"Life Happens"

As I walked up towards that pile of wreckage with my father, I thought of what it was before. I tried to picture it as it was two weeks prior when I filmed the block for my parents. My dad, not knowing what to say or do, gave me my first cigarette, the first of many more. I have always seen my father as a hero, a leader, the smartest most honorable man I had ever known. At that moment, he just looked helpless, willing to give a 14 year old a cigarette. I sat on the cement stairs; all that was left of our house. I walked throughout the rubble, found some old CD’s on our property. They weren’t even mine. We found our old china, some picture albums in the graveyard three blocks behind our house, some old pots from our garden shop, and my dad’s kayaks. We did not find our grand piano, my grandfather’s tapestries that he stitched with just one eye, or anything from my room. All the plants were gone except for one palm tree. The only things left from our garden shop were the wooden stairs. My mom would scare me when I was a child, saying, “Don’t go under the stairs, Madeline, that’s where the water moccasins live.” Boy, there were a lot of snakes after the storm. So many snakes, they scared the hell out of these volunteer fire fighters from Kansas. Maybe thirty moccasins came out of this one house down the road.

I am an only child. We lived in a shotgun house that used to be a museum. We owned a flower shop next door that was at one point a fried chicken restaurant. My dad worked as a landscaper, while my mom would tend the shop and gardens. I wish I had a picture of our gardens. They were so beautiful. Once I heard a girl walk in and exclaim, “I’ve seen this in a dream before!” This made me feel like a princess, living in paradise. We lived in downtown Pass Christian, next to two parks, a Catholic elementary school, the town library, a variety of restaurants and retail shops, and of course- the beach. I had a happy childhood with the exception of loneliness. I was never popular in elementary school because I never had any gel pens like the other girls, and I had bad handwriting. I think they all thought I was retarded. It was a small Catholic school with swirling stairs. The church in front of it looked like a big white triangle. Daredevils would climb to the top and skateboard down it. After the storm I would climb on the roof the school and watch the sunset by myself. They eventually knocked it down because they could not pay for repairs. I was sad.

The bare trees, properties with no homes, the burning heat, and smell of death were horrific and new to me. One house would be gone, completely eliminated, like ours. Then the next one would still have a structure and frame. Then, the next one would only have minor flooding and roof damage. We lost our home and business. A monstrous 40-foot tidal wave blew through them, the police had to kill a hammerhead shark on our parking lot where I used to spend hours of my childhood coloring with chalk. I wanted to get the hell out. So, I moved in with my cousins to the hill country of Texas, a town called Wimberley. It is a land of creeks, mountains, hills, and cypress trees, I saw the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, I floated down rivers without using any of my strength to swim, and I met some of the most interesting people. It was so much fun. My cousin’s are like my sisters. I have three of them- Mallory, Natalie and Erin. I wish I could see them more like I used to. My parents eventually made me move, after three or four months of high school there. They said that they missed me. I was just really pissed. When I moved back we lived in a trailer behind a horse barn behind a mansion in the middle of the country. A friend we evacuated with let us stay there. FEMA trailers were not great places to be. I would walk all the way to the bus stop every morning to be harassed by elementary school children making fun of my clothes. I never complained because I always saw worse conditions from different people. After the storm my dad became a social worker with disaster relief, and my mom worked for Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. My best friend lived in a tent outside a trailer park that smelled like meth. Those were some of the best times of my life though. No one gave a flying fuck about anything. That’s all I am going to say about that.

Two years later, we finally rebuilt our house. It was a two-stories, the top floor was an apartment for my mom and me, with a huge porch and an accessible flat roof, where I still spend many nights contemplating life, staring at the stars. The bottom was supposed to be an Internet café with a laundry mat, something that my town really needed at the time. However, my mom and I lack the funds to make it work. Now, she hosts yard sales in the bottom space. We are currently trying to rent our top floor apartment out because the taxes and insurance are ridiculous living on the coast.

Unfortunately, right after we rebuilt, my parents thought it best to send me to boarding school, the Mississippi School of Math and Science. I always tried hard in school, but my mental state was deteriorating. At the time I had applied there I was suffering severe depression and anxiety. I had lost 20 pound because I just could not look at food anymore. I would get the worst mood swings; I stopped hanging out with friends and would just yell and cry almost all the time. They did not want to deal with it anymore, so they sent me off. It was a good opportunity and was nice for a while, but I was not free. I wanted to be able to smoke cigarettes without sneaking off campus and I hated living in dorms; all of my roommates and I never got along. I missed my best friend, Mary; she is the only one who had ever understood me. I stayed for a year, then left to go home. My parents welcomed me with open arms.

Life happens, it comes at you fast and hard. Everyone suffers, everyone experiences loss, but we as Americans live better than almost every human in history. When people complain about nonsense I shake my head, I have seen and heard of people crazy off drugs, starving to death, living in tents with no AC during the hot summer days and cold winter nights, dying of poisoning in trailers, digging up dead relatives, and the list just goes on. I have also met some of the greatest and most influential people in my life, volunteers who dedicated their days to helping others and they still do too. The coast is still suffering from a storm that hit four years ago. My dad still works with people trying to get fair housing for those in need. The storm affected everyone in the coastal area for the better or worse. I like to think that it affected me for the better. I learned to value what I have and accept my obstacles. I can never fully explain the extent of how and why the storm changed us, but it definitely did.