A Port in the Storm

One woman’s journey from disaster to realizing a dream.

How did I get here? No, not “here” making brownies for my children’s school bake sale tomorrow (although that is a good question— until recently, I never had the time to participate in school activities). I mean, how did I get to be 41 years old, owning and running a little European furnishings shop in uptown New Orleans, surrounded by pieces that I consider to be treasures, and pursuing what was once an impossible and absolutely crazy dream?

I was and still am a trial lawyer. I graduated summa cum laude from Tulane University. I went on to Tulane Law School, where I graduated with honors, and proceeded straight into what was expected of me— practicing law in a rather large and prestigious law firm in downtown New Orleans. Seven years later, I became one of only three women partners at my law firm, which has 80-plus lawyers. I got married, had two children and, by the time I was 37, things were going relatively well in both my personal and professional lives.

But in one stormy night, my world changed. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina took everything— my home, lifelong possessions, security— except my will to survive and protect my family. As I began to rebuild my world amidst a devastating reality, I began to discover a stronger, more daring side of me that was willing to take chances and make choices I felt too powerless or scared to do before Katrina. Because the hurricane had taken away everything for which I had worked so hard, I felt like I had nothing left to lose and nowhere else to go but up.

Material and emotional loss was only part of the difficulty that I faced. My husband spiraled into a deep depression. While I was focused on keeping my family together, rebuilding, ensuring the kids kept their routine, my husband, unbeknownst to me, tried to escape reality by drinking. Sadly, his story is not unique. Psychologists are still studying such effects of Katrina on individuals who lived through the experience and its aftermath.

My marriage went through hell in the year after Katrina. My husband became someone I didn’t even know as he withdrew from everyone and everything. When he was invested in family life, he was an angry, unkind man. Our kids began to fear him, and I tried to do whatever I could to keep the peace at home. I learned firsthand how alone and empty a woman can feel when things like this happen. You don’t want to confide in anyone because you are embarrassed to say what is truly going on behind closed doors. However, I persevered. We persevered. I knew that my children deserved a strong family and a better life. I fought to keep it together.

My husband’s health declined because of his drinking. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with severe adult ADHD, which had become exacerbated due to the traumatic events of Katrina and contributed to his mental state. With the proper treatment and medication, my husband once again became a loving and involved partner and father.

My family started over from scratch. I commuted one and a half hours everyday from our little house in Goodbee, Louisiana, to my office in downtown New Orleans. Some days, it was miserable. I worked long hours at the office and at home in the evenings after I put the kids to sleep. My husband worked toward an accounting degree during the day and waited tables at night. Throughout all that chaos, I was determined to give my children the stability they needed in an uncertain world. My kids looked to me for guidance, security and comfort. Although we lost our house and city, at least we had our health and our jobs.

It took more than three and a half years before we were finally able to finish rebuilding our house and move back to New Orleans. Today, I can say that my children, now ages 5 and 6, are well adjusted, happy and confident. They fondly remember the time after Katrina as a little adventure out in the country. They have learned the value of family and working together through challenges.

After my husband was hired at a local accounting firm and we relocated to New Orleans, I decided to finally do something just for me. I pursued a pipe dream that seemed illogical and impossible pre-Katrina. I leaped from the stability and certainty of my legal profession into the uncertainty of something that I absolutely adore: owning a European antique furnishings and design shop. Although at times it seems like I made a huge financial mistake for my family, I am happier now than I have ever been.

And now that I’ve arrived in a new New Orleans, baking in a house that took endless emotional strength to rebuild, a new journey truly begins.