her since.
Who names a dog Rosalind and then leaves her on the street? I'm tempted to post the number here...