Friday, March 2, 2007
Last weekend we traveled to Houston for the wedding of Cade's cousin Ruth. It was this family who gave us shelter during our initial evacuation, from NOLA to Houston, this aunt--Cade's mother's younger sister--with whom Sydney shares a name. They are truly great people, some of the best I've met; they opened their home to us in our hour(s) of pretty dire need, they fed us gourmet meals, let us cry on their couches as we watched our city drown on CNN. I waddled around their house, 9 months pregnant and totally numb to the horrors that were unfolding, while they called upon friends and family to help me prepare for the baby's arrival. Parry, Cade's uncle, is an anesthesiologist, and at night when he would return from the hospital he would make the rounds in their living room, checking our blood pressure, making sure I was feeling the baby kick.
This weekend their oldest daughter got married. It was a beautiful wedding, elegant and relaxed. It was the first time we'd all been together since The Storm and it felt good, really good. It was a joyous reunion.
But it also felt strange, going back there. Houston is urban sprawl at its finest, a massive jumble of highway and shopping centers. Sure, I stumbled across a fair share of lovely mini-landscapes during the month we lived there, a beautiful park or a shady, serene neighborhood tucked away in the midst of it all. But I spent the majority of my time there cringing in the passenger seat of a car while its driver zipped confidently through the traffic cramming 610, or wandering the labrinyth that is the Galleria, staring absentmindedly at all the overpriced stuff and enduring the barely polite stares of passers-by. The baby was pressing down on my sciatic nerve, and the pain would often stop me in my tracks, in places like the Galleria, where the sight of a hugely pregnant woman doubled over in pain in front of Dillard's caused more than a few people to look twice.
As Cade expertly navigated the highway leading into the city ("I drove this every day," he told me, as I stifled gasp after panicked gasp and stamped the imaginary brake like an adolescent's mother), I showed Sydney the city in which she was nearly born. There was the Zone D'Erotica, its pink neon sign looming high above the interstate. There, at the end of the half-mile or so of bumper-to-bumper traffic, was the Galleria Mall. There, somewhere in the distance, not visible from the interstate, was the Hobbit Cafe--anyone who even casually knows my husband will know why this is important--where we went for gingerbread pancakes and fantastical escape. There was Meyerland Plaza, where Jamala and I spent many an afternoon, most memorably the afternoon of August 31st; while New Orleans drowned, we browsed the racks at Old Navy, as I had just figured out that I would need to buy some baby clothes.
And there, in the way off distance, the medical complex towered over Rice University. There was the place where Sydney was to make her much-anticipated arrival. As late as the morning of September 21st, when we left just ahead of the Rita traffic nightmare, I expected that my child would be born a Texan. The OB was a nice enough guy, whose utter cluelessness was illustrated in part by the way he responded to my phone call that morning. "I think I need a copy of my medical records, " I told him, as Cade's family scuttled to and fro packing their overnight bags and I thought no no no, two days' clothes is not nearly enough. There was a pause on the other end of the line, then: "So you don't want to be induced?" I sure as hell did not want to be induced, for more than one reason, but I merely repeated my request and he agreed to see me an hour later. When I arrived at his office, while Cade waited with the engine running in the parking garage, the good doctor insisted upon a full examination. He acted as if nothing was going on, as if the city and the media weren't in the throes of a full-on panic attack. When I told him we were leaving town, he looked at me curiously. I actually had to explain to this man that a hurricane was coming and it was not safe for a pregnant woman to stay.
I did not get to say goodbye to Houston. I did not get to say thanks. I see the bumper stickers and they don't seem sufficient. Last weekend was a fine return, a joyous reunion, but there is unfinished business that deserves attending.