By Kirby Roy III
I was not born in New Orleans, nor was I raised there. But, since my family has more than one hundred years in the city, it will always be part of me. I remember driving down to the Crescent city to visit my relatives. I always knew we were close when I would see the moss on the trees along our route.
After a while, it became routine. One week with my grandparents, one week with Aunty Jean, one week with Aunty Naomi and Uncle Bill, and my last week with cousin Cecilia. And so, my affection for the city encompassed its people as well as its trappings. To be sure, I feasted on beignets in the ‘Quarters, but I also dinned on gumbo in my grandmother’s kitchen.
I grew connected with the soul of people from the bayou and with the humility that can come from people who weather storms. I grew connected to the kindness and sense of community I felt when seeing my grandfather hand out fish to his neighbors when he returned from an expedition in the gulf.
And so, when Katrina hit, I felt a part of myself torn apart, just like the city I loved. I cringed as I heard the stories of despair. I felt blessed that my family was safely evacuated. But I dwelled on the devastation left behind.
It was hard to understand if God was punishing us or testing us. It was hard to think that the home of my memories could be torn asunder in the blink of any eye. The image of bodies floating in the muddy waters of the Mississippi haunted me.
My loss became the catalyst for my novel, Two Roads. Writing was a way to deal with the tragedy of losing part of my childhood. Losing the city that was part of my foundation. I had to express what the people were going through and to tell their story in a way that was real yet still hopefully uplifting. Part of the soul of New Orleans is renewal. Part of its sprit comes from people who believe and have faith beyond today. People from the bayou deal with pain, yet release it in ways that can only be witnessed at Mardi Gras.
I wrote Two Roads through the eyes of two lovers not only coping with the storm and trying to build a life beyond it. They are forced to decide if their future will be in New Orleans or in Atlanta, an issue many of the survivors of Katrina faced.
My Aunt and Uncle were displaced by Katrina, but the city was always in their heart. As time passed, it became apparent that they would never return home. And I began to think of the thousands of people who were in the same condition. These souls would only return for a funeral procession following the music of a 2nd line band. I was blessed to witness a 2nd line band when my Aunt was laid to rest in the city she once called home.