The places I have lived can be split into very distinct periods of my life, even in repetition. Looking back, I have found time marked in periods of five to six, beginning upon my indoctrination into “womanhood”.
I had a very idyllic childhood. Even if I felt like a freak because of my lazy eye, it was never an issue thanks to the absolute love of my family. My memories of childhood are pure and good, at least until 16, when adulthood beckoned and I was unprepared. Yet, even though I became indoctrinated into the world of sex and relationships through the high drama that small towns specialize in, Topeka, KS is seen with rose-colored glasses for most of my upbringing.
It was during this time, this relationship, that I visited Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans for the first time. Not knowing how much each would later shape me as a person. At sixteen, New York had my heart. It was the goal. My introduction to Los Angeles was experienced attached/detached, with him, wanting to break free but not ready, under the shadow of dramatic adventures. New Orleans, much the same, yet the drama turned to eleven. Punishment for wanting freedom, a delayed deception, hidden only because he knew, oh he knew what it would do. New York though, New York was mine. At sixteen, free to walk alone and independent. I sent him home early and took charge of my experience. It may be the first time I realized how exhilarating traveling alone can be (my “solo hurrahs”).
To be so young in Los Angeles, and after six months, so free. I fumbled, I faltered, I expanded and contracted. Los Angeles, though I could never inhabit again, was crucial to my upbringing, to exploration. It proved that even good fish can live in shallow water. It mixed darkness and light at a constant 70 degrees, consistent enough to find truth amongst the backdrops and scenery. In the end, so many good fish starting swimming away, the frustration of transportation, the consistency itself, meant it was time to leave. Los Angeles, in hindsight, holds the youthful, experimental part of me.
Home again. A complicated prairie. The town of my birth never felt like home and I detest many aspects of it with an almost visceral quality. Education called me back and I found a niche 20 miles over, found friends for life, a very expensive piece of paper.
Life became very easy.
I watched a city I love brought to its knees. Like many, I wanted to help, so I enlisted a friend and we drove to New Orleans in the dead of night to gut houses, a year later, returning to rebuild. It was like a punch in the face, seeing her like that. We have a complicated history, Nouvelle Orleans and I. At seventeen, she was ground zero of my young emotional pain, though I wouldn’t know it until eighteen. It was the drawn out deception that hurt more than the actual act, something that, to this day, I try not to think about, a pain I can feel in certain parts of my body still, though a dull, fleeting ache. Because of that, I had never considered her a viable option for anything long-term. But it wasn’t her fault, time passes, she needed an ally, and I needed her complications.
New Orleans, New Orleans felt/feels like home.
And here I am, on the precipice of 37, conflicted again. Because I love this city, I love her unconditionally, yet she tries me. My city of young pain has turned around and hurt me again. New Orleans, my heartbreak hotel. It’s not her fault she’s the scene of the second crime. Truth be told, it could have happened anywhere. But it didn’t, and she will forever be tied to those two personal truths. She can’t help making you feel, opening you up. It why she’s sought out, why she’s taken advantage of, exploited. America’s last authentic joy and pain. It’s not her fault that “authentic” is now a commodity, that the murky waters creep up from the Gulf and the shallow waters from the West. But I don’t know if I can watch it happen. Sometimes, sometimes you just love something so much that you have to run away (and I mean this on at least two levels). Seeing her stripped of her honesty is almost more unsettling than the crime, the land loss, the entire state bending over to take it from oil & gas. I’m not sure I can watch her Disneyfied, commodified, homogenized for the masses. I’m not sure I have the strength to stop it.
So here I sit, with the post-trip blues, wondering if I had it right twenty years ago, or twenty years ago, I knew it was right now. Or I am I just running (wherever you go, there you are). Constantly running, because standing still means spending too much time in my head, always, always in my head. Or maybe I’m just simply unhappy with the status quo, the recent emotional upheavals, the boredom, and need a change.
I don’t know. I know that I had an amazing trip and I know I have amazing friends and family and that’s all I’m really sure of right now. I know I’ve said a lot and nothing at all, under the guise of vague wordsmithing, because that’s what I do.
I know I love your churches literal and figurative, and all of your red doors.
I know that “Sleep No More” and the entire McKittrick Hotel will never leave me and I just wanna go back and back and back and stay there forever. I know that even though the couple who owns Hogs & Heifers (NYC/Vegas) was very nice and inquisitive about you, I won’t do that to you, New Orleans. I still love you too much. I know that it was nice, so very nice, to walk and walk and walk. I know what it’s like to have a little piece of you hanging around in New York, if only for a little while.