I’m Mrs. Eartherine Odem. My husband, Ferdinand, and I are from New Orleans, but on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed our city, forcing us to leave everything behind for a new life in Texas. This is our story.
1. I feel safest at home, so we stayed in our home, in the Sixth Ward, for the storm. My grandson Josh was with us. We came through just fine, then Josh said. . .
Josh: That water’s rising. It’s at the third step now.
2. I can’t swim, so we had to go before the water got too high. I cried and cried. Josh said I sounded like a hummingbird.
3. We found dry land. Then a group of us tried to cross a bridge out of New Orleans. Clouds gathered, then PYOO! PYOO! Gunshots mixed with the thunder. Police wouldn’t let us cross.
4. So went to the convention center. I’m crying from the heat in there. The smells. Plus I’m hearing stories, like one about a girl—a twin—getting raped and having her throat slashed in the bathroom.
5. After two days, a helicopter lifted us to the New Orleans airport.
6. We waited and waited in line. Then I noticed the lines made a cross. So I said to myself . . .
Eartherine (to Ferdinand): “Wherever the Lord send me, I’m staying.”
7. But I did wonder where exactly the Lord was sending me. A man in line, Mr. Booker T., told Ferdinand, “We’re going to Austin, Texas.”
Eartherine: But how does he know that when the people who work here don’t even know?
8. On the plane, the captain came on the speakers and said, “This plane is going to Austin, Texas.”
Ferdinand: I told you!
9. In Austin, I asked the people where they were taking us. They said, “The convention center.”
Eartherine: Ohhh, no!!!
10. But the Austin Convention Center rolled out the red carpet. We finally got to shower. I almost lost my mind in the floodwater, but in that shower water . . . I really went crazy.
11. Two churches helped us find a nice brick house north of Austin, in Georgetown. But before we moved in, I started feeling disturbed, spiritually.
Eartherine: The Lord didn’t send us to Georgetown, he sent us to AUSTIN.
12. So we let the house go. The church didn’t have many contacts in Austin, so I called the city’s housing authority.
13. We met a lady there named Tabitha who found us a lot with two houses on it. It was perfect because my daughter Deatrice—Josh’s mom—had evacuated to Houston. She could take one house, I could take the other. And we could be together again.
Eartherine: Woooowww . . . I like this, Tabitha.
14. Tabitha hesitated because the house was so close to the drug traffic and all. But I looked around and said . . .
Eartherine: These look like my people. And I’m not afraid of my people.
. . . So we took the houses.
15. But I was still homesick, so we went back to New Orleans in May 2006 to visit my sister Lorietta in the hospital. While we were there, I said to Ferdinand . . .
Eartherine: Everybody looks like zombies.
The city felt vicious to me. Like death was humming all around you.
16. I knew then that my home was no more. I didn’t want to be around all that stress.
17. I had stressed so bad after Katrina that I caught a heart attack in January 2006. Ferdinand was stressed too from fighting cancer. But I go to stress therapy now. They taught me how to breathe so the “inner spirit” can reach you. (I guess they can’t say “God” because not everybody believes in God.) I showed Ferdinand. We breathe together.
18. If we’d been in New Orleans instead of Austin, we’d be in the ground now. But we’re alive. And we’re still together. He still walks me to and from the bus stop. Same as in New Orleans.
19. Same as when we first met, in 1986 at Hunger Buster, the sandwich shop near the Desire Projects. Ferdinand worked there. My friend—this young girl—introduced us.
20. We saw each other a few times, including Christmas Day, then about a month later, he said . . .
Ferdinand: When I saw you for Christmas, I wanted to be with you that day, yeah.
Eartherine: For true? I wanted to be with you too. I was feeling lonesome. And lonely.
21. Then on his birthday, me and my daughters made him dinner and gave him a present. He cried. It was the present he ever got.
22. We’ve been together since. And even during Katrina, we never got mad at each other. Never argued. It’s like Katrina brought us closer together, especially after we got here, thinking, “We’re in a strange town. We don’t know any of these people.”
23. Not everyone wants you around if you’re from Katrina. Most people have been wonderful. The only negative thing they say is, “Y’all from New Orleans . . . Y’all work that voodoo.”
24. One lady can’t even stand to shake my hand. Like I’m trying to voodoo her.
25. Other than that, Austin has been beautiful. Up until this spring, before Ferdinand’s cancer operation and my stress therapy, I couldn’t tell this story without crying. I think it was because I didn’t feel safe. But now I feel safe.