It’s been a lifetime since this blog began. Four year ago, Joshua and I had just returned from a short vacation with my dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon in the Ozarks. My dad suggested that I start a blog, and so I did.
It’s safe to say that I began much the same way that I’ve maintained the blog in years since: with an effort not quite approaching moderation. Three lengthy posts were followed by a few months of silence, and then a consistency which has been heretofore unrepeated.
What changed? New Orleans. Or rather, our departure from New Orleans.
Joshua and I joined the 2008 Teach For America corps and were placed in New Orleans. The next two years were… Difficult to describe. Even now, I vacillate between an endless catalogue of the injustices I witnessed and speechlessness. I crave a concise and accurate description that somehow encapsulates why I stayed or what it all meant, but in honesty, I’ve given up. It’s been more than three years since we left, and since then, I’ve thought about New Orleans and those two years often. I am no closer to an explanation than I was when I left.
Sarah, my sister-in-law, is considering a move to Denver this summer, and we decided to come back to visit before she left. New Orleans is a strange, wonderful, and terrible city. We wanted to revisit some of the wonderful.
Among the things that I love about New Orleans: beautiful, brightly colored homes with gorgeous woodwork and enviable porches; the smell of magnolias and night blooming jasmine, even in December; the best pulled pork in the world; a complicated and fascinating history.
They’re still here. We’ve walked through Holy Cross, the Bywater, the Marigny, and the French Quarter, admiring the ivy dripping from second story terraces and searching for our favorite color combinations. We walked down St. Charles and then down Prytania, wondering who is fabulously wealthy enough to live in these palacial buildings. In some ways, it’s even more stunning now. More and more homes have been renovated, and it seems like every building has a fresh coat of paint.
We’ve visited The Joint, home of our favorite pulled pork sandwich, twice, and we’ve had brunch three times already. Sarah is an endless fount of knowledge when it comes to local history, and she entertains me with anecdotal history as we make the long trek from Uptown back to the Lower Ninth Ward.
We’ve even spent time with some of our teacher friends who taught with us in the alternative school. I’m stunned by how comfortable we are around one another. It’s not the same as picking up exactly where we left off – we’re all in very different places now – but we have the same ease. Everyone talks about those two years a little bit differently: Katie and Phil see it as a painful but meaningful catalyst for their life’s work, Claire sees it as a crucible, and Joshua still holds out hope for meaning. Strangely, it seems like I’ve forgotten the most, and whereas most of us can clearly see where our presence was beneficial, I struggle to distinguish between good and bad, positive and negative.
New Orleans is a puzzle of race, poverty, entrenched disillusionment and despair. This is the first place where I came face to face with violence and death, and I still don’t know what to make of it.
In the same way that I struggle to sum up those two years, our time here in the past two weeks has only confirmed my confusion. New Orleans is a special place, unlike any other city, and it is a place marked with the indelible etch of trauma: in the crumbling streets, preserved National Guard graffiti, long list of the dead, and vacant homes in every neighborhood.
Last night, we listened. On New Year’s Eve, it’s not unusual to hear the fire and pop of fireworks late into the night, but per usual, New Orleans takes decadence and danger to a whole new level. It sounded like a battle. After midnight, we lay in bed with Henrie between us, watching light flicker along the walls and listening to explosions that sounded as though they were in the same room as us. Papa Tim peered out the window and saw young children running out of their homes with lit roman candles and tossing them into the street were they would sing and burst.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to come back, to spend time with Nana, Sarah, Papa, and Granny. I’ve loved the food and our long walks and runs. Even better is the uninterrupted time with Henrie and Joshua. At night, we’ve watched a few movies, and I’ve slept a lot. It’s been a good vacation.
And I’ll be happy to go home. I miss Denver and our home. I miss our bed. Hopefully, there will be a dusting of snow when we return.
So thank you, New Orleans, for sharing with us the good and the bad: your beauty and your dirty underbelly. No, really. You’re teaching a lesson I’m still learning. I promise to miss your pulled pork, pretty porches and levees. I promise to wonder how you’re doing and mourn your dead. And if I never return, you’ll know that you’ve still managed to change me forever.
Merry Christmas from New Orleans, ya’ll, and a Happy New Year.