Monday, November 14, 2005

How we hold each other, and how we don't

I had another amnesia moment today, in the Walgreens on Decatur Street. I didn't realize until I got inside that it was the first time since the storm that I'd been inside a fully-stocked chain store, and I suddenly had no idea why I was there. For a long time all I could do was wander down the aisles, gazing at the neat rows of deodorants and Tylenol. Finally the manager came up to me and asked me if I was ok. I told him it was the first time I'd been a store so well organized; I was feeling mystified and trying to remember why I'd gone in.

His face softened. "Lotsa people are having that," he said, and put his hand on my shoulder. "You just let me know what you need, baby. I'm here for you." As soon as he said that I remembered: barrettes and a Sharpie marker. I started to feel a little normal again.

Right after Walgreens I went to the A&P on Royal, where some shelves are so bare you can see the rust that happened even before the hurricane. Yellow collard greens wilt onto the produce shelves; there isn't any lettuce. "This is more like it," I thought, before I even realized it.


It seems like everywhere I go, everyone's talking about the cops. Since the time I got pulled over a few days ago, I have been stopped by police two more times. Once they said they were checking the licenses of people who were driving around "in this neighborhood" and once a sheriff waved me over to the side of the road because he said I was speeding. Probably I was. Again, I didn't get a ticket. He even said something like, "I wouldn't give a ticket to a person like you."

Wow. A person like me? What on earth does this sheriff know about me, besides what I look like?

Two days before that, my friend Greg, who is Black, was arrested while he was watching the police arrest someone else, next door to the clinic in Algiers. They never told him what he was being charged with, and they took hold of his shirt collar and banged his head aganst the windshield of the car, again and again.


We have a patient named Mr Ross who comes to the Central City clinic every day we're there, so we can check his blood pressure, and so he can remind me to call FEMA, and so he can tell us stories of what Central City was like when he was growing up here, back in the '40s. His mother owned lots of apartment buildings in the neighborhood, and one day we were sitting on the corner and he pointed to a buiding a few blocks away that now has an entire wall missing, desks and bedroom sets still arranged for the whole world to see. "If my mama was alive," he said, "I would have found me some tools already, and fixed that whole place up for her. She liked to keep her places nice."

"Your pressure's amazing!" we say, every single time he comes. But he still comes every day. "Y'all are basically the only people I have to talk to anymore," he told me the other day.

Yesterday my friend Joanna was talking about how people just come up to her on the street and start talking. So many people's networks are completely disrupted, especially people who are poor. One of her neighbors said she was the first person he'd talked to in three days. He told her everything. I wonder if this is what it's like when you get older, when all your friends die and you don't have the desire or energy to build new relationships. Will we become a city of mourners, sitting alone on stoops watching other people's lives parade by? All these broken hearts we wear on our sleeves.


Blogger sneakinsal said...

Thank you Catherine! Your blog is keeping me going..keeping me strong in the face of the injustices that are piling up like trash after the storm, as I realize I am not alone in the struggle, as I had felt so often before I discovered your blog...and then rediscovered and recovered my own strength and determination. I really can't thank you enough. Sally

5:25 PM  

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