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An Ache That Needs to Be Worked Out

By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Fifteenth in a series chronicling the Larches of New Orleans as they rebuild their lives in the Washington area.

Michele and Todd Larche don't agree on how the change happened, only that change had to come.

For Todd, who misses New Orleans so much it has made him sick, it began as he was lying in his hospital bed last week, cursing the Katrina winds.

I was ruined, Todd remembers thinking. "I was suffering, I was hurting, I was depressed. . . . I was thinking why did the water get so heavy in my house and not two blocks away?"

In the midst of his hospital rage, a chaplain came to his room. She told him he was near to God. She asked a priest to give him an Anointing of the Sick, a Catholic sacrament for those who are tried by illness. Then Todd begged the Lord: "If I can't be in New Orleans, wherever it is I should be, just show me. I just need direction."

On Thursday, two days after he was released from Holy Cross Hospital, he says he was picking up his 5-year-old daughter from school, still feeling angry and depressed, when Michele called, in tears. You have to get a job, she said.

"Hearing her crying just put things in perspective," says Todd. "I said, 'Baby, it's okay.' "

Sitting on his in-laws' front porch, Todd is thinner but stronger, more clear-headed, more resolute than he had been. As he talks, his foot taps anxiously, as if it were impatient that he's not already moving. He muses about the song that goes, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?"

"It's truly a blues," says Todd. "That's how it is when I miss New Orleans. I miss it like I miss a family member. I miss it like I miss my brother, like I miss my mother," he says softly, his voice catching, his foot tapping, tapping.

Still, he says pining for New Orleans helped make him sick. And he can't keep doing that to his family.

Todd had wanted to be a "pioneer," returning to New Orleans to join friends doing contract work and cleanup while his family remained safe in Silver Spring.

"But that was me thinking selfishly," he says, because "this beautiful family" of his needs him with them. Needs him well.

"I'll just be a pioneer here," Todd says.

Michele remembers things a little differently. After he got out of the hospital, she remembers Todd sharing his plans to return to New Orleans to join a work crew.

"I said, 'You're going to leave us again? You've been sick all this time and now you're better and you're ready to leave us again?' "

She remembers they argued and remembers thinking darkly, That's okay, I'm getting used to being single. . . . If he wants to go, let him go.

Later Todd "comes back and says, 'I thought about it.' He had a whole new change of attitude," says Michele. "I don't know where it came from."

Michele says her crying phone call was from a long time ago. Todd says whenever it happened, his change of heart came from God.

"God bless the child who has his own," he says, and while staying with his in-laws in Silver Spring has been a godsend, he's had his own too long to sit around feeling sorry. "Self-pity never did a thing for me. I've got to do what I got to do for my children."

And that means not waiting for official word from the government about when it's safe to return. It means getting Michele's cousin, Gaynel Lawrence, in New Orleans, to assess their house, hire contractors to clean and salvage what they can, then gut it if necessary. It means letting Michele stay home while he works. And it means holding onto thoughts of New Orleans.

"It doesn't matter where I'm at, I'm a Creole man and I've got a culture and it's bigger than me. I don't necessarily have to be in New Orleans. It's in me," Todd says emphatically as his foot taps away.

Todd called Victor Reece, director of the D.C. Alternative Learning Academy, where he interviewed as a special education teacher in September, and they talked over the weekend.

He'll never stop missing home, or give up on someday returning.

But Todd Larche starts his new job tomorrow.

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