We just stumbled across a story that needs to be heard. Hidden South, a blog uncovering stories about real people in the south released a facebook post that’s picking up steam. During her trip to New Orleans she met Waylon on Decatur Street. This story will make you think twice next time someone asks for money on the street. (source: www.hiddensouth.com)
New Orleans, LA
Waylon: I was born and raised in Louisiana, and I’m a fifth-generation sailor. After I graduated from high school, I went to the United States Navy as a nuclear machinist mate on submarines.
I was married for twenty-six years and had a little girl named Allie.
After sixteen years, I went home and told my wife and my daughter that I was going to re-enlist for the last four years and do my twenty, but submarine duty is very hard on family life. Six months out of the year I was away from my family. Allie busted out crying and said, “Daddy, I need you at home,” so I decided not to go back.
I’d saved all my re-enlistment bonuses so that I could open a business when I got out. I researched, and I found out that industrial painting had a real big demand–oil refineries and chemical plants. I decided that’s the field I was going to get into.
From ‘96 to 2005 me and my family were truly blessed. I made a lot of money. We lived in a gated community in New Orleans.
In August of 2005, I had a contract to paint a butane refinery in Houston, Texas. I took my crew there and we began to work. Later in August things started popping up on the news about Katrina, and I mentioned it to my wife. The closer it got, I told her, “You need to take Allie, and y’all come to Houston.” She kind of told me, “Oh, I don’t know.” About two days before the storm, we knew it was going to hit the vicinity. I asked her again to pack up and come, and she told me point-blank to quit asking and that we had experienced storms all our life and rode them out, and that’s what’s going to happen this time.
So, Katrina hit landfall, and I immediately got in my truck and started driving. I was about the only one on the highway going towards New Orleans. I finally made it back, and it was surreal. I had to leave my truck and walk a ways. I met this man and lady with a flat-bottom boat, and I asked them if they could get me close to my family. He told me to get in and gave me a life preserver.
The city was absolutely devastated. I seen people on roofs. I seen bodies in the water. What really got me was the quietness of the city. You didn’t hear birds. You’d only hear a helicopter every once in a while. We passed this one place in the 9th Ward, and it looked like the roof was moving, and the closer we got I seen that it was covered with thousands of rats.
They took me as far as they could. I had to walk two to three miles to my neighborhood. The security guard was gone so I climbed over the gate. My daughter had just turned sixteen on June 13th, and I had bought her a yellow Corvette. The first thing I seen when I turned on my street was her car in the middle of the road, upside down. Where my home was, there was nothing but foundation and one interior wall about six foot in the middle of the house where the bathroom was. I lived in a two-story million-and-a-half-dollar home, and it was gone. I found out later that a tornado had spawned from the hurricane and dipped down and hit six homes, and mine was one of them.
I began looking for my wife and my daughter, screaming their names. I didn’t know where they were. I didn’t know if they had evacuated at the last minute. I just didn’t know. I was digging through the rubble, and the first thing I found was my black lab, and he was dead. That just drove me crazy because I was afraid for my wife and my daughter.
The National Guard told me that I needed to come to the Command Center to go over the hair color, eye color, tattoos, anything that could identify my wife and daughter. There wasn’t any internet, cell phone service, or electricity, so you’d have to go to the morgue and check for your loved ones every day. On the fifth day they told me that they thought that they had found my wife. They had about forty semi-trucks refrigerated full of bodies from Katrina. They didn’t know who was who.
So, they pulled this body bag out of the trailer and they unzipped it. It was my wife. We’d been married for twenty-six years. I’d known her since the third grade. It absolutely broke my heart.
I had hope that maybe my daughter was still alive, but three days after they found my wife I went to the morgue, and they told me that they thought that they found my daughter. I watched them as they climbed up into the truck and brought this body bag out. When they unzipped it, I saw my daughter. She had floated on the lake at the golf course behind my home, and gators had got to her, and, when I seen that, my life has never been the same.
It did something to me mentally. They call it PTSD. I was never a drinking man before Katrina, but I found out that if I drank long enough and hard enough I would blackout and wouldn’t have the dream, but alcohol and PTSD are a bad combination. It makes you depressed.
On my daughter’s birthday 3 years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to live no more. I was tired of the dreams, and I was tired of the depression. I took a whole bottle of sleeping pills trying to take my life. I was admitted to the VA psych ward. I met a counselor there that I’ve now been with for three years, and she’s helped change my life. I still have bad days but not as bad as they used to be. It’s been three years since I’ve had a drink.
I suffer horrible nightmares about seeing my daughter and my wife in body bags. What’s trippy is that sometimes, in the dreams, the body bag has someone that I just met a few days ago inside of it. My therapist told me that I don’t get close to people because I’m afraid they’ll be taken away.
BW: What’s going on with you now?
Waylon: The government had their shut down, and I haven’t gotten my disability check for the first time in eight years, and I’m stressed out. I don’t have money to survive on, so I’ve been looking for a job.
It’s incredible that a sixteen-year Navy vet that was once very successful is out here trying to earn ten dollars for bread and bologna. People are looking at me like I’m a bum. They don’t know that I served my country for sixteen years and had a multimillion-dollar business.