Our daughter, Decibel, spent a whopping twenty minutes at the college of her choice, Tulane University. She never attended a single class. It has to be the shortest college career in history.
There was a storm a brewin’. And it was a whopper.
On a beautiful August day, Decibel landed in New Orleans ready to take on the world. She was especially giddy since she had been chosen from the pool of incoming freshman in the Musical Theater program to sing at orientation — a high honor indeed. Not to mention instant popularity — a chance to be a rock star right off the bat.
After getting her student ID and visiting her fourth-floor dorm room, complete with a picture window overlooking the quad, David and the understandably nervous/eager Decibel headed to the orientation and the Big Debut.
But it was not to be.
Upon arrival, the president of Tulane took the stage and announced that the school was to evacuate immediately. Any student without means to leave the city was to report to the buses waiting to whisk them away to Shreveport. A Category 5 hurricane was barreling toward New Orleans. Katrina was on her way, and she was pissed.
Here’s the irony of the situation:
Decibel and her siblings graduated from high school on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. Every hurricane season we became Weather Channel junkies. For nearly half the year water cooler discussions were almost exclusively limited to storm tracking, survival stories and theories on tropical weather patterns.
We all lived in steel reinforced cinder-block houses piled high with canned food, drinking water and generators. When living on an island everyone must prepare for the worst – it’s not like we could get in a car and drive away when a hurricane was on the war path.
In the eight years we lived on our island paradise, we encountered one small hurricane. No major destruction was reported. Electricity was amazingly restored within twelve hours.
Now, in New Orleans, our luck had run dry.
Fortunately, David had rented a car because by that afternoon the only way out was by road. After stocking up on food and water for the drive — and very afraid Katrina would make landfall while they were stuck in traffic — Decibel and David headed north on the packed interstate with all lanes heading north.
It took fourteen hours to get to Memphis, normally a six hour trip, where they found a hotel room at four in the morning to wait it out. Meanwhile Katrina destroyed New Orleans.
Tulane University announced later in the week that they would not start classes until the following January.
An amazing outpouring of goodwill was extended by almost every college in the nation. Tulane students were offered immediate placement for the fall semester, with the tuition to be worked out with Tulane after the dust settled. Decibel chose to join her older sister, The Piglet, at school in D.C..
As a mom of multiple spawn, I am regularly astounded at how different each of my offspring are. The college that had opened up so many opportunities for The Piglet was a complete disaster for Decibel. A mismatch of epic proportions.
All of the labor Decibel had put forth in high school to find her best-suited college was blown right out the window, quite literally. She was miserable. I constantly worried.
That Thanksgiving, our family met up in New Orleans to see if the city was in any shape for Decibel to return for classes in January. It had to be the saddest trip I’ve ever made. The city was a wasteland. Mile upon mile of utter devastation.
Tulane seemed to be in fairly good shape — but it was difficult to imagine sending an eighteen-year-old to a city with so many challenges to overcome. The decision was, of course, ultimately Decibel’s and she had other plans.
While in Washington, Decibel had auditioned for and was giddily accepted into a performing arts school in New York City. That first disastrous semester in D.C. had taught her many things and academics were no longer on her radar screen.
I’m not gonna lie, I had huge reservations. But at least she wouldn’t need a car in NYC — and we’re ALL safer for that — I love the girl with all my heart, but she’s a terrible driver.
When The Piglet graduated, she joined Decibel in the Big Apple. We are now the proud parents of two fast-walking, subway-chasing, black-wearing, taxi-flagging (and, yes, f-bomb-dropping) urbanite daughters.
It’s funny how the world works. My kids attended a tiny high school on a tiny island with only forty kids in their graduating classes. Two of them now live in a city with a subway system that stuffs more people than that into each car.
Decibel’s journey into adult life began with a storm. Like New Orleans, she came out of it with grace and beauty.
And a helluva lot of character.