Isaac may be coming, but that’s not what sticks out in my mind on this anniversary. What I’ve been thinking about over the past few days, actually, is my high school uniform. I went to a private, all-girls school in New Orleans, probably the only one in the state that was non-parochial and non-sectarian. There were several things I disliked about it: the annual nativity scene, which I was encouraged to sing in as a member of the Upper School choir, the domineering blue-blood debutante culture that I clearly did not belong to, and the politics played that ultimately tainted my experience. That is not to say that I did not thrive; during my graduating class’ post-Katrina senior year, we all grew up and finally got on the track to adulthood. However, I definitely left with a bad taste in my mouth and only returned to watch my sister graduate three years later.
The uniform was that of a traditional Catholic school-girl: tartan plaid skirt, clunky brown Dr. Martens, and a polo, which had to be substituted for an oxford shirt and navy blazer for Tuesday assemblies and other appointed dress days. The heat and humidity meant that I was usually uncomfortable, and dress days were dreaded, but I truly enjoyed rolling out of bed and taking only 10 minutes to get ready each morning. I had previously gone to a school that required no uniform for its Middle School, but you can still imagine my confusion when, one week after the Federal Flood, I ended up starting my junior year at a school in Atlanta which had no dress code and did not even require shoes. But my school was a big part of my pre-Katrina identity, and I really missed my uniform, so much so that I wore it to school on Halloween. It was one thing that my parents had salvaged from our half-submerged home in New Orleans, a scrap of normalcy during an otherwise turbulent period of my life.
There was one month between our move back to New Orleans at the end of December and my departure for Israel, where I would spend the spring semester. I did not have to go to school during those four weeks, but I chose to because I knew that not doing anything would only sink me deeper into PTSD, even though my family was renting an apartment in the Uptown bubble. I wore my uniform, went to class, and did my best to resume some pre-K normalcy. Years later, I realized this coping mechanism reflected unrealistic expectations, but putting on that uniform did something for me that I cannot fully explain.
My five-year high school reunion was this past March. I elected not to attend, as I was starting a new life in Washington and had no desire to socialize with most of the girls in my year, with whom I have nothing in common. Most of them lost nothing in the flood and were able to return to their homes before our school reopened two months after Katrina, so there was always that gap of understanding throughout my senior year. Still, the fact that I was able to return for my senior year made me ecstatic, as I had threatened to live with my grandparents in the Garden District numerous times if my parents were unable to move back to New Orleans. On the first anniversary of Katrina, I stood on the school lawn for a commemoration, my uniform as uncomfortable as ever. But at that point, there was nothing else I would have wanted to wear.