We went down yesterday, and the whole way between my town and Biloxi, trees and buildings were destroyed at random along the road. But it was only here and there, even once we got near the coast. Debris along the sides of the road where the storm surge reached, broken trees and windows.
Then we got to my parents' part of town, the part near Biloxi's back bay, and the landscape changed. The only way a photo could tell this story was if you stood in one spot and rotated 360 degrees, snapping a photo of each segment of the landscape, then lining up the photos in a row then up and down until you had a little world made of paper. One snapshot shows terrible destruction, but it doesn't show what happens when you lower the camera and see that destruction repeated in every direction, even straight up.
Mom kept saying, "Remember, that was the park. Remember, that was the pink house." But I couldn't remember. There was nothing familiar to latch onto. Nothing but wood, debris, broken furniture, displaced cars and boats and clothes and lives.
My photographer sister spent the day feverishly taking pictures, trying to record the devastation, but even she admitted they would never capture what it was like to be there, to see not a single house standing on street after street after street. Now I understand why my father kept repeating on the phone last week, "It's like a war zone. You just don't know until you see it. It's like a war zone."
Many people had plywood signs in their yards spraypainted with the hopeful - "The Martins will rebuild ... again" - and the hateful - "Looters beware, I will put a hole in you."
My parents' neighbor had set up a travel trailer on his land, where only wood stilts are left of the house he labored on for three years. He said it is pitch black there at night, and one night he heard gunshots.
Mom and Dad, like so many others in Mississippi and Louisiana, are prepared for a long struggle with their insurance company. Is it a flood or was it wind damage? Can the two even be separated?
But there was one bright spot in the day. The item in the house my mother was most upset about losing was a white farm table and chairs. She spent a week sanding and painting, sanding and painting the thing more than 10 years ago. It has traveled with us to seven houses, including the first one Darwin and I shared together.
From the moment we heard the house was gone, we knew the table must be gone, too. It was nowhere to be found on their property or their neighbors. Then yesterday their neighbor told them he'd found his rocking chair way over behind some destroyed apartments.
Dad and Darwin trekked over there and found the table, missing one leg, scraped and with one board broken. Underneath was one chair, unharmed and with blue cushion intact, sheltered by the table.
The table may not be worth carrying all the way home and repairing - that is yet to be determined - but it shone like a beacon in that field of debris. Everything is not lost.