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“Alexi, you aren’t gonna need that water bottle.” I joked. Alexi was my roommate.
“And why’s that, Miss I’ve-been-to-New-Orleans-12-times?”
“It’s so humid you could drink the air. Drop the water bottle.” I snatched it from her hand as we climbed off the sticky bus and drop kicked it into the yard. She laughed and shoved me into the grass. “Dude it’s so muddy!” I yelled, throwing a clump of grass at her. She just laughed and went inside. I looked up at the house and sighed. The front door was ajar, and I could see our work site directors sitting inside sipping from their Nalgenes. “Hey Steph, hey David.” I said, dropping my backpack onto the porch.
“Hey guys!” the waved as our work crew entered the house. We’d been here the day before too. “Let’s get started before the heat really hits.” This house had been completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. We walked back into the yard and broke into the boxes of facemasks and gloves, since we’d be working with insulation. “Hey guys…” I heard Stephanie say. We all looked up curiously. “The homeowner is here.”
We’ve been working for the St. Bernard project in New Orleans, Louisiana. People whose homes were destroyed could sign up to have crews work on and rebuild their home. When it’s completely rebuilt, the crew throws a welcome home party. We hadn’t met the homeowner we were working for yet. We all sat in the muddy grass before a huge man. Huge. He wore a stained white t-shirt and cargo shorts with sunglasses covering his eyes. He looked like sumo wrestler.
“I used to be an electrician.” He began, “But I quit my job. I spent a ton of money on crabbin’ gear because I decided that’s what I wanted to do. Let me tell y’all, it wasn’t a good choice.” He had a heavy New Orleans accent. “I’ve always lived here in N’awlins. So anyway. I bought the crabbin’ gear. This was after Katrina hit and this town turned to K-Ville. My daughter Katie, who’s 15, and I lived in the back of this house in a FEMA trailer. As y’all can see it wasn’t livable. We were doin’ fine to be honest, jus’ wish we were livin’ in a house was all. So I was gettin’ ready to start my crabbin’ when the oil spill happened. I knew right then an’ there my life was goin’ straight to hell.” He sniffed a little, but collected himself. “So there went my money. Gone. For real, real cheap I got a house not far from here. But Katie and I, we jus’ wanna be home. So I can’t thank y’all enough. Y’all are just kids. Y’all ‘ve got a summer you could use to be swimmin’ and out drinkin’ and partyin’. Y’all could be at camp or goin’ to the beach spendin’ your time doin’ anythin’ else but help out some pathetic old man.” He began to cry softly. I think we were all a bit uncomfortable, but we didn’t want to show it. “But y’all are life savers. Truly. Takin’ your time to rebuild my house. Y’all aren’t just rebuildin’ my house, you’re rebuildin’ my life. I wish I could throw a barbeque or a clam bake or somethin’ but I’m just so goddamn broke.” He began to cry harder, wiping tears from under his sunglasses. “Angels. Y’all are angels.” He said. “Thank you so much... From the bottom of my heart. Y’all are just incredible and I thank god every day for you. You’re givin’ me hope.” He took a tissue from his pocket and wiped his eyes. One by one, we all got up and shook his hand. “Thank you.” He said to me.
“No.” I replied, “Thank you.” The homeowner left and we all went back to work. Unfortunately the heat was hitting hard and sweat rolled down my cheeks like tears of the city. The masks and gloves didn’t help with the heat, but added the insulation already sinking into my skin, I wasn’t about to take a risk. I wasn’t good at using the industrial stapler with my tiny hands and I kept getting frustrated, going out onto the lawn to drink water and rest my swollen hands. Some dark clouds rolled in from overhead, but I knew they wouldn’t last. N’awlins was in a drought like usual.
“Hey Mar.” My friend Noah called from what would’ve been the kitchen. “Can you gimme a hand?”
“Yeah man.” I replied. I took a swig of the humid air before slipping my mask back over my mouth and heading through the house. Noah handed me a broom and I began to sweep the trash and leaves into a pile. “Something smells.” I said, wrinkling my nose beneath my mask.
“Tasty!” Noah remarked. “Check it, it’s a mouse!”
“I swear to god if you let that thing touch me I’ll kill you!” I yelled as I ran into the other room.
“Let’s just take a break.” Noah said, setting his broom down against a stud on the wall. I went with him out to the backyard and Alexi, Courtney, and Edyt followed. We wandered aimlessly, running our fingers along crab traps and playing with random articles of trash lying around the yard. Noah stood, craning his neck toward the sky, looking intently.
“What is it, No-Blow?” Alexi asked.
“Don’t call me that!” He laughed, elbowing Alexi in the side. “Look up.” We all looked up, hoping to see something incredible.
“Great job!” Edyt said, clapping. “Those are called clouds, little Noah!” She tripped on a rock and skinned her knee.
“Karma!” I shouted. (They called me that while we were in New Orleans, Karma. Because I attribute everything to karma.) Suddenly, like a gift from above, a raindrop fell onto my forehead. I could almost feel it sizzling on my burning skin. “Ouch!” Edyt yelling, bringing her hand to her eye. “It rained in my eye. Rain. RAIN!”
“OH MY GOD!” Courtney screamed almost inaudibly. “RAIN!!” She began to dance. We all just looked at her. Courtney was always the strange one. Noah laughed and started dancing too. We all joined in, laughing at our own stupidity. I guess the heat just makes you stupid. “It feels so good.” Courtney said, smiling up at the sky. It complimented her with a deep roll of thunder.
“What are you guys doing?” Noga called from the back porch. “Is that rain?! Is it raining?” She sprinted into the yard and danced with us.
“Let’s go to the front!” Courtney yelled. We skipped excitedly to the front lawn where our site directors sat, eating their sandwiches. We danced in circles and screamed, “Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain… everybody!” We began running up and down the street, the rain picking up and drastically bringing down our searing body temperatures. We looked like complete idiots, but we didn’t care. I was laughing so hard, fat tears began to roll down my cheeks and I doubled over, coughing and laughing. “WHO MAKES THE RAIN, Y’ALL?” Courtney yelled over the thunder and laughter.
“We do!” I managed to say through deep chuckles. The louder we screamed, the higher we jumped, the more the rain fell. It pounded us like meat and soaked us through. I could feel my socks sloshing in my shoes and the raindrops soaking through my shorts. It became harder to see, the rain gray-washed everything. Edyt and I still couldn’t stop laughing as we all ran in circles, fist pumping and stomping our feet in the deep puddles. Alexi and I fell into each other’s arms and onto the ground in a pile of laughter. “So wet…!” We dragged ourselves out of the soaked grass and onto the porch, where our advisors were rolling on the ground, slapping their knees, and hitting their water bottles against the side of the house.
“You’re sopped!” Nina said through tears.
“Really?!” I countered, hugging her tight and soaking her too.
“THE BUS IS HERE!” Nina yelled excitedly. We piled onto the bus, and it kept raining. We giggled and told our bus driver the story. She laughed and told us it was a cause to celebrate.
“Y’all are stinkin’ up my bus though!” She said, spraying some Febreeze behind her. “N’awlins sure needed some rain. Hot as hell around here…” I sat down next to Noah.
“Karma you smell like wet dog.” Noah said wiping his wet hands on my shirt. I took a deep breath.
“Smell that?” I asked. “That’s how New Orleans is supposed to smell.”