It’s August in New Orleans and autumn seems as far away as Australia. Forget the dogs, these are the cat days of summer at my house. The yard cats lie around making barely a bump in the languid landscape. They follow me as I perform my gardening snips an sweeps with eyes both exhausted and persnickity as though I alone were responsible for their unwelcome malaise.
August and September are the months I dread the most. They’re the hottest and most humid months in a city that’s often hot and humid and they are the most likely months to host hurricanes, with September 10 being the peak of the season. Although we New Orleanians bitch and moan about the humidity and heat we are a stalwart clan so we slog through these wretched months the only way we know how: dancin’, drinkin’ and singin’. We go to Satchmo Fest early to get seats under the tents and under the oaks and settle in for an afternoon of lawn chair bump-and-grind while keeping a firm grasp on our Abita’s. We run, walk and stagger through The Red Dress Run employing veteran strategies for making it all the way to the end without heat stroke. We revel in the best live music in the world at The Maple Leaf and Tipitina’s, stepping out to catch a cool river breeze when bodies get too sweaty and the air too electric.
In these ways, and others, we mark off the days of August and occupy ourselves so as not to dwell too long on the date that sends prickles up our spines. For those of us living in New Orleans in 2005, memories of a rushed and nerve-wracking evacuation followed by anxiety ridden weeks of an enforced exile loom larger each day that brings us closer to the 29th day. Thoughts of the fetid flood waters that drowned our city and took the lives of our loved ones and neighbors come at unexpected moments throughout the year while shopping at Rouses or on Magazine Street or as we sit in our courtyards and on our porches watching the sun set over the city we love so much. But the memories come hard and fast during August and they still make the heart pound and the ears ring.
Our collective experience of the hours before and the months after the levees broke bind us together in a unique way that only a catastrophic event can do. We may have returned to a certain complacency about some things in the seven years since Katrina but we will never forget the price that was paid nor lose the bond that was formed in the aftermath.