Dennis Persica: Anniversary hits close to home

It was a year ago this week that Hurricane Sandy slammed (that seems to be the preferred term of art to describe what hurricanes do) into the Jersey shore and parts of New York.

Those of us who have lived through Hurricane Katrina anniversaries know the pain and anxiety they can bring.

Strangely, I had a vague feeling of indistinct dread this week looking at pictures on the New York Times’ website of faraway places that had been wrung out by Sandy.

One showed an empty outdoor pool where lawn furniture had been swept in and still hadn’t been taken out a year later. There were images of the familiar temporary storage pods that dot neighborhoods, stretching the limits of the definition of “temporary.” There were pictures of existing houses being raised high.

And there was the all-too-familiar picture of a walkway leading from the street to a small set of steps up to an empty foundation.

The headlines on many news websites told familiar tales. The Wall Street Journal’s headline said, “Many Long-Timers Can’t Afford Repairs; McMansions Replace Bungalows.”

NPR’s headline was “Is Rebuilding Storm-Struck Coastlines Worth The Cost?”

And the Times story that accompanied the photos I described said, “Deciding Whether It’s Lights Out,” meaning people are having to make the tough decision of whether to rebuild or to take the government buyout.

One woman speculated many of her neighbors are going to take the buyout, “because they’re tired.”

That’s a sentiment that thousands of us here felt after months and years of dealing with insurance companies, faithless contractors and the Road Home program.

One comment particularly struck a nerve.

It was posted in large type, to set it off from the story — what people in newspaper and magazine publishing call a “pull quote.”

“I don’t even know what books I had until I look for one and realize I don’t have it anymore,” Maggie Hill, of Rockaway Beach, N.Y., told The New York Times.

Several years ago, I wrote something describing that same feeling and compared it with the “phantom pain” that amputees are said to feel, emanating from limbs that are no longer there.

Someone recently told me that he has the same experience concerning tools he owned before Katrina. I’m sure others feel the same way about CDs, clothing, photographs, even cooking utensils.

There was a time a few decades ago when it was not uncommon to see men who had been to war wearing a black leather jacket with a map on the back. The map showed a particular place where they had served in the military, some place like Korea or Vietnam.

I don’t see those jackets anymore. Either they’ve worn out or lost favor, or maybe I just hang out in places where such things are not worn.

There’s one jacket from back then that has stuck out in my mind ever since I first saw it. It may have had a specific location in Vietnam on the back — maybe Hamburger Hill or Khe Sanh, the sites of two of the bloodiest American battles in the Vietnam War.

The most memorable thing, though, were the words: “Don’t tell me about hell, I’ve been there.”

I didn’t read much of the Hurricane Sandy anniversary coverage this week. I looked at pictures for the most part, and scanned headlines.

I didn’t really need to read the words to understand what those people are feeling.

We’ve been to that hell.

Dennis Persica writes about life in New Orleans each Thursday. His email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.