Laura: The Ghost of the Gulf
August 29, 2020
Narrative Non-Fiction piece on Hurricane Laura and her aftermath. This piece was published in The Sabine Index on September 2, 2020. Emily M. Pierite reserves all rights. © Copyright Emily M. Pierite 2020.
The War of Life
January 30, 2018
This essay was written for a graduate English course I took back in 2018. My mom recently rediscovered it in our correspondence to one another. The War of Life is a flash fiction piece for teachers, inspired by my time as a teacher. I remember sitting in my empty classroom after a long day's work when writing it. All rights reserved. © Copyright Emily Myers 2018.
Laura: The Ghost of the Gulf
August 29, 2020
Emily M. Pierite
Laura: The Ghost of the Gulf
Hurricane Laura, 8.27.20, Category 4
Windows tremble as they fight against the pressure. You can hear them rattle. You can see them shake. They know all-too-well what fate awaits them yet they stand strong, allowing their keep a few final moments for escape before shattering in a hundred shards. It’s coming. Or rather, she’s coming. They call her Laura, the Ghost of the Gulf.
She’s confident, making her presence known days in advance. Many speculate and seek to weigh their own confidence against hers. “She’ll fade off.” “It won’t be so bad.” Like a mystic force, a reaper of man-made prosperity, she hurls herself across the Gulf, gaining strength in the winds and waters. Her mission is to destroy false idols, the comforts of a modern world seeped in convenience. She does not fail.
In a single day, the state of Louisiana is transformed into a post-apocalyptic state unlike anything the resilient residents have experienced before. The people of Louisiana are no strangers to tragedy or hardship or the flooding waters of an overspilling Gulf. We remember far too well the decimation of 2005, the one they call Katrina. Almost 2000 lives lost, countless homes destroyed, and the Crescent City of New Orleans forever changed. But Laura? Not an inch or crevice of our great state avoids her horrid touch or her haunting cry.
They call her the Ghost, because her war was not won with water, but with wind. Her reach spans 650 miles. She envelops coastal cities, the inland flat lands, and the northern forests in her spiny fingers and crushes them, us. We crumble to pieces in her grasp. With us, she takes shingles from our roofs, trees from the ground, crushes our vehicles with debris, and floods our homes with water filled with unknown disease, sharp objects, and dangerous sea predators. As she moves North, we fall, not knowing where we may land or what may wait for us.
In her wake lies the destruction of all we’ve come to worship - electricity, air conditioning, internet, cell service, even clean water and the comfort of a hot meal. We are told not to open our refrigerators in the hopes of preserving food we will never eat. We are told to avoid flushing our toilets and taking showers, because even the power to our city’s water wells has been lost. Even the simplest of tasks of washing your hands and brushing your teeth become a luxury. This, during a global pandemic where sanitization and hygiene are keen to staying alive, only adds worry to the minds of those who are lucky enough to have a roof over their heads.
A roof and four walls filled with hot air that only rises in temperature. 400,000 residents lost their life-source, electricity, in addition to the countless businesses and traffic lights. The estimated repair time is measured in weeks even as lineman work through the night and the rain that still lingers. We wake with sweat drenching our skin to the smell of musty, uncirculated air. It becomes hard to breathe, hard to move in the face of improper nourishment. Our heads ache with the knowledge of the unknown. How long will we have to live like this? Can we survive it? All while responsibility creeps in. Cleaning, picking up broken fence posts, removing tree limbs from the hoods of our vehicles, and calling our insurance company fills our time. Time. Time passes slowly in the August heat and without the pleasure of a shower to wash the sweat and filth away, even more so.
By the second day, the fridge begins to leak condensation on the floor. The smell of spoiled food fills the thick, humid air. And the ache in our heads grows more intense. We are angry. But, more than anything, we are comforted in knowing it could be much, much worse. This is the price the blessed ones pay. Far too many are far less lucky.
Forced to leave their lives behind, the people of Louisiana’s southern-most cities flee in hoards to the northern territories. Southern lanes on the interstate are closed to make way for the ones who know they will loose everything. Some seek refuge in cars, others in buses provided by the government. All move with purpose and determination that only comes from experience.
The Governor secures over 2,000 hotel rooms across the state for those seeking refuge. The heart-warming measure is met with gratitude and fear. Fear, because government action makes it real. This is really happening and it’s not a matter of if, but when. For most who flee, what lies in Laura’s wake will no longer be inhabitable, much less home. For those in central and northern parts of the state, we sit quietly in our homes, enjoying the last few hours of air conditioning, taking stock of our home and property, and we pray.
We pray for those who will loose their homes to flooding and falling trees. We pray for those who will loose their lives to Laura and those who will step beyond their broken human shell to help others in this tragedy. And we pray for ourselves. We pray the damage to our home and property will be minimal. We pray God will spare us and our loved ones from the worst of what is sure to be the death of many. In the shadow of looming Death, we are forced from our comforts, single-mindedness, ambition, and privilege, and we ask, humbly, for protection from the only one who can grant it.
Laura, the Ghost of the Gulf, struck land at 1:00 AM, August 27th, 2020. With winds of 150 miles per hour, a Category 4 hurricane ripped Louisiana apart from top to bottom and with her took less than 20 lives. She is the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856, yet our faith, our God, our resilience as citizens of the great state of Louisiana is stronger.
There is beauty in our suffering, in our perseverance. There is hope in the morning sun that filters through the clouds. It breaks through the darkness filing our homes, renewing our energy and purpose. We rebuild. We start anew in the knowledge that we are blessed. Blessed to be spared by Laura’s wrath and blessed to be enlightened by her methods.
Electricity is mankind’s crutch. It is never more evident than when it is stripped away. In the aftermath of Katrina, we learned much. We learned about levies and sea levels, building codes, and our government became more prepared with evacuation routes and plans for distributing resources. In the aftermath of Laura, I see no larger lesson than that of faith. It is the way of the world to rely on such things of modern convenience. But in times of destruction and looming mortality, there is only one life-source, one hope-giver, one Savior - our Lord, God Almighty. It is He who we thank for surviving Laura, just one of 2020’s difficult blows. And through Him, we will continue to survive and thrive despite all that seek’s to destroy us. Because, we are Louisiana Strong.
© Emily M. Pierite 2020
The War of Life
January 30, 2018
Each year, in the heat of the August sun, the classroom experiences it’s first frenzy after a two-month break during which the dry heat and rough winds eroded its exterior paint, dust collected on it’s surfaces like flies on a bull’s back, and dried sticky tack and tape crumble and fall to the floor just as the spider finishes building its nest in the corner above the door. The frenzy awakens the classroom and signals the start of something new. It’s as if the fresh breath of life has once again gusted its way into the four walls made of cinderblock. The walls begin to brighten just as the child’s face as he sees a big ice cream cone coming his way. The anticipation causes the desks to rattle and the chairs to shake, which makes even more scuff marks for the janitors to buff out, but they don’t care. They are awake. They are attentive. They wait in excitement for new students to fill them.
Buff, buff, buff – The janitor buffs the floor, smoothing away the battle scars of a not so distant war. It’s as if the floor tiles giggle as the buffer tickles them and the walls smile on and think to themselves of all the new posters the teacher will use them for. But, the cabinet, big, blue, and ominous does not smile, giggle, rattle, or shake. For he knows the hard fight in which the classroom’s inhabitants must partake.
After the classroom has undergone its well-deserved pampering session, the teacher finally makes her appearance. She makes several trips to her car, bringing in loads of goodies each time. She nearly falls as she totes in the new textbooks she can’t wait for her students to read. At this, the cabinet finally laughs. He laughs because he sees the beginnings of war in her eyes as she nearly breaks her own leg over something her students will dream of tossing in the trash. She spends hours in the room, preparing her battleground. She hangs poster after poster, using up pounds of tape and sticky tack until she finally breaks out the hot glue gun when she realizes her other methods just aren’t cutting it. The cinderblock walls shed their tears as they see her disappointment. They want nothing more than to house her hard work but the condensation in the air refuses to allow them to adhere to the poster’s surface. They cringe at the sting of the boiling glue.
The cabinet thinks to itself, war has begun. Before the students ever take their seats or the teacher ever makes a single lesson plan, tears, sweat, and blood are shed. One day it’s a paper cut, the next day the hot glue gun pools on the floor, searing the freshly buffed floors and they cry out in sorrow and pain as their beauty was so short-lived. On the third day, as the teacher writes her assignments on the board, the screeching sound of chalk against a chalkboard sounds like nails grasping at a wooden floor. The mental image alone causes the room and its inhabitants to cringe, much like the gun shot the soldier hears in the distance.
But the real misery doesn’t begin until the second day of school, not the first but the second. On the second day with students, the floors receive the most wear as students scrape them back and forth situating their chairs and the teacher finally gives in at the final hour and rearranges her entire floor plan around one talkative child. As the days pass on, the war becomes easier for the classroom and its inhabitants. They lose their unrealistic expectations of beauty and organization. The floors accept their scuffs and the walls power through the mounds of hot glue, sticky tack, and tape that cover them. The chalkboards grow accustomed to the erasers brittleness as the teacher makes her changes. The cabinet, well, he watches from afar, much like a general or an elderly relative with all the right advice and none of the time to share it. And the teacher, well, she pushes through, winning just as many battles as she loses but powering through, nonetheless, because she sees the end is near, or at least she imagines that it is.
Similarly, the solider enters his first deployment with such excitement and willingness to make a difference. He chuckles at the memories of basic training and his sergeant’s bad breath that always seems to linger just above his nose. He wiggles into his uniform with pride and ease. He walks heavy, with purpose as his boots make prints in the muddy ground. With one step, his uniform is stained and his confidence falters, much like the teacher who spills coffee on her shirt just before addressing her students for the first time. Second step, he trips over a piece of barb wire. The metal swiftly wrapping itself around his boot. Though the leather of his shoes is quite thick, panic begins to set in. One breath, two breaths, three breaths, and bullets rain down as the gun fire echoes throughout his head. He is grazed by a bullet and then trampled on by his fellow men, breaking a bone in his leg – not a big one though, just enough to yell out in pain. All of this, it happens so quickly, like the teacher who trips over the student’s backpack, stubbing her toe, and then is forced to absorb her student’s laughter and insults for the remainder of the hour. Of’ course, these are two extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are connected in their efforts, their purpose, and their need for confidence, and the determined enthusiasm, and one woman – a woman who is both the best friend/ co-worker and the nurse, stitching up the soldiers’ wound and mending his bone back to its counterpart.
She comes prepared with a Tide-To-Go pen for the coffee stain and refill for the teacher’s sanity and peroxide, a needle, and thread for the soldiers’ cut leg. She laughs and cries with her fellow men and women, mending their souls and bodies, preparing them for the next chapter of war. She gives the teacher a pep talk and promises her that either tomorrow will be better or the wine is on her. She eases the soldiers’ confidence by revealing the true horrors of the mission and how much worse it could’ve been. And as they both make their grand entrances back onto the battlefield, she drops to her knees in prayer, because though we live in a battle zone, the true war is within.
The elements of war surround us as we live. We don’t have to be teachers or soldiers or nurses. War is everyday living. War is the classroom anticipating students who will tear it apart and loving every minute of it because it wants to make a difference. War is the teacher who painstakingly begins each school year with oodles of enthusiasm just to have it shattered by the second week of school. War is the parent with the addict child who constantly battles her own inner demons as she attempts to be a good role model. War is the nurse whose job it is to save lives but who must also accept that she can’t save them all. War is the soldier who loses his life for millions of individuals who don’t know his name. War is life.
© Copyright Emily Myers 2018