A Displaced Resident, Haunted by New Orleans

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The commentator is a writer and English teacher from New Orleans. She has fled to Atlanta and says it's hard not to feel isolated, to miss her city, and to seriously consider never moving back.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some residents of New Orleans' Algiers neighborhood came home this week, but other residents have to wait. Commentator Anne Rochell Koningsmark(ph) has temporarily relocated with her family to a suburb of Atlanta.

ANNE ROCHELL KONINGSMARK:

It's beautiful here in northern Georgia, in this manicured cul-de-sac atop a hill covered in pine trees. There's no humidity, which is nice. The wall-to-wall carpeting in my mother-in-law's home feels good underfoot. But there are no neighbors braiding hair on the front stoop here, no children playing basketball on the street. The postman doesn't call me `baby' and I can't buy wine on Sunday. I went to open a checking account and had to drive 15 minutes on the interstate to get to the bank.

In New Orleans, I spent most of my time in a grid the size of Central Park. My world--work, friends, restaurants, shops--is contained there. Things have changed and they keep changing. Our dog started biting and we have considered giving her away. A New Orleans company with a job my husband wanted has moved its headquarters to Orlando permanently. I keep picturing the schedule I'd taped to the refrigerator just a few weeks before Katrina hit. I imagine it's still hanging there, a record of a daily life that is no more.

I imagine my house, which did not flood, sitting on our deserted street, hot and silent, rotten food in the fridge, toys and nicknacks gathering dust. I often dial my home phone number. The voice-mail no longer picks up. It just rings and rings. I worry that one day someone will answer.

As New Orleans struggled for her very existence, my first reaction was to idealize the city I chose as my home seven years ago. Now I've begun to remember the faults--the dirt, the professional lethargy, the crime. Am I talking myself out of New Orleans? Would I rather just give up and remain in Atlanta with its picture-perfect playgrounds, slick shopping malls and robust economy?

On the other hand, my Louisiana license plate remains a badge of honor. I long for my cat from Parasol's, the po-boy joint next door to my home in the Irish Channel. I went to a wedding and insisted the band play "When the Saints Go Marching In." I stood in front of the stage with one hand in the air, waving my imaginary umbrella and feeling horribly alone.

I hear people talk about New Orleans never coming back, and I hear people talk about a new New Orleans that will be better than ever. Either way, I become enraged. I am comfortable, I am alive, and I should be grateful. But uncertainty eats at me. My lost sense of place and home haunt me. Something inside me is growing cold. Whether New Orleans comes back better or worse, whether we return, one thing is for sure: We have lost the life we were living just a few weeks ago, and we were happy then.

INSKEEP: Commentator Anne Rochell Koningsmark is a writer and English teacher from New Orleans.

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