She was beautiful. God, was she perfect. 5’8” with long brown hair that flowed like the Niagara Falls. Blue eyes, as pure as the ocean and as bright as the stars that shine. Such an odd match for a lanky man with messy, blonde hair and eyes as opaque as the unknown of space. But her personality, that’s it. That’s what really won me over nearly two years ago. That day I knew she was the one; I knew she was the woman I wanted to spend my life with.
Layla Hope Taylor. What an exquisite name. It’s so fitting to her as both are mysterious yet so alluring. She never fails to smile when I bust out in the infamous tune of Layla by Eric Clapton. Soon enough I hope to change her last name to Fitzgerald, my last name. It doesn’t flow as elegantly as Layla Hope Taylor, but it does the job of a name. I feel bad because she’ll lose that spark to her name because of me. I don’t think she’ll mind too much.
My name is Landon.
Landon Carter Fitzgerald. My friends have always called me Fitz, to the point where my younger sister, Avery, thought it was my real name growing up. I am 27 years old, and a graduate from Tulane University where I met my love and received my bachelor’s in biology. I currently work as a riverboat captain with my brother, Liam. One day I hope to use that degree to become a pediatrician, but after my father died, Liam needed me. He couldn’t do it alone. Layla, on the other hand, almost has her life completely worked out. She is 25 and just out of nursing school. She got her bachelor’s in three years, rather than four and is about to start her first job as a nurse at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. She loves kids, just like me.
Monday, August 22th, 2005.
One week. In exactly one week I’m going to ask Layla to be my wife. I went over to her parents house last week to get their blessing, and of course, they gave it. I thought Mrs. Taylor was going to cry, while Mr. Taylor slapped my shoulder and said, “Welcome to the family, son. It’s about time.” I was beaming with joy.
I had dinner with Momma last night and told her all about my proposal plan. Momma was the first to know when I planned on asking Layla to marry me, and the only one in my family that knows even now. She loves Layla. Everyone in the family does; it’s like she was made to be a part of it. Momma cried when I first told her about four months ago, and I thought it was because she was sad and missing Dad, or maybe even because her youngest son was growing up, but she said it was because she knows how happy Layla makes me and that she can’t wait to welcome her into the family. No one knows this, not even Momma, but after she told me that, I went home and cried because of how perfect everything was working out.
I’m taking Layla to her favorite restaurant for lunch, Ralph’s on the Park, where I’ll get to see her chow down on their duck breast and truffle salad. After lunch we are going to walk around City Park. She loves to feed the ducks and take aesthetic pictures there. But after hours she grows weary, and has that “I’m tired, but I don’t want to go home face” and when that happens I’m going to walk her over to the big pavilion where we had our first picnic and get down on one knee. Momma wanted to be there in the distance, but I told her that it would be unfair if she came and no one else even knew about it. She agreed.
There’s a tropical depression down by the Bahamas that’s expected to make landfall in the next few days, but it’s also expected to blow over fast. I’m not worried. Even so, our pavilion is covered so we should be fine. And anyway, who isn’t adorable after running through the rain, being all soaked?
Wow, I understand why Liam thinks I’m cheesy.
Anyway, my plan is still on. August 29th, 2005. That’s the day.
Saturday, August 27th, 2005.
Fox News is saying the tropical depression is picking up. It’s now a Hurricane named Katrina. The weathermen still aren’t terribly worried, but Avery is horrified so Liam took off of work for a few days and is taking her to Lafayette. I don’t know why she feels safer there, away from most of her family, but after hours and hours of watching my 17 year old sister carry on about it, Liam gave in. Momma wanted to stay. She said she’s been in this house for 30 years and nothing will take her out of it. I think she feels weird leaving the house she and Dad built together. Layla and I are going to stay with her, in her little white picket fence house in Braithwaite, because Layla’s family is down in Thibodaux. Besides, I’m still planning on asking her to marry me. Maybe Momma talked us into staying with her so she could witness it like she originally wanted. You never know with that sly woman.
Sunday, August 28th, 2005.
Last night Momma, Layla, and I went to supply up and it’s a good thing we did because things are starting to pick up. The wind is violently rattling the windows and the rain is flooding the streets. The electricity flickered out about two hours ago, but luckily we have a generator to keep somethings functioning. I can tell they are getting scared, and unfortunately I am too. But I can’t show it. I have to be strong for them. I have to protect them. If it’s the last thing I do.
Monday, August 29th, 2005
Momma and Layla haven’t been listening to the radio; they’ve been huddled in the back room trying to conserve heat. I’ve been up front trying to hold things down, trying to stay calm. The government officials are calling for an emergency evacuation, but it’s already too bad out there. I’m not risking the lives of my family.
Katrina was now a category five hurricane with expected winds of up to 170 miles per hour. This is going to be a tragic storm, the worst in a while. The levees are at risk of breaking, but I think I’m going to refrain from telling Momma and Layla that. I don’t want to freak them out, but they’re both very smart. They have probably already realized.
I walk into the back room and see Layla asleep, resting in Momma’s arms. It’s the first time any of us has gotten any sleep in nearly 48 hours. She looks so gorgeous. I curse God for sending this storm and ruining my perfect plan. Momma looks up and gives a sympathetic smile as if she knows what I’m thinking. Before I have time to say anything, or to even respond, the penetrating sound of rushing water pierces my ears. Layla shoots up and helps Momma to her feet as I sprint to the front.
The water in the street is rising. Rapidly. The levees of the Industrial Canal must’ve broke. There’s not much time. Within seconds the water had already ascended to the porch steps. I spin around and yell to them to get into the attic. As the are climbing, I go and get some flashlights, blankets, crackers, the radio, anything that would benefit us. As I too begin to climb the attic steps, I look down at my drenched jeans. The water was already ankle deep in Momma’s house.
Within another few minutes, the water is about 6 feet deep in the house. It seems to have slowed down slightly. Layla leans into me. She’s crying. She doesn’t know what to; none of us do. Momma grabs my hand and gives me a reassuring look, but I can see the fright in her eyes. She’s trying to be strong, but she knows I can see past that. I wrap her and Layla in the blankets I managed to salvage before joining them into the attic. Layla is quivering uncontrollably. She does that when she’s nervous or scared. I can’t let her go, but I need to see what’s going on outside. I need to see the destruction. I hold her tight a few more moments and the quivering subsides a little. I brush her hair from her face and whisper “I love you” in her right ear. Still crying, she looks up and barely manages “I love you too, Landon.” This was not how I pictured today, this is not how things were supposed to go.
I find an old baseball bat in the attic. It was the bat I used in the Little League World Series in 1991. I was 13 years old and I was at bat, about to hit my sixth home run of the tournament when the pitcher wound up and slung the 60 mile per hour ball into my right elbow, completely shattering it and marking the end of my baseball career. I can’t believe she kept it all these years.
I heave the bat into the ceiling to create a hole. I see Momma wince out of the corner of my eye and I know it’s killing her to see her and Dad’s house destroyed. I make a hole big enough to crawl out of, and I climb onto the roof. I don’t know why I’m so shocked at what I see, but maybe the reality is what hits me. The rain is still pounding, making my sight hazy, but as far as I can see everything is flooded. I can’t see any streets, hardly any cars, and mostly the top halves of houses. I can’t help but cry, but I quickly wipe my tears away and descend back into the attic. I immediately scrambled to Layla and hold her close. If we could stay like this forever, then nothing could hurt us. But we can’t. She and I both know we have to face reality.
We thought we might be in the clear after a few hours of things remaining the same. I made a few more trips onto the roof, but I didn’t dare let Momma or Layla go onto it. They couldn’t handle what was out there. I barely could.
I hear voices and I decide to go back on top to see who it is. I look across and see Mr. Wilson leaning out of his second story window. He’s been living in that house across from Momma for about 30 years. I can faintly hear him yelling out my name, but it’s drowned out within seconds with the unforgettable sound of another water surge. I fall back into the attic and launch Momma and Layla onto the roof, too quick to even notice their reactions. As I am gathering the things we accumulated in the attic, I look down the stairs, but see nothing but a dark abyss of water. It had already reached the landing of the attic.
When I get back onto the roof, Momma and Layla are sitting motionless with a ghastly look on their faces. I don’t even have to ask what’s wrong. I look across the road and see that Mr. Wilson was no longer in his second story window. Without even thinking, I leap into the rushing waters. This was perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever done, but it felt right. I hear Layla and Momma screaming behind me, but I can’t turn back now.
I swim into the window where Mr. Wilson was and I see him dangling to a light fixture. He is ecstatic to see me; well, as ecstatic as one could be in his flooded house. He knows the water is quickly rising and that he wouldn’t be able to get to higher lodging alone. I punch holes in the already destroyed ceiling and I am able to make an opening in the roof. I hoist Mr. Wilson up, but the man in crying and pleading that his dog is somewhere on the second floor. I know it is almost a hopeless cause, but I go back down and look for it. Miraculously, I spy the dog on a dresser about 10 feet away. As I approach it, it paddles to me. I lift the dog up to Mr. Wilson on the roof before climbing up myself. I don’t know how that dog survived because the water was nearly to the roof except in that one part of the room. I would never tell Mr. Wilson, but it was definitely by the miracle and grace of God that I found Buster.
By that time Buster, Mr. Wilson, and I are all on the roof, the rain exceeded. I couldn’t see 3 feet in front of me much less across the road. Are Momma and Layla okay? I can’t tell. It would be stupid for me to swim back now not being able to see anything, but I look to Mr. Wilson, give him a wholehearted smile as he graciously thanks me, then I dive back into the water.
I’ve only been in the water seconds, but it feels like years. The water is so strong that I can hardly keep myself up. The rush of the water is beating me and leaving me with an unbearable pain. I result into swimming underwater and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Snakes, alligators, turtles, I knew I had to move fast. As I come up for air I am able to make out the outline of Momma’s house, or at least the roof of it. This gives me hope. I have to get back to Momma and Layla. I have to protect them.
I finally reach the house and with all the strength in me, I use the gutters to pull myself back onto the roof. I was expecting joy and relief when I got back. Except something’s wrong. Momma is uncontrollably crying. I hastily look around. She’s the only one on the roof; Layla is nowhere to be found.
I know what happened, but I bring myself to ask. Through tears Momma explained that Layla jumped in after me. She said she hadn’t seen her since and that she was trying to look for her, but she figured it was best that she didn’t jump in too. I didn’t even realize I was crying until Momma shuffled over to me and wiped my eyes and pulled me in tight. Even though she’s terrified, she’s still so strong. I collapse on the roof in trembles. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to ask Layla to be my wife, not lose her in a flood. Suddenly everything was numb and I couldn’t do anything but close my eyes and pray.
I’m awakened by Momma. She has a gentle smile on her face. How long was I asleep? Had everything been a dream? I quickly pull myself up to see. No, not a dream. I look to Momma; her eyes glisten with tears even though she’s smiling.
Layla. Where is she? Is she safe? Maybe she gave up on trying to find me and pulled herself to somewhere safe. Is she alone? I need her. I can’t do it without her. Momma must know what I’m thinking because she draws closer. I know it must be killing her too.
We look towards what used to be the front of the house. Black. I don’t remember it being so dark when I jumped in. It rose just a foot below us. I let go of Momma and crawl to the edge. As I lean down and brush my hand through the water, I notice it is slimy like. Then it hit me. We weren’t just trapped by water anymore. The tanks at Murphy must’ve exploded. We were now also stuck on an oil spill.
I pull my hand out of the rushing water and notice it’s stained a dull black. Before I have time to tell Momma, she had already figured it out.
It’s getting late. Momma and I are weary. We haven’t eaten in almost an entire day, but that’s not where my concern is. Layla. I need Layla. If it weren’t for Momma I would’ve been looking for her a long time ago, but I can’t leave her. I can’t risk her losing us both.
The deep blackness around me is consuming me. I can feel it taking over. I hear a faint calling of my name, but it’s probably my imagination. Or is it? I can’t worry about that now. I have to stay up. Maybe help is on the way. Maybe we’ll be saved soon. Maybe I’ll find Layla.
I lean over to Momma only to find her fast asleep. She looks so peaceful, and yet so sad. Why is this happening? Why is Katrina destroying our lives? It hasn’t rained violently in a few hours, just a light drizzle on and off. That doesn’t matter though. The few things we managed to salvage were ruined. We can’t go much longer like this. We need help. Food, water, blankets.
I lie awake for hours wondering what I could do. How can I make this better? I come to the realization that I cannot. I can’t make this better. It’s not in my hands. I must eventually drift off to sleep because what seems decades later…
Tuesday, August 30th, 2005
I suddenly wake up to Momma screaming. I jump up expecting the worst thing possible. I look over and see blood. Not a lot, but enough. I rush to her and see that her arm is bleeding. I pull off my shirt and wrap it tight around her. As I’m holding pressure, she explains what happened.
She said she heard voices and got up to see who it was or where it was coming from. She slipped. The shingles tore up her arm. It’s not as bad as it could’ve been, but it’s definitely not good. With just our luck, the rain starts to pour. Of course. I pull Momma over and try to shield her from the elements. My bare back is exposed and dear God does it burn, but I can’t let Momma know that.
The rain doesn’t last long. Only about an hour. The voices Momma heard are long gone. We sit and wait. Not much else we can do.
I laid back. I couldn't move. Soon my body was numb by the pelting rain; my thoughts were gone. I slowly slipped away.
I keep swimming, but I don't know where I am. I can't remember anything. Why am I in the water? What happened? My muscles ache; I can't do this anymore. I stop my struggle. I feel myself sinking deeper and deeper. This is it.
I wake up on a roof with a damp sheet over me. What? Did I build up the energy to pull myself up? How could I not remember?
I sit up and look around. There's a lady sitting with her back towards me, legs dangling over the edge of the roof. I manage to hoarsely say “Hello?”. She turns around and smile brightly. She crawls on her hands and knees to me. She has deep green eyes and dark grayish hair. My guess is that she's about 70.
As she comes towards me, I unload a multitude of questions:
“Who are you? How'd I get
here? What's going on?
Why is everything flooded?
Who am I?”
She seems shocked by my questions. Her eyes are wide, yet gentle. She looks away then looks back and says, “Hannah. My name is Hannah. You don't remember yours? You don't know what's going on?”
Am I supposed to? This lady seems so nice, but why is she acting weird? How am I supposed to know why everything is flooded?
The lady comes over and uneasily sits next to me on the drenched rugged roof. She puts her arm around me and says that we are currently in a terrible hurricane named Katrina. It broke the levees, causing everything around them to flood. It plowed through oil tanks, causing oil to leak everywhere.
I must start crying because the sweet older lady brushed her hand against my face while placing her other hand on mine. I look up at her. “What's your name again?” I ask curiously. She looks so familiar, but I can't remember. I can't remember anything for that matter.
“Hannah. I’m 71 years old and i've been living in this house my entire life. Born here, grew up here, and i'll probably die here once I get it fixed up after this mess”
I chuckle softly.
“What?” she asks with a smile.
“Nothing. I once had a really good friend named Hannah. We used to call her Han. She moved away my junior year of high school. We kept in touch for a while, but eventually we just lost contact. I miss her. I should've kept in touch.”
The old lady’s eyes get huge and there's even tears in them. Through muffled sobs she chokes out, “Layla Taylor”.
“What? I’m sorry, I don't know what you're talking about? What's wrong? Why are you crying?” I suddenly blurt out all these questions. What's going on?
Before she answers she leans over and examines my head. I feel a twinge of pain when she touches the center back of it. Her hand comes back with blood, not too much. Enough to be noticed though. She crawls a few feet to where she has a small pack of things and comes back with a towel. She wraps it around my head and applies pressure.
I’m getting scared. I look at Hannah. She looks nervous, yet calm. “Hannah, what's going on? I’m scared. Why am I bleeding?”
She explains to me that she thinks I have memory loss. Short term. She tells me that I am telling her things from my childhood, but i can't remember what's going on now. It makes sense. My head is bleeding so I must've hit it causing the damage. Then it hits me. “Hannah, why'd you say that name? What was it again? Is that who you think I am?”
All she manages to say is “Layla Taylor. Yes, that is who you are”
“How do you know?”
She smiles. “Your friend Hannah, the one that you said moved away? She's my granddaughter. She was named after me. You don't remember me? We met a few times. I thought it was you. Those bright blue eyes of yours are unforgettable. Then when you told me about how your friend Hannah moved, I knew it was you.”
Wow. Han’s grandma is the one taking care of me? This is so crazy. I didn't even know she lived down here. What are the odds that she found me?
Hannah tells me that she's a former surgeon and that she believes I have a brain injury. She tells me that at this moment it isn't life threatening, that she's stopped the bleed. I don't know why, but I just pull her into a hug. I feel safe.
I ask about Han. She's been doing really good for herself. Hannah said that she's in medical school and she's been dating a nice little guy for the past 3 years. She said they all hope he pops the question soon.
She told me that Han lost touch with a lot of people after she moved. Not purposely, but just because schedules and plans didn't match up. Hannah asked if I still talked to this girl that Han and I used to hang out with, Marge. I remember keeping in touch with Marge for a while. Through my sophomore year of college at least, but I can't remember the last time I talked to her. I feel my head. Is that why I can't remember the last time we talked? What if I talked to her just week ago and I can't remember?
I lie back and wonder. Am I married? Am I in a relationship? The last memory I clearly have is of a family trip to Disney World about 5 years ago. Why can't I remember? What makes me remember everything before that, but not after?
I must've drifted off to sleep because I wake up a good while later to wind whipping my hair across my face.
I see Hannah. What? Why can I remember her name? I’m not supposed to. Why can't I remember anything else? I'm so frustrated I start to cry. She comes over to me; she must sense what’s wrong.
She said she's seen it a lot, where people suffer memory loss but only from one specific time in their life. “Sometimes it comes back, sometimes it's gone forever,” she says with a soft sigh.
Will it ever come back?