I’m no longer around the corner from a tasty snowball, or an short hour’s drive away from red clay. Maryland is my home. It almost feels like home now. I’ve made new friends. One of my favorite things to do is watch those new friends mingle with my old ones. It’s almost always a good fit. Times like that make me think I’m not so different from the girl who drove away in a beat up Celica almost six years ago.
Not being able to go to your regular haunts makes feeling like the same girl quite difficult. Conveying the betrayal I felt, and continue to feel, is difficult. They could rebuild that city brick for brick, and the fear that it could happen again still wouldn’t be removed. When people who’ve visited and love my home say, “It will never be the same again,” I agree, but for totally different reasons. They think Mardi Gras and to their credit, even the goodness of the people of New Orleans. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just an overly broad testimony regarding the shift in New Orleans.
I can sit here and tell you the story of the piece of crepe myrtle tree that my mother begged my grandmother to give her for almost two years. My grandmother passed away always saying she would let her have a piece, but never got around to doing it. When she passed away, my mother took a tiny piece of that tree home in remembrance of her and planted it in the middle of our small lawn. For three summers, she sat hopeful for any sign of that tree bearing life, and for three summers, it didn’t. Then one spring, for no reason at all, we saw flower after flower bloom on the tree that was more of a silent rebellion than an adornment. In the years after my mother’s passing, I would drive past the tree. Once I had children of my own, driving past “Gramma’s Tree” became part of our daily trip home.
I can explain in great detail why this tree was important. You may even feel a tug at your heart when you realize that I’m referring to this tree in the past tense, because it wasn’t strong enough to survive the storm. You won’t know the quiet joy I felt each time I saw it bloom. The thing that helped Mama remember her mother, helped me remember Mama. Those blooms being forever lost is why New Orleans will never be the same to me. Not being able to see a long lost friend without discussing how we lived [or tried to] in the time warp that was September 2005, when everything was uncertain, is why it won’t be the same. The thought that some friends are long lost because they didn’t make it makes being the same impossible.
Through it all, I’m thankful that I made it through. I give thanks for being able to relay the story behind the tree to my children. They choose to maintain strong ties to their roots. I feel like I’m doing something right. They met the lady who used to sell me $0.27 Buttermilk Drops at McKenzie’s when I was their age during a visit home, and matched my excitement. Things like that make it bearable.
It’s different. I’m different. But we’re still standing, getting stronger by the day.
Last year, I wrote this post, recalling my experience. I’m not in a place where I can reread the entire thing myself, but I think if you haven’t read it, you should. Read it, if for no other reason than to understand that we weren’t these exotic party people who are now forever lost, but real flesh and blood humans who had a sense of home like everybody else. But I will cut and paste the end, because it bears repeating:
Nola.com said it best:
New Orleans will forever exist as two cities: The one that existed before that date, and the one after.
And even though that sums it up best, it still doesn’t begin to approach the actuality of New Orleans, because it’s more than a city. It’s more than two. New Orleans begins in the bones. It’s hard drinking and hard loving. The knot you get in the pit of your stomach when you know you must leave soon; that sigh you give when you plan your return – that’s New Orleans claiming you. It’s the necessity, not the novelty, of getting your liquor “to-go.” New Orleans is listening to Jim Henderson call that fucking field goal 375 times and getting a lump in your throat every damn time. It’s being separated by two degrees from everything and everyone you need to know. When you realize that Nagin was wrong about New Orleans being chocolate – it’s black, gold, green and purple. It’s the tears in my eyes as I type this post.
Even with all that goes wrong with my city, every year, I have that long conversation with myself, where I consider moving back. Ultimately, I come to the realization that setting up shop here has been good for all of us, and I have a phenomenal support system in my new home. Yet, only a foolish tree would hate its roots.
I know what it means to be New Orleans.
If you had any sense, you’d wish you were as lucky.
So before I go to bed and pray for the lost, I’ll toast to surviving painful changes, forgetful mothers, persistent daughters and memorial crepe myrtle trees.