March 28th, 2006


The Thing

The Thing = Hurricane Katrina

Seven months tomorrow... There are a few moments each day when I can honestly forget about it all-mostly when listening to my iPod. But I never escape the clutches of The Thing for very long.

"A tough nut to crack." by Chris Rose

It has been seven months since The Thing, and in this maddeningly uncertain world we call home, only one thing is for sure: We're all still crazy.

A high school student from New Jersey interviewed me over the weekend for a school project and asked me: "Has Katrina changed your life and, if so, how?"

Well. Interesting question.

How much time do we have?

I gave the kid a pat answer about how this whole thing has shook us to our very core as individuals and a community and left it at that, but it did give me pause.

Forgive my navel-gazing, but I honestly cannot think of a single aspect of my life -- as a writer, a father, a husband, a son, a person -- that is not different from the way it was before.

For instance, I haven't played golf since The Thing and that's all wrong.

And I have lost weight. Maybe too much. All of my pants are falling down.

When people comment on this to me, I dismiss it by telling people that my dramatic weight loss is actually a political statement, a living art installation, if you will, an anthropomorphic representation of the disappearing Louisiana wetlands.

This usually prompts a quizzical stare, then a comment like: "Well, OK. I was just wondering if you wanted to share my sandwich."

And since I don't eat anymore -- because eating is just a smug affectation of the bourgeoisie -- feeding my kids has become a minor annoyance. Sometimes I get frustrated with their neediness. I ask my wife: "Why can't they just get by on cocktail peanuts and cigarettes like the rest of us?"

We pamper our kids too much today.

I have written extensively in this space about my personal trials of survival and adaptation in our post-Katrina world and, as a result, have been flooded with e-mails from psychotherapists and other mental health professionals who tell me that my sudden irrationality and irritability, coupled with my loss of former interests and hobbies, all paint a classic portrait of the post-traumatic stress syndrome sufferer.

I reflect on my current life and my actions and I think: You needed to go to Harvard to come up with that?

In many ways, I feel like I have become the New Orleans poster boy for post-traumatic stress, chronicling my descent into madness for everyone to read.

A psychologist from Lafayette, Heidi Perryman, sent me this: "You have chosen (or been chosen) to bear the cross of 'witness' to this tragedy and, like the Holocaust survivors before you who held their lives together on the notion of telling the story of what happened, you have saved yourself from disintegration and simultaneously exposed your readers to its threat."

And I thought it was just another day at the office. I thought it was the flood. I thought it was the looting and the burning and dead people.

I thought it was the refrigerators.

I got this from a woman in Tangipahoa Parish: "This mirror you've shown us reflects who we have become and where we'll go if we allow ourselves to become covered with darkness and despair."

This e-mail was signed "Deputy Susie." Now, correct me if my memory fails me, but isn't Deputy Susie a little kids TV show personality?

Let me get this straight: Now I've got someone who teaches children the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch" telling me I am "covered with the darkness and despair?"

It has come to this? This can't be a good thing.

It makes me feel like I -- with the notable exception of Kimberly Williamson Butler -- have performed the most public crack-up in a city full of people cracking up.

The triumph of this phenomenon was the recent delivery of a complimentary issue of Grief Digest, sent to me by a publishing company called the Centering Corporation, accompanied by a note that said: "We thought you might be interested in this."

And that's my journey -- from Golf Digest to Grief Digest in 28 short weeks. "And Lose Weight While You Go Crazy!" operators are standing by.

In the Philippines. Or wherever.

Speaking of that. I was recently trying to track down a FedEx package that was late arriving to my house, and I got an operator on the line and she told me: "Sir, it seems there's a problem with the weather."

Then she paused, clicked away at her computer keyboard and said: "Was there a hurricane?"

Count to 10. Take a breath. Think: Has Katrina changed your life and, if so, how?

"Well," I told her. "Yes. Yes there was a hurricane. It was seven months ago. The roads are clear now. The rebel forces have been defeated. Could you please tell me where my package is?"

And tell me: How is the weather in Malaysia these days?

And anyone wonders why we're all nuts?

I was part of a recent public forum on the mental health crisis here in town. The first presentation was on how to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome, and when the doctor showed a list of the symptoms on his PowerPoint, everyone in the auditorium just started laughing.

I mean, they howled. Gut-busting hoo-has. Turns out, everyone in the room had every symptom and you don't need me to list them here because you're probably just curled into the fetal position on your kitchen floor, lying in a pool of hot coffee and reading the same sentence over and over and over again anyway, so you don't need me to tell you that the sensation of spiders crawling all over your face is perfectly normal.

The second presenter, one of those social worker women who are cheerful to the point of annoying, then got up and offered ways to battle the darkness.

She listed exercise and proper diet and all that hooey. Then she got all New Agey and said that when times are bad, you should hug yourself.

Well, that's fine advice for those with more self-restraint than me, because every time I hug myself I wind up making promises I can't keep and spending more than I can afford on dinner and a movie and for what, I ask you?

I'd rather go it alone, thank you. Me, and all the voices in my head telling me everything is going to be OK.

. . . . . . .

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at
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