Just finished reading Chris Rose's book, 1 Dead in Attic, a couple of days ago. It's a compilation of columns he posted in The Times-Picayune from the time "The Thing" (his words) happened up through December.
I can't get the title story out of my head. At the time he first published the column, neither Rose nor we, the readers, knew who "1 Dead in Attic" was. He has since discovered that he was an 80-year-old retired longshoreman named Thomas Coleman. He had a can of juice and a bedspread with him in his attic when he died, awaiting rescue.
Mr. Rose and I have something in common. From 1 Dead:
"I have this terrible habit of getting into my car every two or three days and driving into the Valley Down Below, that vast wasteland below sea level that was my city, and it's mind blowing: A) how vast it is and B) how wasted it is. Perhaps I should just stay on the stretch of safe dry land Uptown where we live and try to move on, focus on pleasant things, quit making myself miserable, quit reliving all those terrible things we saw on television that first week. That's advice I wish I could follow, but I can't. I am compelled, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. And so I drive."
I, too, am compelled to drive. To drive to the Lower Ninth Ward, to New Orleans East, to Gentilly, to Lakeview, to Bay St. Louis. To take pictures. To record what's happened to us. Sometimes, when driving around in these devastated neighborhoods, stopping the car to take a particularly poignant picture, I feel like a grave robber--disturbing things that are best left alone. But again, I feel compelled. I don't want to forget what's happened here. And I don't want others to forget, either.
Yes, I'm one of the ones that lost a home and all of my belongings to the storm. So why do I still have survivor's guilt? I guess because regardless, I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a home again, albeit temporary. And I still have my family. And even though most of us lost our homes, we're still alive. On a personal level, we don't have to mourn the loss of 1 Dead in Attic. And for that I'm very, very grateful. But at the same time, we will never know 1 Dead in Attic or know the grief that his family feels. And for their loss, I mourn. And for him, dying alone in an attic, with no one there to comfort him, I grieve