Monday, Dec. 12, 5:16 p.m., Ponchatoula, Louisiana — We found out about it today. It spread like wildfire during lunch, wildfire on prairie grass, burning fast. By the end of school, all of us knew … knew about the Burn Book.
The book had been made for gossip’s sake, to write things about students that the others did not like. It had been made by a group of underclassmen, a few students who had been attending St. Thomas before the hurricane.
I don’t know whether or not it was meant as a joke. Some things like this are, and then are later blown wildly out of proportion. I really don’t know, and part of me has to wonder if what they wrote was even meant to be serious at all.
Whatever their intent, their words are serious now. Serious and real and burning like the wildfire. We found out about it today, this burning, burning Burn Book. A group of younger students wrote it, and we found it. In it, they wrote that they wished all of us from St. Bernard had stayed in our homes during the hurricane, stayed there to drown.
Once the floodwaters are gone, the land’s too dry. Wildfire starts and spreads too quickly. That’s why there are fights in high schools now, brawls between displaced students and regular students. That’s why there are Burn Books and hatred in classes. Segregation and detestation.
My new friends at St. Thomas Aquinas are nice to me. I do not sit with them at lunch or go places with them outside of school, but they do nothing to me and I do nothing to them. I have no problems with any of them, and we joke around and laugh like friends should.
St. Thomas is not a bad place. The students are nice, and the teachers are nice. I do not dread going to class, like I did at LSMSA. I have made new friends, as well as kept my old ones. I respect the other students’ seniority over someone who came in mid-year, like myself. Mostly, I am just trying to get by and keep on moving along.
Still, I do not understand how people can be so naïve, and it bothers me knowing that a group of students sat around and wrote words that burn: To stay in our homes and drown….
Do they know people who really did drown in the hurricane? I do. How can they not understand?
We did not ask to come to St. Thomas , to become students of a strange school in a strange town. We did not ask to become St. Thomas students any more than we asked for a hurricane to destroy our homes.
But we are here.
A hurricane did come, and we are students of St. Thomas, a strange school in a strange town. We did not ask for this — none of us did. But we are here, just as there are students in strange towns in Texas and Mississippi and Alabama, far from the place we all called home.
Every day, displaced students across the country wake up in the morning and get dressed in a house or an apartment or a camper that is not their home. Every day, these students are shuffled along to a new school in a new town, with new and strange faces around them. Normalcy has become a dream. I lost my morning routine, as did everyone else. I improvise in the mornings, and I manage to get by, just like everyone else. Scraping the edges, but coming through all right in the end.
The blunt truth of the matter is that some of us did stay in our homes for the hurricane, and the sights and smells experienced by those people can never be understood by anyone else. I left, but there are many people who did not, people who stayed and watched with their own two eyes the floodwaters rise and rise, dousing the wildfire in New Orleans , only to leave other places too dry. New fires started in new towns.
So, some students wish that we had stayed in our homes to drown, drown along with our possessions and our normalcy? Well, it’s too bad for them. Because we are here. We are living, and we will keep on going because that is what we need to do.
And, every morning, we will wake up with strange walls bearing down on us, in a strange bed, in a strange town. Every morning, we drive to a new job or a new school in a new town. We did not ask for this life, this gypsy existence, but it’s the fate we are living.
Very few at St. Thomas feel the way those students do. Most are friendly and welcoming, but there’s always a certain edge at first, a certain wariness, because, I think, in the subtle lining of the matter, there’s the hidden fact that we are some place where we do not belong.
Samantha Perez is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International. Michel Lee is an Artist for Youth Journalism International.