Tuesday, Dec. 13, 8:32 p.m., Ponchatoula, Louisiana — Walking into a good bookstore is a deeply moving religious experience. I know this because of the smells, the rich blend of aromas coming from the crisp, unread pages and the warm cappuccino of the coffee shop. If peace of mind had a smell, this would be it.
I found such a bookstore in Hammond, tucked away beside the grocery store, and today, I walked in, opened the door to step out of the cold and into peace of mind.
Early this morning, the principal of St. Thomas spoke on the intercom about the events of yesterday concerning the Burn Book some of the students wrote. He was furious, and said that the parents of the students would be called and that disciplinary action would be taken. He went on and on about the things we displaced students are living through, that the other students with homes and normalcy would not be able to understand. There are some things in life that cannot be understood fully without experiencing them with one’s own eyes, own ears.
I have to wonder, how many St. Thomas students could have walked into their house before the streets were cleared in St. Bernard, walked in through the hole in the back where their door used to stand? How many St. Thomas students could have cleared out their own bedroom by their own selves, to see the belongings once precious to them lying broken and mold-covered on the floor? My friends and I have grown up so much in so little time. We aren’t kids anymore. We have adult cares and adult worries. We are older than before.
The principal said that he would show a videotape to anyone who wanted to watch it. The video tape was of the damage and destruction Hurricane Katrina left behind, of our homes and schools and old lives.
When I walked into the bookstore, it was comforting to smell that lovely scent of paper and coffee. That was something that hasn’t changed in my life. That smell of peace still exists. It wasn’t flooded away like everything else, and I am glad for that.
So many parts of my life have changed and are continuing to change daily. As I look back on the things that have happened just since the hurricane, I am amazed at how much my life has been altered and how much I have experienced.
I do not know how many people read what I write and can understand what it is like to look at things once precious, now completely ruined, and be forced to throw them all away. My books, my stories on disks sprawled across the floor. Drawings I made in kindergarten, and clay figures I made for my mom. I found those things on the floor, and I picked them up. I picked the belongings precious to me off my muddy, brown carpet and I threw them into a garbage bag.
I picked up childhood and threw it away.
I kneeled on the floor in the bookstore today, beside some of my old favorite books. The smell didn’t fade, and I fanned the pages of the books so that the aroma was even stronger. I breathed it in, and I sat there on the carpet that was not muddy to look at books like I used to own.
When I left and walked out of the store, the cold air hit me again and the warm smell left me. But now, I know where the bookstore is. Bookstores don’t sell Burn Books that wish us gone. Fights break out in high schools in Texas, between the old students and the displaced ones. Fistfights and brawls, catfights and gossip. We did not ask to be here, and I know most of us would do anything to find a way back.
I don’t like thinking of going back, even though I know St. Bernard is in my blood. I don’t like thinking back. I move forward now. Looking back on things brings regrets, like wishing that I had jumped on the sofa more often or wishing that I had watched The Jungle Book just one more time. I move forward, and when I start to look back and regret, I know now where to find peace of mind.
Samantha Perez is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
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