Hurricane Harvey has drenched southeast Texas for the last three days with little end in sight to the torrential rains. Images of high-water rescues and 10-foot floods have inundated social media, and people are using apocalyptic rhetoric to refer to the damage. As a Houston native, Hurricane Harvey is a nightmare come true, but I never would have guessed how much worse it would be to not be there when the storm hit.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in Houston, and I'll be the first person to admit that it's not a perfect place. I didn't love growing up there, and I'm not one of those people who proudly proclaims Houston to be the greatest city in the world.
But home is home, and all the mixed up feelings I have about Houston are now forever linked to the horrific pictures and videos of this hurricane. I learned to ride a bike on city streets that I see underwater on the news. I went to my first music festival at a highway underpass that no longer exists. I've been desperately checking SnapMaps to see what's left that I can still recognize. I'm not sure if the landmarks of my life will still be there the next time I go back.
I'm sitting safely in my apartment in New York, but I keep peeking out my window to see if the floodwater is threatening to come in my backdoor. I know that I'm safe, but I don't feel it, because even though I know I'm not in Houston right now, so much of who I am is still there.
Yet while I mourn for what I'm losing, white-hot rage burns under the sadness for the devastation I know my neighbors are experiencing. The physical layout of Houston is a story of racism and segregation, all the way down to the floodplains that have destroyed low-income neighborhoods and spared more affluent, master planned communities.
Furthermore, despite three consecutive years of disastrous and deadly flooding throughout the state, the Texas government still doesn't fund flood-control infrastructure directly or have a statewide floodplain management plan. Uncontrollable forces have taken everything from thousands of residents in the Gulf Coast region, and the people who were supposed to protect them are the ones who set them up for failure.
Out of everything, knowing that I can't be in Houston to help anyone is the worst part. My own family is struggling to keep water out of our house, and thousands are at shelters across the city, in need of food and clean clothes. This is the first major disaster in Houston in my lifetime where I haven't been a part of the relief efforts, and it's absolutely agonizing to not be there. It's like bleeding that I can't stop.
I've never appreciated it as much as I do today, but Houston gave me a home and an identity that I've shaped my whole life around. Houston made me scrappy, self-sufficient, street smart, and strong as hell. Even though I left, my heart is right there alongside the people and the place that made me, and I'm going to be there to help as soon as I can.
I keep thinking of a quote from an alumna of my high school, an incredible community that exemplified to me the absolute best of what Houston could be — "I’ve grown out of this place but this place will never grow out of me."