“Death don’t always taste good.” – My sis, Sunni Patterson
Whenever I travel abroad and people ask me where I’m from, I respond: “Hi, I am Shantrelle. And I am from New Orleans.” I never say Brooklyn. I don’t say Philly. And despite spending a majority of my formative young adult years in this nation’s capital, I don’t say Washington, D.C. I rep the city where I was born and raised because I would hate for anyone to ever forget, what happened during that hellish August morning and the many days following the landfall of a sanctifying storm and collapse of a system. Perhaps being back in the house where I sat stunned, helpless, devastated and bewildered has shrouded me in this sudden sense of grief but, I’ll never forget.
I’ll never forget that morning, the days preceding when I spoke to my family, trying to understand where everyone would be going, urging those who had decided to stay, to leave and wondering what was going to happen in the days to come. I’ll never forget seeing the side of the Hyatt on Canal Street blown off, the same Canal Street that hosts millions of tourists yearly on Mardi Gras Day…the same Canal Street where I transferred buses my first two years in high school as a student at Xavier Prep, trying to make her way home. I’ll never forget wondering what was happening to my grandmother and aunt who were in that Hyatt because my grandmother was one of the many elders that refused to leave their homes and was forced to do so at the very last minute. I’ll never forget the images that inundated CNN and every media source for weeks. I’ll never forget the physical and psychological stress my own mother endured as a state director who worked endless hours at a hurricane command center for many months in Baton Rouge, following the storm.
In this moment I can talk about how the system failed us. I can speak of how the central government and the head of state left us to die. I could speak about the incompetence of some local leaders, the breakdown in communication of authorities, the lawlessness of police officers and troops. I could speak about the viscous white racist bastards who hunted evacuees down like dogs for trying to secure safe ground for themselves and their families. I could speak about bloated bodies of grandmas and grandpas, cousins, uncles, great aunts, nieces and babies that drifted through flood waters like pieces of scrap wood. I could speak about menstruating women with no sanitation supplies having to make due with the one pair of clothes on their body as they sat on a hot roof for days, praying that God would not forsake them. I could speak about thousands of people who were held hostage in the Superdome, not by physical force but by the force of conditions outside that kept them there. I could speak about the same Superdome that was over 100 degrees hot, musty with the spell of urine and feces and inoperable toilets which made it feel less like an NFL arena and more like the rotting lower decks of a cargo ship carrying African bodies during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I could speak about the women and men who were in central lock up in O.P.P. who were locked in flooded rooms, refused food and water, beaten and pepper-sprayed and some left to die. I could speak about the people whose cars broke down on the side of the road because they couldn’t afford enough gas to drive themselves to neighboring states and place them outside of harm’s way. I could speak about all of the people who would have left if they could but had no cars or no money in their below poverty-level bank accounts that would have given them that luxury, so in their houses in the lower 9th ward and the Iberville and the St. Bernard, they stayed. I could speak about the people who 8 years later have still not returned home. I could speak about all of those things but I won’t.
Instead in this moment, I will speak the name of my Grandmother, Mrs. Gladys Calvin, whose sarcasm and simple conversations and Sunday morning phone calls and whose pancakes I miss so much. No, she wasn’t one of the thousands left for dead in a city that could not swim. But she was one of the thousands whose lives were sacrificed indirectly as a result of medical complications, suicide, heart break, post-traumatic stress disorder or murder that took place in the months, years, following the Storm. As a dialysis patient, not being able to receive treatment for weeks, being denied hospital, after hospital, did rapidly deteriorate her body which forced her legs to be amputated and took her away from us before we were ready to say goodbye. No Sunni, death don’t always taste good but I’m thanking God for being alive to mourn the memories of our loved ones and tell their story, lest we forget.
Special Thanks to my cousin Tyronne Calvin who thanks to fate, was up here in Philly, holding a sister down. And for all of my friends, sorors and school mates who showed so much love towards my family and city, no matter how much time passes, I’ll never, ever forget your love.
My 8th Anniversary Ode to Katrina | Special dedication to the survivors of America’s 21st century Holocaust and in Loving memory of our friends, neighborhoods and families.