Friday, September 15, 2006

The Perpetually Prodigal Daughter

I've left and returned to NO a few times. I left for college, came back for a while, left to work (not enough, not well, not lucratively or in any truly beneficial way), came back, left again for school, stayed away a while and came back with husband and daughter in tow, a husband who had fallen in love with the city through Jazz Fest and brass bands. I saw the city again showing him and could finally sort the shit from the sweet. And we never thought we'd leave. It wasn't an option in any way. We'd moved for good.

Until 2006.

It wasn't just Katrina. It wasn't just the shredding of universities, a shredding Mister escaped and I got caught in, then taped back together to put in more hard time. It wasn't just the state of the city post-Katrina. It was abject fear. Fear my job would disappear or, worse, cause more confusion and damage by not disappearing. And the despair. There is nothing like watching someone suffer. It scrapes the insides raw. Watching, listening to, feeling hundreds of thousands of people suffer made me ready to run again. And fury. The despair fuels (at least some of) my anger. There's still a precocious child in me screeching that shit has got to be fair.

What's stopping me is that every time I left, NO didn’t leave me. I celebrated Mardi Gras, made beignets, made coffee and chicory that stained cups and spoons, kept Tabasco in the house at all times, cooked red beans and rice (often on Mondays), and always thought of myself as a visitor where I was, not settled, ever, just passing through, sometimes for years. I spent 10 years away and moved every 2 years. There was no home outside of NO.

I wasn’t born here but I am a NO girl. Crape myrtle trees on Broad St., shopping at the Gentilly shopping center and Schweggman's and Canal Villere; going to Jackson Square on weekends to hear my grandfather's brass band, and others, play; wandering Jazz Fest talking to European tourists, playing with whomever I found and being fed from the coolers of people who anywhere else at any other time would be strangers. My grandfather taught me to stomp doubloons and beads, too, fingers and all, and if someone else stomped on the beads and wouldn’t let go, he taught me to bend down and break the beads. We shopped at Goudchaux's and Maison Blanche and Holmes on Canal St. I went to Catholic schools then a magnet school and rode the streetcar and discovered Uptown. I lived near the fairgrounds, in New Orleans East, in Gentilly and knew Algiers and Central City through my grandfather and the other old men he'd sit with. I recall buildings, corners, now-abandoned stores but no street names. It's not about knowledge of geography or friends or family ties but something visceral. I feel this place and only this place.


Anonymous Karen said...

We are not OK, but we will be.

Fri Sep 15, 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger ChasingMoksha said...

Sounds like your home.

Fri Sep 15, 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger CP said...

You speak of NO the way I feel about NYC. It's in my blood, part of who I am. My house may be in Florida, but my home is in NYC.


Fri Sep 15, 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous ashley said...

Damn right. It's either in you, or it ain't.

Fri Sep 15, 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger CrankyProf said...

My heart is breaking for you. I wish there was an easy answer.

Sat Sep 16, 08:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Sophmom said...

I think what's happening to these universities is a huge untold story.

Sun Sep 17, 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Professor Zero said...

One of my ideas is a Fulbright. It means you don't permanently leave, but you do get a break.

Mon Sep 18, 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger mominem said...

You know what ir means

Mon Sep 18, 03:44:00 PM  

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