I am nineteen years old and traveling in a white van to a house in New Orleans. We have just left our temporary home, First Baptist Church. Well-known faces laugh and blur as we speed down the highway. We are the Navigators. We call ourselves "Navs" and giggle behind tinted windows. Crumbling, dejected houses flash. They belong in horror movie clips. I always say I don't want to look, but my eyes plaster to the scene through my fingertips. What possessed me to spend my spring break here? Uprooted trees litter every median, every sidewalk. Houses ripped from their foundations lie in abandoned roads. "You loot, we shoot," reads unsettling on a brick barricade. A shrimp boat cloaks a flattened home. Under a bridge, deserted cars rest like cold bodies.

We arrive at our assigned house. The driver, John, is the son of the house's owner. He is an older man, about 60. The whites of his eyes match the color of his hair when it bounces to snatch the sunlight. Large-rimmed glasses magnify deep-set lines that tell, but commemorate his age. He leads us to the home. Stains that soil the outside depict how far the water had risen. Stepping into the house, we investigate the walls that drown in splitting paint and muddied handprints. A photograph, a joyful memory, hangs on the wall in solemn silence, yellow and perished. The smells of musty air and corroded sea food force a cough from pouting lips. I do not want to be here. Someone speaks.

"Wow. This is amazing."

Amazing? Amazing? Terrifying? Yes. Horrific? Absolutely. But amazing? The hot breath behind my mask dampens my cheeks. I need to go outside. Cameras fly free as I stride out. I sit next to a creamy blue tool shed lying on its side. I look down the street at the demolished houses, the crushed trees, the debris that litters every inch of grass. I know why I volunteered to come here. I wanted to be saint-like and honorable. These desires crumble and I feel lost. My glands tingle as I drink a bottle of icy Windex-water. Soon I'm sweating. A sour nose-tear pricks my lip as I face the house. I berate myself for crying. I am not worthy. Like a small flame, I steady myself, and leave the ground. My guard lowers, like my hopes. I tiptoe over my linoleum pride and into the house. I grab a shovel and probe at the rubble. I timidly scoop and toss a bit into a wheelbarrow. Scoop and toss. Scoop and toss. The rhythm is unnerving. I look up to view the others. Markus, with a goofy grin coated on his face maniacally hammers on a chandelier. He looks up from his work. "You wanna Chuck Norris the wall?" he asks me.


"Punch through the wall. Do you want to punch through the wall?"

"Umn…okay," Enthusiasm is nonexistent in my voice. He guides me over to a wall the color of coffee-stained teeth. I throw my fist into it.

"Ye-hah!" He delightedly yells. I punch again.


My hand and unwashed feelings destroy the wall. I wish they could stay there-in tiny puzzle pieces. I saunter to a room filled with muddy books and pry a crusty photo album from the earth-pasted floor. Instead of people, brown and red shadows entangle the page. My mouth is dry as cardboard when I toss it in the trash. I take my shovel. Scoop and toss. Scoop and toss. When it is time to leave, I load my aching body into the van. We pass the small mountain of mold, plaster, dirt, dolls, furniture, dishes, Bibles, letters, pictures, and memories. We've done so little. The movie scenes replay before we arrive at the church. Scraped, and empty-clean, I stumble out. I rub my clammy hands on my pants and sigh. John hears me. He turns and stares at me. His eyes twinkle like the Northern Lights when he says, "Thank you". I find solace in his honey and tobacco scent as he kisses my cheek.

Ten o'clock comes in sudden silence. I slide between the sordid fabric of my sleeping bag and close my eyes. Its cloth rubs disquietingly against my sandpaper heels. I think of John. How could he possibly be thankful? All the faces, everything I had seen radiated despair. I hear his voice again and it ripples in tranquility, like the now still waters of New Orleans.