Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Blah, Blah, Blah. (Stuck Inside of C'Ville with the NOLA Blues Again)

That's the description of how I've been feeling. Otherwise known as deepression. This is not the norm for me, not at all. I think I've learned to deal with my negative feelings pretty well but, apparently, I am pretty good at sublimating them at times, without realizing it. However, it's managed to find a way out through my hair- literally. My hair has been falling out at an alarming rate since about our second or third week in Keswick. I keep what's left of it (thankfully, I had lots to begin with) tucked into any of a variety of heavy scarves tied headband-style around my head most of the time. It's become my new look. My hair is wretched ugly after having been neglected by professionals and cut by yours truly since we've been here. And I'm overdue for my store-bought-box-color-over-gray treatment, which has been very unkind to my hair. But I digress... I was talking about being blah and depressed. (As if the hair thing isn't depressing enough!) The story of the Xs is emotionally taxing to tell. For one thing, XX was my friend and I will always love her unconditionally, despite her wretched and incomprehensible behavior. (And yes, I've not detailed all that yet.) The fact that I experienced a side of her that I'd never seen (well, I'd seen evidence that it was there, but never seen it acted out), makes me sad. Sad for her, sad that that side is there, sad for the pain I think she must live with, and sad that she's thrown away a friendship, which is something she should treasure, given the scarcity of them in her life.

However, the whole X thing is not really what has rendered me undone lately. It's this whole post-Katrina life in general, and all the uncertainty and upheaval it's brought. The whole struggle with what to do next, with what's best, and what comes next- that's been a source of tremendous angst for me. And it's paralyzed me. There are still so many problems to deal with, dilemmas to solve. And it's just me. No one else to take any of this load. Single parenting is a tough job, but I'm happy with it, despite getting no help whatsoever with the job from the dads. But now, taking care of this little family has gotten much harder in the aftermath of the storm.

I'm skipping a lot of details that I wanted share, but for now, here's the situation. We're still here in Charlottesville, VA. We've been living in an apartment with free rent until January. It goes up to $1300 a month after that. The cost of living here is astronomical. We're getting Medicaid and food stamps. (Never in my life would I have imagined this! But everyone from Katrina was eligible. And thank God for that!) The schools here are great. But, jobs that pay a decent living wage are scarce. University of Virginia doesn't seem interested in any of us academics from New Orleans. (I've met three other professors who are up here, one from UNO, but he's a Department Chair and still has his job, one from Xavier, one from Southern University of N.O.). I thought we'd stay here for the school year- that was the plan before we were cast out of Keswick. There are many reasons why staying would be best for the kids. And I thought it might still be possible even after the uncertainty of our living arrangements, as one of my contractor friends from Florida wanted to rent my house in N.O. so he could work contractor jobs there and help get my house back together during his stay. That would help with the expenses of living here. But he's been kind of flaky about it and can't seem to get it together.

So, the plan for now is to return to New Orleans in January. We won't be able to live in the house right away. The hot water heater and the central heat/ac units were underwater and will have to be replaced before we can move in. I'm not even sure that we have gas service yet. Just about every wall in the house has water damage caused by the damage to the roof and there was mold growing in several places. Because FEMA doesn't put blue roof tarps on tile, asbestos or slate roofs, mine continues to sit exposed to the elements- along with most of the other New Orleans residents living in older homes. (Mine is just over 100 years old.) I may return to find that more plaster has collapsed since October. There were heavy rains last night and Willie (my friend and former spouse) called today telling me that water poured into his apartment last night even after the landlord (thought he) had the roof repaired.

Everyone I know that's gone home seems to be quite glum. Maybe things are more "normal" (whatever that means for New Orleans, which, normally, is anything but a normal city,) in the downtown/French Quarter area, but if you look at the state of the most of the remaining residential areas of the city, it's anything but that. Willie still doesn't have phone service- a personal tragedy for him. I'm not sure if my house has it either, but my last call to Bell South indicated that I may not. There are still few places to buy groceries and gasoline. I'm told that restaurants have insane lines (not that we can afford to eat out anyway.) Everyone has to go to the suburbs to get things they need, and as a result, traffic is ridiculous. Many of the grocery stores continue to have limited hours of operation. (When I say everyone, by the way, I'm referring to all the people from other cities who are working in N.O. plus the mere 20% of residents who have returned.) There is competition for everything, especially honest contractors.

Life when we return will not be easy, by any stretch. I will have no job, as adjunct instructors were the first to go at UNO. I'm told that a lot of the full-time faculty have been laid off as well. And not just at UNO, but at all of the 7 universities in town. There are rumors that one of these may close down altogether. The clinical research business that we started looks like it will not survive either. My doc/partner saw virtually no patients for the first three months after the storm and has seen very few in the last few weeks. We were dependent on New Orleans for our patient population in the HIV neuropathy study and there is no population to speak of at this point. He's looking at bankruptcy. I have no idea how I will earn a living when I return.

Charlottesville is really a neat little town and I could see living here for a while. It would certainly be easier in some ways, but to stay would be burying my head in the sand and pretending that the problems at home don't exist. But I can't just ignore the fact that I have a house there and that whatever net worth I have (a term that sounds utterly silly to me when used in self-reference) is in that house. I still have to meet with the insurance adjuster. (It seems I get a call every week from someone who says the file was just given to them. I'm on adjuster #4 right now. I wonder if he'll still be the guy when I get home.) I have an enormous clean-up job to do. I have to get the house repaired and in habitable condition. I have to do these things and have to figure out how I will pay the bills at the same time. And I have to pray that I will be able to find a way to earn a living that will not be the death of my soul.

This whole ordeal has, however, offered me many opportunities to learn. And one thing that I've learned is that I can actually live somewhere else other than New Orleans after a period of adjustment. For many years, all I could think of was living somewhere else, but the more I traveled, the more I came to appreciate my city for it's unique personality and soulfulness. I've never found anyplace quite like it, with the quirky creativity and wonderful sense of humor of its people. We New Orleanians eventually find a way to laugh at everything that life throws us, even those things that bring us misery. All you had to do to see that was drive around the city once people started returning and see the funny things people wrote on their funky refrigerators when they put them on the curb (someone is publishing a book of pictures of these) or the "public art installations" made from the flood-damaged articles in their houses. All funny. That's just how we are. Traveling helped me to not take it all for granted. And in realizing how lucky I am to have been born and raised in such a wonderful place, I've not been able to imagine myself living anywhere else. But now I know that we are an adaptable little family, though maybe we've been okay about it only because we've never considered it to be a permanent move. But it does show me that if I have to move away to complete a PhD, I can make it work. After all, that kind of move is not a permanent thing, either.

One of the things that has been troubling me, though, has been the threat of more such storms in the future. The coastal erosion caused by Katrina has made New Orleans far more vulnerable. And all I have is in that sweet little old house of mine. And the city has suffered such a tremendous blow, who knows what the future will hold. I, personally, think that the future New Orleans will be a much better place if a good bit of the population returns and the economy rebounds. But right now, most of it looks like some fictional post-apocalyptic city and not my beloved home. It's particularly strange to see it so empty. Hopefully, there will be lots of people coming home in January, though I know that may be pie in the sky. At least there will be a little surge as some of us with kids in the few newly chartered magnet schools are coming home.

Well, we're in the throes of an ice storm and I just heard a transformer blow somewhere out least I hope that's what it was. Most of the power lines are below ground around here but I know that there may be lines that are lost that affect us, so I'd better post while I have power. Thank God we have a fireplace. Ohhh...lights flickering! I'll try to be better about posting. It's just been hard for me to do most everything these days.

I'll respond to comments in the previous post next and maybe post some pictures as well. And I will finish up the story I started, I promise!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am not sure what your professional training is, something to do with medical? Enough to send you in for a thyroid check-up? That can cause your hair to fall out, add to your depression, leave you low energy, add to your (too well-earned) blahs. Take special care. There are lots of us who care, but your after-January rent is more than my entire monthly income, and it does not leave me in a good position to help in that way. But if positive thoughts and respect for your strength is good for anything, you've got it on a daily basis.

7:49 AM  
Blogger muse said...

Hi Lisa,

No energy/time to write anything worth reading, but just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking about you, and glad to hear from you. :)

2:03 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Anonumous, thanks for the positive energy. I have wondered about the thyroid thing and there have been other times in my life where I was convinced that it must have gone buggy, but tests always show normal function. I'm sure that's still the case, but my 43 year old "female hormones" in general seem to be swinging like monkeys from the trees. This and general stress are probably the biggest contributors to the hair loss. I really should just see a doctor and deal with it while I have the Medicaid (one month of it left, then nada.)

Also, my post-January rent will not be $1300 because I'll be going back to N.O. and will live either in a FEMA trailer (if I can get one) while the house gets fixed, or with my mother. There's no way I could afford to stay without a job, and I know I can't committ to anything here when I have so many things to attend to back home. But thanks for even thinking along those lines. But believe me, just knowing that there are people out there who care means the world to us.

Muse, I understand that time/energy thing so very well, though for me it's just been an energy issue these days...

2:32 PM  

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