"We Almost Lost Our Marriage to Hurricane Katrina"
"I'm as burned out as Sue is," said Bob, 38, a tall, muscular man with a shy, thoughtful manner. "But what can we do? I'm driving hundreds of miles every week, trying to figure out whether to sell our house as is or rebuild, checking in on my parents in Louisiana, and worrying about being away from my wife and kids. The travel is getting to me. My last job never took me more than 45 minutes from home. Now I cover several states. When I do get home, I don't want to talk about everything in our life that's gone wrong.
"Besides, what right do I have to complain? My immediate family came out okay, but thousands of other people died and thousands more, including some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, have no homes, no jobs, nothing. Crime is on the rise, and people are scared. As much as I want to be home with Sue, I can't not help.
"All I think about is keeping this family going. As Sue said, the people here are cordial, but we haven't made any real friends and don't feel genuinely accepted. So we agonize about whether to move back home. We want to, but costs are skyrocketing and it could take months just to find a contractor. We can't start on any repairs until we get insurance money, and after waiting more than 18 months, we just found out we weren't approved for a loan because we moved away. Well, we moved because we had no home and no jobs! Tell me how that makes any sense. Every time I turn around there's a new problem; I'm always fielding calls about some bill that I paid but can't prove because our records are gone. Louisiana won't even renew my driver's license because I'm not living there, and getting a New York license is a huge hassle because I travel during the week and can't get to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
"Sue and I talk every evening but our conversations revolve around what needs to get done. I don't know why she thinks I don't appreciate her. She's my anchor, the whole family's anchor. I love her more than I can say. What I don't love is that edge in her voice when she speaks to me. It's especially hard to take the minute I walk in the door after being on the road for five days. All I can think is, Get me outta here. Sue also needs to slow down. We can't get everything done in a month, or even a year. I keep telling her to relax, but it's not in her nature. Of course, that's one of the reasons I was drawn to her in the first place. She's gutsy and full of energy.
"My parents didn't have much money but they taught my sister and me the value of hard work and a good education. We moved 12 times when I was a kid. Like me, my dad was in sales and every time his company offered him a new territory, we followed the money. Because we stayed longest in New Orleans, that's where we put down roots. For me, moving around was normal. But it's different for my kids -- a catastrophic event caused them to suddenly lose everything and everyone they've ever known. They're not even sure if some of their best friends are dead or alive. We try to make them happy, to cheer them up when they're down, but we're always coming up short.
"I feel anxious and out of control in so many ways. I stopped at a 7-Eleven the other day to buy gas and a magazine cover about Katrina victims caught my eye. I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut. It made me miss my friends and the good times we used to have -- and it underscored the fact that our old life is gone forever. When we heard that Louis Armstrong song in the restaurant, I started bawling like a baby. I hate for my kids to see me break down. But what I really don't understand is, why now? We're alive, we're safe, it's been almost two years. Why does everything feel so bad?"