The Disaster

June 8, 2008
By Robyn Suchy, Saint James, NY

He could hear the gentle roar of helicopters approaching in the distance. The sounds of the rudders overpowered the crying and screaming coming from the drenched people on surrounding rooftops. The people had varying reactions to the whipping winds and the pouring rain that the hurricane had brought, but the wall of water that approached the tiny neighborhood during the storm instilled fear in every being to witness it. The people who couldn’t get to the rooftops fast enough were killed immediately. On a later date, this natural disaster would be known as Hurricane Katrina, but to this boy of only eight years old, it’s the water that killed his mother, father, and two brothers.

The boy didn’t cry or yell as other people were when the helicopter approached them, and he didn’t jump into the arms of his rescuer when the boats came to get them; he just sat. He sat in the same spot that Michael had placed him and told him to wait until he got back with Danny. So the boy sat and didn’t move until a man came and carried him into a boat. “Does anyone know this boy?” the man on the boat yelled over the chattering and crying of the crowd. No one responded and as the boy went to a place in the corner of the boat, he searched every face to make sure it wasn’t one of his brother’s. He didn’t find Michael or Danny on the boat, but when he looked into everyone’s face he saw sadness outlined around their eyes and despair in each one of their mouths. Once he was seated, the boat began to slowly make its way out of the neighborhood. As they rode from the boy’s home, the visions of destruction became clearer. Homes were demolished, nothing more then piles of wood and brick. As they passed the school building, the boy noticed the flagpole was still peaking just above the water level. The American flag was still showing although the colors were beginning to fade and it was partially submerged as the boat went by. As the boat continued away from the boy’s home, the water level was beginning to recede and people were walking waist deep through the mud and rubble that littered the streets. There didn’t seem to be a destination, just away; away from the disaster, away from the wreckage, and away from their lives.

The boat eventually neared a football stadium. The boy’s father had taken him and his brothers to see the Saints play for Michael’s fourteenth birthday just a few months ago. Now, the boy had returned, only this time the atmosphere was much different. Thousands of people: all soaked to the bone, many badly injured, bleeding, coughing, dehydrated, yelling screaming for their family, anyone, help. Children were huddled in a circle on the field taking comfort in each other’s presence. Men in camouflage were trying to keep order and relief workers in orange and red and white dispensed food water and blankets. One of the men in camouflage saw the boy standing in the doorway alone, with the face that he had grown familiar with in the few hours he had been at the Superdome: shock.

“Hey buddy,” He said as he approached the boy, putting on the best smile he could muster. “I’m Jason. I’m in the National Guard and I’m gonna help you. What’s your name?” he asked. He was on his knees so he could be at eye level with the boy, but despite how much he tried, he couldn’t maintain eye contact. He could see the pain in his big brown eyes and the desperation in his face and Jason couldn’t face that. This is the kind of stuff that could fill a lifetime of pain Jason thought to himself; this kid doesn’t deserve any of this. “Are your parents around? Do you see anyone you know?” He kept asking, hoping that something would surface and he would snap out of the shock. “Come on buddy, let’s get you some water.” Jason extended his arm and waited for the young boy to grab his hand. The boy looked from Jason’s face to his outstretched arm and finally took a tight hold on it, not wanting to lose him.

Jason felt the strength in the little boys grasp and he felt his arm shuttering to try and hold on tighter. “It’s okay, I won’t let go.” He said reassuringly, but the boy was determined to squeeze harder. Finally Jason and the boy got to the white tents marked with the red cross on the side and they went through the flaps of one. The tent was full of people, some screaming, others crying, and others just starring as the boy was. “Hey Karen,” Jason said loudly as to be heard over the other people to a women with a clipboard. “I think this little guy’s in shock. I don’t have a name or a family, hasn’t said a word in fact. All I know is that he’s holding on really tight.” The boy was taking in a scene of organized chaos as Jason and Karen spoke. The people in camouflage were walking around taking medical histories and calming people down, as relief workers handed out food and water along with dry clothes and blankets.

“Do you know your name buddy?” The boy starred at the red haired women with the bright green eyes. “Well that’s okay, I’m Karen, and I’m gonna take care of you. Let’s go get a bed and some water alright?” She moved next to the boy and tried to take his hand from Jason’s but the boy just grabbed tighter and wrapped his other hand around Jason’s arm.

“It’s alright buddy, its okay. I told you that I wouldn’t let go and I won’t.” He said to the boy. “Why don’t you just show us where to go Karen and I'll stay with our friend here until we find relatives.” Karen led then to a cot in the far corner of the tent where Jason helped the boy out of his wet clothes and gave him a white t-shirt and green shorts. Then Jason gave the boy a bagel and a water bottle that he insisted the boy finish. Karen came back with her clipboard as the boy finished eating.

“Anything?” She asked Jason quietly. The tent had quieted down since the morning and for the most part things were under control.

“No, he hasn’t said a thing.” Jason replied looking worried. Karen put the clipboard down at the foot of the boy’s bed and asked him again if he knew his name, how old he was, or where his family was. He just gave her the same blank stare that had been chiseled on his face the previous night. Karen took a stethoscope and started to listen to the boy’s heartbeat when a boy spotted them from across the room.

“Bryan! Bryan!” he yelled as he ran and hugged him against his chest. “It’s me, Jamie…Bryan?”

“Do you know this boy?” Jason asked quickly.

“Yeah, yeah, he’s my best friend, Michael’s little brother,”

“His name is Bryan you said,” Karen asked quickly.

“He didn’t tell you? Ah, yeah it’s Bryan…Bryan Jeffries; he’s eight. He’s also got two brothers, Michael is fourteen, and Danny is five are they here? And what’s wrong with him?”

“He’s in shock; he hasn’t said a word since we found him. We’re not sure where his family is.” Karen said. “Do you know if he has any family out of state?”

“Ah, you know, I’m pretty sure he’s got an uncle in Georgia. Yeah, his name’s Sam Jefferies. I’m not sure where in Georgia though.” Jaime said.

“That’s really good Jamie.” Jason said, “Where’s your family?”

“My sister’s over there, she’s got a pretty bad cut on her leg. My parents… they ah, they didn’t make it.”

“I’m really sorry man,” Jason said as he patted Jaime on the shoulder.

“I'll take a look at your sister,” Karen said. “Where is she?” Karen put her arm around Jaime and they started to walk away. Jaime knew that he probably would never see Bryan again, and he understood that Michael was probably dead and as he turned to wave goodbye to Bryan, he could no longer contain himself and started crying. He cried over the loss of his parents, he cried over the loss of his friend, he cried over the loss of innocence, and he cried over the losses still to come.

Jason stayed to help in the medical tent that night so he could be with Bryan. He still hadn’t said anything to anyone and no family had responded to the announcements over the loudspeakers. Karen had gotten in touch with Bryan’s uncle who agreed that Bryan should come and live with them, and he was booked on a flight to Georgia for the next night. Despite Karen and Jason’s pleas with the boy, he didn’t sleep that night. He just sat and starred as he had all day and he would the next day. Finally, the time came for Bryan to leave the medical tent and get in the car that would bring him to the airport. Karen gave Bryan a big hug and told him how much fun it would be in Georgia with his uncle as Jason lifted him from the bed and took his hand. Jason walked Bryan across the field and told him how it was okay to let out your emotions and that he should cry whenever he wanted and how he knew more about life then most people would ever know. Bryan didn’t really understand what Jason was saying, but he understood the sentiment behind it. Jason put Bryan in the car and buckled him into place as he gave him a huge hug.
He didn’t understand why it was this kid, not one of the thousands of others that had really stuck with him. He didn’t understand how without even saying a word, this kid had really made him think about the magnitude of this hurricane. Thousands of people had passed before him, but this one kid made him understand the disaster behind this catastrophe. He was one of the few that had the family out of state, he had somewhere to go, and he had means for restarting his life. As Jason stepped out of the car, Bryan looked at him once more through the window. His face was bright red with sunburn and his eyes were a deep blue. He was waving and yelling goodbye. Bryan starred with his blank face and slowly raised his arm and rotated his wrist back and forth slowly. Bryan waved to Jason until they were out of sight, and Jason returned to the Superdome, with a tear in his eye, to find another person to help.

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