Kenny and I are in Bay St. Louis, in December of 2005. I've just gotten back to New Orleans within the past two weeks, and it's my first chance to see Bay St. Louis, where Kenny and I had lived for about five years, and where a large portion of our families had lived.
We drive down Main Street, trying to get as close to Beach Boulevard as we can. We end up parking a few blocks away, where the road stops existing, and walk the rest of the way to the beach. Dan B's is gone. The Good Life is gone. The Dock of the Bay is gone. The Fire Dog is still there, sort of, but all that's left of it is an empty shell. We stand looking at what used to be a thriving, beautiful (and yet crazy) little beach town. We walk down what used to be Beach Boulevard, trying to wrap our minds around the fact that storm surge can be this powerful--how can water be strong enough to rip up a road? Huge sections of asphalt, six inches thick and 6-8 feet long, are lying around in crazy angles everywhere.
All that's left of the old bank building is the vault. (Way to go, vault makers!) It's just sitting there, a 10' x 10' bank vault, out in the middle of a vacant lot, nothing left of the building that used to surround it but the slab.
We walk to City Hall and peer into the window of what used to be my office, a long time ago. The front doors are covered in plywood, the glass having been forced out by the surge; the doors are locked with a chain and padlock.
We walk further down the beach. There's a lawnmower on the beach. And a couch. And a fake Christmas tree, decorated with beer cans, with a washed-up teddy bear propped underneath it. It's surreal.
We run into some acquaintances from the Bay, people we knew in passing. They tell us about riding out the storm in their house. And how they didn't really get scared until they had five-foot waves in the living room.
We drive to one of our former rental houses. It's gone. We drive to another house. It's gone. We drive to the house where my parents lived during my high school and college years. It's gone. We drive by Kenny's grandmother's house. It's gone. We drive by Kenny's sister's house. It's still there but is located several hundred feet further down the road, collapsing in on itself. We drive by the houses of a couple of friends we haven't been able to get in touch with. Gone, gone, gone.