Tenth in a series chronicling the Larches of New Orleans as they rebuild their lives in the Washington area.
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.
Michele, a doctor, finished her residency shortly before her first child, 5-year-old Kristen, was born and had to wait to get a job. She and her husband, Todd, a schoolteacher, clipped coupons and went bargain shopping. She promised herself the next pregnancy would be different.
The next pregnancy didn't come for a long time, but when it did, she wore cute maternity labels and fantasized endlessly about baby colors for little-boy walls.
The hurricane took her house and the solo private practice she spent years building.
"To be 40 years old and starting over is not a good feeling," she says.
In New Orleans, she hadn't even wanted a shower. She had lots of leftover baby things, she reasoned, and could buy what she didn't have. But "it's different now -- it's very different," she says. Water comes to her eyes but she doesn't cry, can't cry. She's running late for her own shower, the one her sister and her sister's friends and her niece insisted on having to lift her spirits.
Cassandra is waiting when they get to the Copeland's restaurant in Rockville, and about 30 people, mostly Cassandra's friends, burst into applause when Michele walks in. The manager, Johnny Evans, tells the family that Al Copeland called from New Orleans Saturday to say food for the party was on the house.
Cassandra knows her sister didn't want a shower. But "I wanted her to be happy today. We really thought she needed a day to feel great," she says. A day, a few hours maybe, just to forget.
When Michele couldn't bring herself to register for more than a few baby bottles, niece Monica Beidleman, 28, stepped in. "She'd say 'I forgot' or 'I'm too tired,' so I said, okay, I'll just do it myself and I'll put whatever I want," she says. The two have always been close and sometimes Monica calls her to try to have normal, non-hurricane conversations. But it rarely works.
Grazing on appetizers, the friends play shower games and baby Scrabble and list baby animal names. Michele gets hugged and fussed over and smiles for endless pictures. She drinks a virgin pina colada and pines for the real thing. Ribbons and bags and gift boxes spill over the long bench behind her.
She's fine, as long as no one mentions the word house. As long as she doesn't remember her nephew, whose wife is from New Orleans, called from inside Michele's New Orleans home the night before, trying to find Kristen's lost baby pictures and describing the scene in each room.
"I feel like people want to just say get over it, but I can't. I just can't get over it." Tears threaten again, but she won't cry at her shower. And, you know, she really is happy over the new baby, due any day. Besides, somebody has pulled out the blue ribbon for a game that tries to guess at the width of her belly.
Later, they open gifts: blankets and comforter sets, a Diaper Genie and a Boppy pillow, a photo printer with a promise of a glider to come, and a check for $300 from the sister of the doctor who'll deliver the baby. Kristen helps open the gifts and gets a doll and clothes and DVD of her own. She can't wait for her new baby brother to get here!
Michele cries at her shower. Happy, happy tears. And nearly four hours since she thought of home.