The plane’s engine had startedbuzzing. The wheels were rolling, and the flight attendant wasdemonstrating how to use an oxygen mask. I was about to leave a harshreality of loss and uncertainty for what I thought would be an escapeacross the country. I was leaving my family, my worries, tears, doubts,and all negativity behind in Houston, my temporary home, and going toCharleston, where I would meet camp friends and be without a care. I wasdesperately trying to escape the truth that New Orleans, my belovedhome, was crumbling. I was trying to stay strong for myself and myfamily, which meant hiding my emotions and letting no one in. Somewhereduring that hour and a half flight to Charleston, I realized thatstrength is not hiding emotions and pretending to be all right,it’s dealing with difficult things by letting others in andembracing the situation.
My home, and the homes ofcountless others, had suffered the wrath of Hurricane Katrina but Iwould not admit that the place I called home was falling to pieces. Notthe place where jazz can be heard for blocks in the French Quarter. Notthe place where I was born and raised, and where I made all my memories.And most importantly, not the place that led me to my friends, my mainsource of strength. Now that I didn’t have that strength with meall the time, I was at a loss as to where to find itagain.
Friends. Another thought that I had been trying to avoid.New Orleans is where I had met my friends, where I had grown up withthem, cried with them, laughed for hours about absolutely nothing withthem, and made my best memories. We were now scattered across thecountry. I knew that I would be starting school in Baton Rouge soon, andthat the girls I’d been with my whole life wouldn’t bethere. At this thought, my eyes welled with tears, but I was determinedto stay strong and push the sorrows away.
As I sat inthat cramped seat on my way to Charleston, I realized that clearing mymind of these thoughts would be harder than I thought. The plane slicedinto the air and my ears felt clogged. As I bent to get a piece of gumfrom my purse, I noticed the woman next to me. She looked about 60. As apolite gesture, she asked my name and what was waiting for me inCharleston. I told her that I was visiting friends. She asked if I werefrom Houston, and with that, my sorrows opened into a monologue aboutall that had been weighing me down.
The conversation was not justabout my life, though. She opened up to me and could relate to what Iwas going through since a few years before Hurricane Hugo had destroyedher home in Charleston. We talked and talked, and I found it helpful toconnect with someone. With this, I realized something and when tearsbegan to roll down my cheeks, I did not keep them in because I knew thathiding my emotions would not help make me strong. To do this, I neededto relate to others.
The plane landed and I was ready tostart a new part of my life, not escape it. I finally understood thatstrength is not pretending you are okay. It’s not keepingeverything buried away. Strength is getting through something difficultwith the help of others and acknowledging your true thoughts andemotions. I did not have to escape from the reality of loss becausestrength can overcome anything once you realize how to get it.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.