My clunky Dell computer, the one that took up so much room when I packed it the year before, would stay behind. “I’m getting right back on the road Tuesday.” My tiny car couldn’t spare the space for what would ultimately be a round trip. When I locked my door that was the last time I turned the key as a New Orleans resident.
Eleven years have come and gone. Eleven years of people emptying and returning; of people moving into the city attempting an ungodly conversion into a whatever cookie cutter city they escaped. Eleven years of not being able to look at my father or sisters on a random Sunday and not bumping into the lady who used to sell me donuts. My life in DC made this easy. DC being such a transient place made me one expat among many. We could bond as foreigners.
As I roll into my third year as a Pittsburgh resident, my homesickness is more acute. Pittsburghers are life-longers. They went to school together. They remember when Macy’s was Kaufman’s. At work, in my cluster of eleven people, four of them have been there over 25 years. Today marks the other secretary’s 30th work anniversary. I lived in a place like that. A place where you were born and it felt like home. And as an added bonus, New Orleans wasn’t a place that you “escaped.” Sure there is crime and ugliness, but the culture and history of New Orleans beautiful and uniquely set apart from anywhere else in America.
When I travel and people ask me where I’m from, I always say “New Orleans. But I get my mail in Pittsburgh,” because I’m still a New Orleanian. Nothing has changed about the reasons I gave six years ago:
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.
To my people who didn’t survive, I will never forget you. I will never let the world forget what our government allowed to happen to you. You were worthy and beautiful and the soul of our city. New Orleans is different because losing you was like losing an arm. The city can live on, but it will never be the same. There’s not a day that passes where I don’t pray for you.
To my people who survived, WE ARE STILL OUTCHEA YA HEARD ME! We’re still hurting and still adrift, because we’re scattered, but we’re still here. The world can see us however they like; we see each other as family. We can spot one another anywhere and it’s a family reunion. I love that about us. I also pray for and send love and light to you.
Long live New Orleans. Long live us.