Last night, I was on a beach in New Orleans. The sand was warm. The water was warm. The sun was shining brightly against a clear, blue sky. The radio warned of a storm of sorts but there were no warning signs at that moment.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the calm ocean waves began to rage. Over a mile high, curved like a snail’s shell, thick and blue, powerful and daunting. One wave after the next. Massive and forceful. Curling up in preparation of a brutal smack down on the sand. The sky had turned a deep, deep shade of navy blue. It almost looked sad, heavy, sorrowful at having to preside over such a tragedy. Beachgoers were being swallowed by the waves. Some would attempt to out-swim them. Trying to speed towards the sand only to have the wave drag them there anyway. That’s silly. I watched for the approaching wave and, as it got closer to me, I held my breath and plunged towards the bottom and straight towards the oncoming wave. The key is to let the wave wash over you, not let it grab hold of you. I dodged wave after wave, successfully avoiding being thrust, limb by limb, to the watery sands. That was silly of me too. I awoke from a faint to screams. People were bustling all over the beach, running in every direction, collecting their loved ones, collecting their things, fighting the waves in an attempt to gently make it to shore or giving in to them and risking being thrown violently towards the sea floor, into a boulder, into someone else. I don’t know if anyone got caught in the wave’s current but, if they did, I hoped they could swim well and were strong. Each wave pulled from the shore in preparation for the lunge, clawing at the shore’s sands with two large oceanic, bony hands, dragging clumps of sand back into the waters to fill its gullet for the push. And then the buildup; to get caught in the midst of that power struggle would be a death sentence for a weak or inexperienced swimmer. Their limbs would be pulled in whichever direction, defying gravity. Up would become down and down would become nowhere in particular. It’s happening so quickly there’s no time to think where the air might be. The water is so powerful it takes effort to hold your nostrils shut. And then the sprawl happens. A massive wave, pent-up energy, a colossal undulation barreling towards the sand, taking with it anything caught in its body, to be splayed out, loudly and violently on the shore like paint splattered frantically on canvas. Not many would survive that.
I woke up to screaming. Soaked on the sand under a navy blue sky, the background a possessed ocean. I ran towards the chalet – a white, brick building with three floors where vacationers stayed during the summer and few lived year-round. I somehow made it to a third floor balcony and hid behind the massive red and white pinstripe shade. I could see each wave thrashing and felt splashes of water hit various parts of my body as the water began to cover my toes. I wasn’t safe there. I was trying to dodge the waves but still got soaked. I looked towards the sky and saw that the sun, at the height of all the chaos, had turned a bruised shade of purple. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen. In the waters below, a dark ship floating almost menacingly behind the waves let out black steam that drifted towards the sun.
I don’t remember how but I made it to the building where people from the beach had been escaping for safety. It was beginning to rain in New Orleans. Dozens of people crowded in this grey, cinderblock building – drenched, scared, shocked, and on the verge of hypothermia. And the rain… . The nightmare we collectively experienced wasn’t just at the beach; a part of it followed us here. It was raining and the water in the streets was bright red and foamy. Something was horribly wrong. This was unnatural in every way. Katrina was back to taunt the city. I was afraid, petrified, cold, wet, nervous. I walked down a dim hall, passing several people, all somehow dressed in grey, sitting or standing outside doors, anxiously waiting for something or someone. The soaked carpet squished under the pressure of my footsteps.
She was sitting at a table with four other colleagues discussing who-knows-what but I needed her help so I interrupted and asked if I could see her for literally just a few minutes. Please. We walked into her office and she folded her arms. She’s a psychiatrist; she’ll understand. “Please, I’m freaking out. I need some Klonopin. Just a few pills; I can cut them up. I just need a small amount, just in case I have a really bad panic attack. I… it’s… everyone’s scared.” It could be days before everything dries up. Even in sunny New Orleans. There’s water just about everywhere and it’s more than the human mind can tolerate. She gave me a big, white, plastic, oval-shaped container the size of both my palms put together. I opened it to find massive blue pills, some smaller purple and green ones too. “I don’t need all this. I should be fine with just a few Klonopins.”
“They’re the same thing,” she says, and puts a bunch of small white flowers in with the pills. “These will help you relax.”
I woke up shortly after only to fall back asleep. I woke up again on the same beach, from what seemed to be sedation, to find that a female (a dentist, I presume) at the beach had performed a root canal treatment on me without my consent. According to her I needed it, but I certainly didn’t want it and, at that point, there was no use arguing.
© Leila Chammas, October 31, 2016