Follow Todd Larche on his journey home to confront the destruction Hurricane Katrina left behind and to try to salvage what he can for his family.
Todd Larche sits inside the D.C. Superior Court room. When he doesn't hear his name, he shifts, nervously crossing his legs. He is waiting to hear what will happen with his case, his job, his life.
Long after the school day ended, Todd Larche was sitting in Washington's 7th District police station being fingerprinted and charged with misdemeanor assault for striking a student.
Almost two weeks ago, the Larches left their infant son and 5-year-old daughter with Michele's sister in Silver Spring and drove back to their house in east New Orleans to meet an insurance adjuster.
One of the hardest things for Todd Larche at his brand-new teaching job has turned out to be the commute home.
Todd Larche says pining for New Orleans helped make him sick. But he said he can't keep doing that to his family.
Michele can scarcely believe the things people have done for her family since Katrina. "It's just amazing," she says. She has been moved to tears, even though she hasn't gotten to her thank-you cards yet. You know, things have just been kind of hard.
Michele and Todd Larche want to put a roof -- hopefully (hopefully!) a New Orleans roof -- over their heads and settle their elderly parents with them or nearby. They want to get back to work; he's a special-ed teacher, she's a doctor. They want stability for themselves, their baby son and 5-year-old daughter. They want answers.
Todd Larche had been coasting on the rush of adrenaline and anticipation from the day he had fled New Orleans for Silver Spring after Hurricane Katrina until the birth of Todd Jr. last Tuesday. He spent three nights at Washington Hospital Center with his wife, Michele, and then the baby. And whenever he had to vomit, he'd turn on the shower to hide the sounds of his retching.
The Larches welcome a son, Todd Michael Larche Jr., into the world even as they struggle to rebuild their own.
Shortly before her baby shower is set to begin, Michele Larche rifles through her sister Cassandra's closet for something to wear over her light-pink maternity blouse. She pulls out a long black sweater but worries it doesn't look right. She remembers all the beautiful new maternity clothes left behind when she and her family fled New Orleans for her sister's Silver Spring home, and she wills herself not to go there again.
A few hours before he's supposed to meet Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, Todd Larche has popped open a beer and is finishing off a cigarette.
On the drive to New Orleans, Todd Larche ordered two dozen roses, yellow and red, friendship and love, for his wife. Michele had called him as he headed down Interstate 95 last week, needing him to understand how badly she wanted to make the trip, how upset she was that she couldn't because of the baby. Needing him to get that she aches, physically aches, for all the things she had back home.
Exactly one month after Hurricane Katrina chased him out of New Orleans, Todd Larche is driving back. He has an ax and a box cutter and gallons of water in his pickup. He has bleach and rubber gloves. He doesn't know whether he'll be allowed back in, but he's packed everything he can think of to hedge his bets against what he might find.
When Michele Larche told her 5-year-old that her daddy was going back to New Orleans to check on the house, Kristen had just one urgent question. "Is Daddy going to be dead from the flood?"
It's past noon but Michele Larche is still wearing the blue pajamas she bought with her Red Cross debit card, and folding baby clothes donated by strangers. She pauses to hold up an outfit, trying to figure out what might fit her baby -- a boy due mid-October. Just back from Sunday Mass, her husband, Todd, looks on. Their conversation veers, taking them from the Silver Spring living room of Michele's sister and brother in-law, where Hurricane Katrina chased their family of five 3 1/2 weeks ago, to Louisiana and Texas, where Hurricane Rita got after the rest of their folks Saturday.
Todd Larche has big hugs for all the family members who've come to celebrate his brother-in-law's 58th birthday. He and Ronald Wallace have grown closer since Larche and his extended family evacuated New Orleans and took refuge in the Wallaces' Silver Spring home.
It's not like Todd Larche meant for his cheery yellow shirt to match the director's office at the D.C. Alternative Learning Academy in Southeast Washington. But then, he didn't mean for a lot of things to happen the way they have. Larche is on his first job interview since fleeing Hurricane Katrina.
It's shortly before noon and Todd Larche is on hold. Again. It's his fourth call this morning, and an automated message says a Social Security operator will be with him in seven minutes. He waits.
There have been endless tears since Hurricane Katrina two weeks ago. Since Larche, his physician wife, Michele, 39, their teenage nephew and two elderly parents fled New Orleans the day after the storm.