Thursday, November 24, 2005
Eddie Bourgeois keeps his shirts and pants on hangers by the front door of his hotel room. His important papers and his clothes, mostly donated by well-meaning strangers, are in a black foot locker and large red duffel bag next to the television. A well-worn book, "Prayers That Prevail," sits on the nightstand. Bourgeois begins and ends each day with a prayer.
There is comfort in those daily prayers, particularly during this year, which has knocked the underpinnings of his world askew.
Bourgeois, 72, says one thing he knows for certain is that he won't go back to New Orleans. There is nothing left there for him now.
In June, the retired city garbage collector lost Willa Mae, his wife of five years. In the end, he was her sole caretaker as she struggled with Alzheimer's disease. Not long before that, his sister died.
Then the hurricane came, and the rising waters forced him to accept a rescue from his home or risk perishing in it.
He arrived in the District in September, part of an airlift that drew so much attention, there was applause when the planes touched down. He swapped stories with fellow evacuees while he stayed at the D.C. Armory, not certain what came next. When that shelter closed, he went into an assisted living facility, but there was a mix-up about who would pay, so he had to leave.
Now it's quiet in Room 1117 at the College Park Holiday Inn, except for the occasional phone call from people still offering to help. His social worker calls to arrange to take him on errands; the housing case manager from the federal government calls with news about the search for an apartment.
Bourgeois is intent on making a new way for himself. He's not sure yet what that may be.
But his faith in God is like bedrock.
"Jesus said you're going to have trials and tribulations," he said, sitting on the edge of the crisply made hotel bed. "I'm not worried. I can't worry."
The federal government initially set a Dec. 1 deadline that would require him to leave the hotel, then this week agreed to continue paying evacuee hotel bills until Jan. 7. Bourgeois combats the nervousness about what's next by sustaining what has become a familiar routine. He orders breakfast off the room service menu. He eats dinner at the hotel's Moose Creek Steak House when its doors open promptly at 5.
"I'm just waiting," Bourgeois said. "I just put it in Jesus's hands."
-- Theola S. Labbe