The Chair

When we came back to New Orleans in December 2005, after three months away, I became one of those people who immersed myself in the misery tour, driving around and around the hardest-hit areas, over and over again, taking pictures of what I saw. I'm sure I wasn't alone in this somewhat weird hobby, as there were usually plenty of other people driving around snapping pictures, a mixture of locals and tourists.

In addition to wanting to save the pictures for posterity, so that someday my grandchildren could pull out the pictures that Grandma took during the great (federal) flood of '05, it was my way of dealing with what had happened--being in places where the landscape looked like I felt made me feel better--kind of like visiting the grave of a loved one, I suppose. Clearing out my own flood-destroyed home made me feel lonely, while being out in the greater community of grief made me feel, at least, like I wasn't alone.

In the process of sorting through the pictures I had taken during the year after Katrina, I noticed a lot of details in the pictures that I hadn't originally seen while focusing on the larger frame. An infant carrier wedged under the chain link fence next to where a house once stood. A wall switch hanging from a plywood stud, the wall long gone. A teddy bear propped up next to a pile of debris.

One thing that really stood out was a chair--a beige, non-descript recliner, that sat beside a destroyed house in the Lower Ninth Ward. The gentleman whose mother lived in the house, as I recall, found her body in it in December of 2005, well after the official search for bodies had taken place. I didn't really think about the chair, sitting at the side of the house, until I had all three pictures I had taken side by side--one in December 2005, one in April 2006 and one in August 2006. And there the chair was, in each of the photos.

Everyone knows that our recovery process is slow and shaky--but it still floors me, knowing that that chair sat there for over a year. I keep trying to find the words to describe how it has made me feel--just one more sad symbol of a city abandoned. Would people in other parts of the country be surprised to know this? Whenever I leave the city, people ask me the inevitable question, "How are things in New Orleans these days?" I want to tell them about the chair, but I don't. I'm not sure they'd understand.

Which picture was taken four months after Katrina? Eight months after? Twelve months after? I'll leave it for you to decide.