A Wind-Tossed Man Weathers Another Storm

By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

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

Todd Larche tenses in his seat each time a new case is called inside the D.C. Superior Court room. When he doesn't hear his name, he shifts, nervously crossing his legs, sucking a cough drop, whispering to his lawyer. He is waiting to hear what will happen with his case, his job, his life.

It's been a tense, uncertain time for Larche, who came to Silver Spring with his family after Hurricane Katrina. After months of indecision and ill health, he got a job as a special-education teacher at the D.C. Alternative Learning Academy in Southeast Washington. But last month, after only a few weeks on the job, he and an 18-year-old student were both arrested on misdemeanor assault charges after an altercation at the school.

He's been on unpaid administrative leave since Dec. 8, waiting for his day in court. In New Orleans, Todd felt drawn to try to do some good and worked with elementary school special-education students. Here he was working with older kids, and their behavioral issues were more challenging.

It is just one of many ways that the storm had knocked his legs from under him. And in his new white shirt and too-big slacks inside a criminal courtroom yesterday, he was still struggling to find his footing.

In the morning, on the ride from his lawyer's office, he'd heard a radio commercial about a women who went into nursing after her brother died of cancer. He began to cry. "I'm so tired of crying. Man, I'm so tired of crying," he says. But he just feels open. Rubbed raw by the hurricane and all its debris.

The Larches had been planning a trip to New Orleans after the holidays to check on their house, his mother-in-law's house and his daddy's house. Then, the day after Christmas, Todd's sister, Lisa, called:

His daddy's house had burned down Christmas day. Who knows why?

Still, he tells himself, "I've always been the optimistic type." He has always tried to look up from the lowest points in his life. Last week, he was waiting at a tire shop when a guy struck up a conversation about societal ills, the lack of discipline in kids and the lack of parental controls. Todd just listened. The guy went on to say he'd just lost a close friend who was killed by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve.

"As long as you've got life, you can start again," he remembers thinking when he heard that story. "I have my life, I have my family, that's what's important," he's told himself over and over again. It's what he thought about, all he thought about, when the judge called his case.

It was over in a matter of seconds. The prosecutors had decided not to file charges against Todd or the student. Todd was free to go.

Outside the courtroom, Todd and his lawyer, Richmond Davis, embrace. "Now you have to see about getting your job back," Davis says.

Reached on vacation, Victor Reece, the Learning Academy's director, says nothing will be decided until he returns to work later this week.

On a sidewalk outside the courthouse, Todd searches for a vendor to buy a pack of Newport cigarettes. He smiles broadly. He's been consumed by worry lately. Over the holidays, when his 5-year-old daughter, Kristen, was riding in her cousin's car, he was plagued by thoughts that somehow the car would crash. Now his load feels lighter.

He starts to cry and quickly brushes at his eyes. "I'm okay," he says.

He smokes his Newport and talks about his trip to New Orleans this week. He wants to see about gutting his house and to check on his mother-in-law's house, and he wants to take his daddy to the place where his house used to stand. Mostly, he wants to get back to New Orleans for a spell, just to see if he can get his feet under him again.

Todd walks away from the courthouse, his eyes still watery. A biting wind blows through his thin jacket. He is looking for the Metro, looking painfully out of place.

Staff writer Henri E. Cauvin contributed to this report.

To see previous articles in this series, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/afterkatrina.

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