August 31, 2021, two days after Hurricane Ida made landfall as a Category 4 just outside New Orleans, where I live, I slept with the frozen bags of flour I’d been hoarding since Pandemic Year One. In the 87-degree heat, they held onto cold for long enough that I got an hour or two of sleep.
During the storm, our roof had peeled back, collapsing ceilings. My parents, who’d ridden out the storm in their vestibule, had gone the next day to check on the house. Standing in the foyer, my dad called to say he could see sky. Driving back from our evacuation in Florida had taken eight hours, and I’d arrived alone at dusk to shovel sodden plaster off the floors. I knew too well what becomes of a wet house; fourteen years earlier to the day, Katrina had done identical damage to my childhood home. In the months it took my parents to get the high roof tarped, mold bloomed on every surface, in every wall. This time, though, I was on it. As darkness fell, I couldn’t stop, not even to find the LED lantern I’d bought somewhere beyond Mobile. By the light of my cellphone, I dragged my daughter’s dollhouse outside, our home’s sad, wet mini-me. I was ducking in again through her window when I heard someone open the front door.
“Morgan! I’m coming in!”
Filthy, in my sports bra and paint-stained yoga pants, I stood at the head of the stairs and saw Betsy, our petite neighbor, whom my mother has known for sixty-six years, standing in my destroyed front hall.
“Why don’t you come on over!” she said. “We’re gonna watch Seabiscuit on DVD—got it hooked up to the generator.” When I didn’t answer, she waggled her eyebrows in the dim light. “We have wine.”
I declined the offer. I had to do what I had to do. I shoveled muck until I collapsed in a cold tub of dirty water, too exhausted to go on. But I was grateful to know there was someone there to drink wine with, if I’d had the strength. Apparently, there were cookies, too.