We paddled back toward the projects with the wind whipping like it furious about somethin’. A guy standing on a porch and wildly waving his arms called out, “Man, I need help.”
I asked my friend, KK, “Who’s he?”
“His name’s Calio,” KK said. “He moved here while you were in jail.”
KK pointed to me and yelled back to Calio, “He’s the dude I told you about who was locked up.”
I hollered to Calio, “What you need help with?”
He said, “Michelle back in our house. She wouldn’t go to the Superdome without me and I didn’t want to leave.”
“So what?” I said.
And then he answered, “She my baby mama and she real pregnant. She in pain and now the water too high. She can’t get outta the house. We gotta find a way to get her out.”
Michelle was in their place a few doors over. Calio come to this porch to get help, because it on higher ground.
Calio climbed into our boat and we paddled to the house to help Michelle. We pulled close to the steps, so the water level only be up to our chests.
When we opened the front door, a flood gushed in, drenching toys that were scattered about. Michelle’s two sons—eight and twelve—was upstairs in a bedroom, while Michelle laid on the sofa screaming, her belly swollen like a big ol’ beach ball, her body in spasm with labor pain.
I called up to the kids, “You all right?”
They yelled back, “Yeah, but we scared!”
I told them, “Everything be okay. Just stay up there.”
There was too much water to get Michelle out through. So I asked Calio, “I don’t know how to deliver a baby, do you?”
He said no, so I told him, “Then we gotta get Michelle outta here! Do you have some tools we can use to break the roof in?” Helicopters was buzzing like a hive of bees in the sky. If we could get on the roof, we could try to flag one down to help us.
Calio said there was tools, but they was out back in the shed.
We ran around looking for a way out to the shed.
A door in the kitchen looked like our best shot, so we pushed it open and waded through chin-high water. In the shed we found a sledgehammer, crowbar, axe, power drill (though we had no power), and an old 24-foot ladder. We grabbed all that stuff and held it over our heads, pushing against waves to get back to the house.
The second we got everything inside, we set up the ladder in the middle of the living room.
Then I asked, “Who gonna get up there first?” We just looked at each another. We were all big guys, weighing around 240 pounds, except Calio—he was a slim, little guy.
No one spoke up, so I said, “I’ll get up there.” I headed up the ladder with a long crowbar in my hand, and then I took a whack at the ceiling. A chunk the size of a toaster crashed to the floor. I felt like I was about to break an Olympic record for banging a roof in.
The whole time Michelle be thrashing and hollering, “Help me! Get me outta here!” The more she hollered, the more it made me move my body. It like her cries be wild dance music instead of screams of a woman in childbirth pain. I banged harder and harder.
Us guys kept taking turns beating at that ceiling. It seemed like hours.
By contrast to our hammering, Michelle’s crying, and the whirring of helicopters, it felt creepy how quiet the kids was. I worried how they be doing, but didn’t want to set them off by asking. We had to keep pounding away.
Finally we broke through to a sliver of sky the color of prison rats. We kept taking turns up the ladder, while two of us held it below. We threw down dry wall, plywood, insulation, and roof tiles. The hole grew bigger and bigger, large enough for Calio to climb to the top of the ladder, poke his head and arms through, and wave a white sheet. We held the ladder as tight as we could, as if by squeezing it, we could make Michelle wailing stop. And make help come sooner.
Copyright ©2015 Susan Orlins and Gerald Anderson.
"Still Standing" photo and Gerald's headshot by Lily Thneah. Video of Gerald and Susan by Bonnie Rich.