New Orleans, Day and Night

Ashley opted to stay in the car on account of creepiness, but Kate and I had a mission to take our old firepit from the abandoned front porch.  She put the small key in its matching port under a sign that said LOCKS WILL BE CHANGED in big red letters, and we pushed open a door swollen with scrawled threats and rainwater. Kate had been in our house just a few months prior to rescue my sea green couch.  She figured it shouldn't go to waste like the rest of the place had.  When I left New Orleans for Denver in May, a 20-year-old named Elizabeth took my lavender bedroom in the back of 1434 Constance Street.  But then she left silently in the middle of the night and stiffed Kate with hundreds of dollars of electric and utility bills.  She might have left because the ceiling I used to sleep under collapsed on her bed while she was waiting tables.  Kate left to pursue a PhD.  I left for one major reason and he had offered to move to New Orleans.  The other reasons I'm still circling.

It was weird going back.  First of all, it's weird to be a visitor in a place you consider your second home.  Second of all, the charming dilapidation of New Orleans hit a little less charmingly while we were roaming through the exposed frame of a place that used to not just be sheet rock but our life-container.

In the middle of the living room floor were some of my old shoes, a few LP's that had once lined the mantle, the gold velvet curtains I had sewn by hand for all of the floor-to-ceiling windows.  I almost cried, but the whole place felt so alien to the same spaces we had inhabited, something stopped me from being heartbroken.

It felt like right after Katrina when we found our plants crispy and a big rusty stain where the fridge had been.  But this time was different, unexplained, untouched by “natural” disaster.  It startled me to see that disasters of neglect leave behind the same detritus as the ones spurred by weather.  There were wavy pictures of us and the old dresser that had sent me to the hospital for inhaling black mold.  There was a fridge we didn't open and Kate's maroon canopy that had taken us so many attempts to hang.

I was looking for an old sweater and the sign of a struggle.  It's not often someone leaves in the middle of the night without explanation.  Or maybe it is in New Orleans.  All weekend, as we giggled in and out of small shops on Magazine Street and watched the sun dip into the Mississippi, I kept trying to put my finger on why I moved.  It was sunny and 70, people knew our names inside every wooden door.  I was nostalgic and elated, overwhelmed and carefree, predictably conflicted in a city built on unresolved ambivalences.

Kate, Ashley, and I brought the firepit over to Patrick's house on St. Charles and drank spiced cider aside the smoke.  I talked for a long time to a long-haired, crazy-eyed man who went blind in Alaska, had his retinas reattached, and believes in miracles.  Mostly, we talked about the feeling we both get coming down over the river with its lights and ships and many promises.  By the time I left, all my clothes smelled like cigarettes and camping.

Sunday night at St. Joe's, we were minding our own business with our blueberry mojitos when this man in a newsboy hat and thick-rimmed glasses came up to us and said, “Anyone in the mood to eat?”

Pierce left with him and when they came back, they were carrying 30 pounds of just-roasted pig, homemade cole slaw, pork grease biscuits, and spicy cajun sauce.

“Where'd you get all that food?”  I asked the cook.

“I cooked it.”

“For who?”

“Anyone who wants to eat it!”

When I tried to drag more of the story out of him later, he wouldn't talk to me anymore.  I asked his sultry friend what was wrong and she said from under sunken eyes, “He's just drunk.  If you ask him questions in the morning, he'll have answers.”

In the morning, I wake up in Ashley's sun-filled house with a stomachache and take her to Louis Armstrong like nothing has changed, like we will come back to this place like we always have and our problems will be marvelously deferred.  While Kate and I are drinking wine and eating cheese in twin white rocking chairs, two teachers I used to know come down from the upstairs apartment, relight the pit, and torch all the papers they think they'll never want to read.  I want to tell them they'll want to remember everything about this place, that what's destroyed is never gone.

I can't decide if the trip was so meaningful because I want to move back or because I don't and I can't reconcile the gap between opposite feelings: too much happiness and too much sadness.  Too much art and too much carelessness.  Too much poverty alongside unthinkable wealth.  Too much complacency and too much desire for someone like me to find the happy medium within each dichotomy.