I just got off the phone with my mom! She finally managed to find brief access to a phone that was working, and called me to let me know she and my little brother had survived. The conversation was rushed, a flurry of questions and snipped answers and racing hearts:
Hello? Clayton James! Momyou'reok! Yeah, baby, we OK. We're at Tom's abandoned house in Slidell. Where were you when the storm hit? We went to a shelter in Kiln. Awwwbaby it was bad, the roof got torn off, we had no food, no medicine, no tampons, 400 of us. I worked myself ragged taking care of old people, we had to get out and check on the trailer. How is it? Did it survive? No, it was under 28 feet of water. Me and Dalton been trying to clean up as best we can, but there's four feet of muck on the floor, even shrimp and Mississippi carp in it (crying) and even mold's started to grow, it's totally wrecked. We're coming down Wednesday or Thursday. No, baby, save your money, everything's totally destroyed down here. The Gulf Coast is totally destroyed. There's Guardsman with rifles and bullet-proof vests, there's a 7pm curfew, we had to sneak in the back roads to get to the trailer, Winn Dixie's open again, but there's two hour lines for food and water, another two hour line to get gas from the Guardsman. It's bad. So bad. (crying) They so desperate everywhere, New Orleans is hell. I know I know we're coming down. Call everybody you can and tell them I'm OK and where I'm at. I will I will Baby I got to go these people are leaving now. Wait give me directions to where you're at! They're leaving, I got to go, I love you I love you too...And then it was over, leaving more questions than answers swirling around my head. But the urgent question, the one that I was dreading, is answered, and relief is not a big enough word for this feeling. Now I'm not faced with searching the Gulf Coast for them, I know they're OK, and I can focus on getting to them, and helping them, and rebuilding. Rebuilding my whole family. My aunt lost her house. My cousin lost her apartment. Everything in it, their whole lives. And my mom. The meager little trailer I bought her, the one she called Eden, it's under four feet of mud from the Pearl River, the river I used to swim in as a child, the mud I used to squeeze between my toes. Rebuilding is going to be tough, but so are my people.
So many of you have reached out to me, to distract me, asking how you can help me and my family. Know that I'm touched by every email you've sent, every thought you've had for us, every prayer you've offered. The picture is coming into focus for me now, what needs to be done. In most cases my family only has the clothes on their backs. They didn't have much more than that before this. I'm the sole lucky one. I got out years ago, and I've been struggling to lift them up with me on the way. Everything that's mine is theirs, and I'm going down to make sure they don't drown on now dry land.
If you want to help them with me, I welcome you with open arms. I'll be the man on the ground. I'll be setting up some ways for people to help out soon. I'm going to be releasing a big open edition of prints, the proceeds from which will go to my family's rebuilding. Some dear sweet friends have been gathering up works of art, musical instruments, things they've created, and will be auctioning those off soon. I'll post this information as soon as it's set up, in the next couple of days.
It's looking grim down there, but all hope is not lost, as long as we've got family and friends. And you're all family and friends.