The Badge

We wear our Katrina stories like badges of honor. The rest of the world has moved on, and to the unskilled eye, it probably appears that most of us have, too. But no matter how successful we appear, we’re forever scarred. Fear hovers just below the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head at the least opportune times. Our lives were shattered, pieced back together, then put into this weird holding pattern that sometimes seems like it will never end.

We persist. What more is there? You’ve got to rebuild your house, find new clothes, start paying off bills, find a man, find a woman, find yourself. But at the end of the day, you’re still sitting in your motel room, jaw clenched, tears queuing at the corners of your eyes, watching that wall of water roll over everything you love. Your band will never play again. But how could it, when your heart hurts too much to sing?

Years later, and still we can’t help but wait for the other shoe to drop. Sure, we’ve got jobs, homes, friends. But that lost time just seems to stretch out before us. We’re getting older. We wander. We’ve made new families out of those who hear our stories, our fear reflecting back in their own dilated pupils.

We compensate. We rehash the funny bits of our evacuation stories, check and recheck mental lists of all our long-lost possessions, and cry into our whiskies every now and then, late at night, bathed in shadows at the end of the bar. Somewhere, Aretha still sings “Ain’t No Way” on the Banks Street jukebox. Our souls leak over our shoes. We tell our tales – sometimes stripped down, others embellished – to our drinking buddies over and over again. Talking makes it easier, but it doesn’t make it go away. Drinking only makes our skin thinner, brings the fear bubbling up.

On nights when our hearts beat faster, when the pain needles (or knives), when it seems stupid to keep going, our friends hold us. We tell our stories. We listen to theirs, all the while letting the two versions mingle and overlap. We try not to cry for lost time. We tell ourselves that this time, this is the time that makes all the difference. We vow to keep putting one foot ahead of the other. We stretch out our hands and make a human bridge, then wade into the world, blinded by fear and sorrow, waiting for love to soothe this grand lostness.

Then we laugh it off. We polish off our drinks, then polish up our badges with a wry smile. Wasn’t my story more dramatic than yours? You didn’t even have it that bad – at least you had your family. I have a friend who saw a dead baby floating out there, all alone.

No one bothers to mention that we’re all still floating. We’re all face-down and blue. What’s the use in stating the obvious?