New Orleans, first. Every place else, later.
There is much to be said about New Orleans without having to live here. Although New Orleans may have an extreme crime rate, poor schools, murky weather in the summer, and mosquitoes the size of helicopters, New Orleans is where dreams are made..and are lost.
I was born in New Orleans and in living there, I was met with unique challenges. One can become lost among all the good things seen about the city. The French Quarters and all the good food are enough to cause someone enough distraction – especially when Bourbon Street is part of the excitement. On the latter, getting caught up in all the crime and corruption that plagued the city for years. Not actually realizing it, I spent my entire life it seems trying to escape the known and unknowns about New Orleans, where there were distinct lines you knew never to cross–mostly, the lines that separated the rich from the poor, the blacks from the whites. For a time, there was just nothing I had ever seen that was good about the city. I lived under an illusion – blindfolded by my parents being consistent in warning us to ‘watch out’ for those people and what ‘they’ do not ‘let’ you do or ‘let’ you see. I knew if I could just get away from New Orleans, I would see what was out there and make my place in this world. I think many people wondered the same at one time, wondering if they live their lives the way it should be lived.
New Orleans was my home. Even when I went away, I tried to make my surrounding mimic everything about the city. The music and the food were what I missed dearly. Walking in the ‘Quarters provided sweet sounds and enticing aromas from the local restaurants. The historic buildings that lined the street were as if you were going home, back in time–but with WiFi! While I was away, I constantly obsessed about making every place I went feel a bit more like home. I wound up still asking myself: “Am I truly living my life the way it ought to be lived?”
And then Katrina happened. New Orleans as I once knew it, was gone forever. I felt overwhelmingly guilty for having left. I always told myself no one cared about me there and that no one even realized that I left. Why should I care, and moreover, why does it hurt so much?
Well, for the same reason I always filled my home, my car, all my surroundings of anything that would remind me of home. For the same reason, I still read the Times-Picayune newspaper instead of the local newspaper of the town I lived. For the same reason, I wore the green, the gold, and the purple beads on the day of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but just another work day for me someplace else. For the same reason, that I knew I had to go back…being away seem to hurt more. Running away from New Orleans made it easier to think it was better to live somewhere else. Then, I can go and do whatever I pleased. The grass is always greener, as they say.
But I was wrong. Leaving New Orleans only caused me to create a prison somewhere else.
Now I say, “New Orleans first, everything else later.” I realized what all I missed after I went away. I missed every personality, good and bad. Every building and every brick it took to build it. Every pebble I stumbled over and every blood-sucking mosquito that bit me! It felt good to think about those things. It felt good to experience those things again. It felt good.
It doesn’t matter to me anymore if ‘those’ people my parents warned me about treated me different. I found that people are the same everywhere. There is just one thing different about me than that of any other time in my life: I learned to find things out for myself.
I don’t care about the bad things I hear people say. I found strength in knowing those words can’t hurt me anymore. However, I am reminded of a quote Al Pacino said in the movie the Devil’s Advocate:
‘Guilt is like a bag of fucking bricks. All ya got to do is set it down.’
Yup, just sit those bricks down and face the fact that I am a little bit different from everyone else. There. Done. I understand.
I know now we are all the same kind of different.